Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bartlesville newspaper posts hospital surveillance video that led to assault charges against two police officers

The Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise received a copy of a hospital surveillance video on Friday after the newspaper agreed not to seek attorney's fees from the city, which in turn agreed not to appeal a judge's order to release the video.

The newspaper on Sunday posted the 44-minute video, which shows a confrontation in a local hospital emergency room between four Bartlesville police officers and a young man who had been brought to the hospital after expressing "suicidal thoughts."

The video has no audio. It shows the man "being pushed, choked, slapped and kneed by officers," the newspaper said.

"On the other hand, the patient appears to be constantly making verbal assaults and, in one instance, appears to spit at the officers," the newspaper reported. "There are instances, however, when each of the officers appears to react to something the man says or does — resulting in rough treatment of the patient.

"An especially disturbing episode on the video shows an apparent retaliatory confrontation with the man by [officer Sonya Jean] Worthington — who is seen punching, kneeing and twisting the head of the victim. The attack goes on for nearly a minute before one of the other officers intervenes," the newspaper reported.

Worthington and fellow Bartlesville Police Department officer Stacy Charles Neafus were charged with assault and battery on Dec. 1. They and a third officer, Carey Duniphin, were fired in mid-January. A fourth officer, Josh Patzkowski, was placed on administrative leave following the incident but has returned to active duty, the newspaper reported.

City officials had refused to release the video to the newspaper without a court order.

On March 12, District Judge Curtis L. DeLapp ordered Bartlesville police to provide the newspaper with a copy.

DeLapp said the video apparently "does not depict the administration of mental health treatment, mental health treatment information or the receiving of mental health treatment."

The judge noted that even if the video did contain such information, the patient had provided the newspaper with a waiver of his rights to confidentiality.

DeLapp also held that the video was public under the state Open Records Act because it contains "facts concerning the arrest and cause for the arrest" of the two police officers.

On Friday, Worthington, Neafus and Duniphin were among eight current and former Bartlesville Police Department officers who sued the city claiming "illegal and improper employment practices."

The alleged release of confidential personnel information is among the claims in the lawsuit, including that the city, "under the guise of 'training films," has shown the hospital surveillance video to other employees, the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise reported.

They also claimed that police officials had also taken the "video outside of the police department showing the video for other than 'training' purposes," the newspaper said.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.

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