Tuesday, March 27, 2012

District attorney asks state Supreme Court for right to appeal district judge's decision releasing surveillance video that led to arrest of Bartlesville police officers

Washington County District Attorney Kevin Buchanan wants the state Supreme Court to grant him the right to appeal a district judge's order that Bartlesville police provide the local newspaper with a copy of hospital surveillance video that led to the arrest of two officers in December.

Buchanan filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the appellate court on Friday. (Read Buchanan's brief in support of his petition.)

Oral arguments are scheduled for April 18.

The Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise had filed an Open Records Act lawsuit against Buchanan, the city and police department on Feb. 3 after city officials said it would take a court order to get a copy of the video that led to two police officers being charged with assaulting a handcuffed patient.

Washington County District Judge Curtis L. DeLapp ruled against the Bartlesville police on March 12. His ruling did not decide whether Buchanan had to release the video.

On March 16, Buchanan asked DeLapp to suspend his order against the police so Buchanan could appeal it. DeLapp refused, saying that Buchanan had no standing because the order didn't apply to him.

The Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise received a copy of the hospital surveillance video on March 16 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.

On March 18, the newspaper 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."

Now, Buchanan wants the state Supreme Court to suspend DeLapp's order and grant him standing to appeal the order.

Buchanan argues that DeLapp's ruling against the police department "jeopardizes" criminal investigations after arrests and subsequent prosecutions by requiring the disclosure of evidence to the news media.

Buchanan and the city had contended that the video was not public under the state Open Records Act because it is not listed among the law enforcement information that must be released.

DeLapp rejected that argument, holding that the video contains "facts concerning the arrest and cause for the arrest" of the two police officers.

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.

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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