Saturday, June 30, 2012

State Supreme Court refuses to stay judge's order releasing hospital surveillance video that led to arrest of police officers

Oklahoma Supreme Court justices on Tuesday unanimously denied a district attorney's request to delay enforcement of a judge's order releasing a video showing a confrontation in a local hospital emergency room between four Bartlesville police officers and a handcuffed patient.
The one-line order isn't surprising given that the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise received a copy of the hospital surveillance video in March and posted it online.
However, Washington County District Attorney Kevin Buchanan's appeal of District Judge Curtis L. DeLapp's ruling remains alive.
Buchanan had asked DeLapp to suspend his order against the Bartlesville police so Buchanan could appeal it. DeLapp refused, saying that Buchanan had no standing because the order didn't apply to him.
The city attorney and Buchanan had argued that the video was not public because mental health proceedings are confidential. The patient was the subject of an emergency detention order under mental health proceedings.
But DeLapp said the video "does not depict the administration of mental health treatment, mental health treatment information or the receiving of mental health treatment."
DeLapp noted that even if the video did contain such information, the patient had provided the newspaper with a waiver of his rights to confidentiality.
The city and Buchanan also 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.
DeLapp ruled that the hospital surveillance video was a record that came into the custody of Bartlesville police "in connection with the transaction of public business, i.e. the investigation of crimes committed within its jurisdiction."
"In particular, the Court finds that the videotape(s) would include the cause of the arrest," he ruled.
In late April, the state Supreme Court denied Buchanan's petition declaring he has the right to appeal DeLapp's decision. But the one-line order agreed to by all the justices didn't offer an explanation. And Buchanan already had appealed the order releasing the video.
The 44-minute video shows a confrontation in a local hospital emergency room between four Bartlesville police officers and a handcuffed 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 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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