Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Owasso releases police videos to newspapers; Official now says arrest videos are public records

The Tulsa World and Owasso Reporter received copies Monday of police videos showing an arrest that led to the firing of an Owasso police officer who was recently reinstated by an arbitrator.
The city had refused the newspapers' requests for a copy of lapel camera video showing a police lieutenant using what the city deemed was excessive force and for which he was fired.
The Tulsa World sued the city in December for access to the video. The lawsuit is pending, the newspaper reported Monday.
At the time, City Manager Rodney J. Ray said the public interest in releasing the videos didn't outweigh the reasons for denying access.
On Monday, Ray told the Tulsa World that "we are in complete agreement that this is an open record."
He also told the newspaper that the footage was released because of the arbitrator’s ruling last week and because the man arrested in the video had released the city from liability over the disclosure.
Ray said the release of arrest videos by other cities had also changed his mind.
In denying the request, Ray and the city had argued that arrest videos are not included in the eight categories of law enforcement records that must be released under the state Open Record Act. (See OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.8(A)(1-8))
The statute allows police departments to deny access to other law enforcement records "except where a court finds that the public interest or the interest of an individual outweighs the reason for denial." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.8(B))
But Ray and the city contended that the public interest was outweighed by the officer's right to appeal his termination to the city's Personnel Board and to seek binding arbitration.
Monday's release is the second time in eight months that Owasso has provided police video after being sued.
In December, city officials agreed to release the police officer lapel camera video and audio materials sought by the family of a Tulsa man who died Oct. 27 in the Tulsa County jail.
The family had filed an Open Records Act lawsuit against Owasso after the police department would release only an arrest report, a radio log and a computer-aided dispatch report.
In the lawsuit, the family argued that the lapel video and other materials were "essential in determining the events which transpired during the arrest," the Tulsa World had reported.
Access to videos of arrests has been an issue elsewhere in the state.
In March, a Washington County judge ordered Bartlesville police to provide the local newspaper with a copy of hospital surveillance video that had led to the arrest of two officers in December.
That decision contrasted with a Rogers County judge's decision in August that the Claremore Police Department's dash-cam recordings are not public records. But the judge said requesters could ask a court to find that the release of a particular recording would serve a public interest that outweighs the reason for denial.
A year ago, Catoosa decided to release its police department's audio and video recordings after the city was sued for access. Officials agreed that the recordings "are subject to the Open Records Act."
In 2004, the state Supreme Court held that Department of Public Safety recordings of administrative hearings contained facts concerning arrests and therefore were open under the Open Records Act. (Fabian & Assoc., P.C., v. State ex. rel. Dept. of Public Safety, 2004 OK 67, ¶ 14)
The statute makes public the "facts concerning the arrest, including the cause of arrest and the name of the arresting officer." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.8(2))
"By this statute," the Supreme Court said, "DPS is required to make available for public inspection facts concerning the arrest. Fabian asserts that the requested tapes contain the facts concerning the arrest and therefore § 24A.8(A)(2) requires the tapes to be open for public inspection. We agree."
Those tapes were recordings of administrative hearings concerning the revocation of drivers' licenses.
Certainly the same reasoning applies to the police recordings of actual arrests.

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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