Videos of police stops and arrests captured by dashboard-mounted cameras in patrol cars are public records subject to release under Oklahoma’s Open Records Act, an appellate court ruled on Friday.
In a 2-1 ruling by a three-member panel of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals, the court overturned a decision by a Rogers County District Court Judge that such videos were not a public record subject to disclosure.
But the court noted the state’s Open Records Act specifically states that public records include “facts concerning the arrest, including the cause of arrest.”
“The dash cam video at issue here is a recording created by and under the authority of public officials in connection with the transaction of public business,” Judge Robert Bell wrote in the majority opinion.
“Thus, the arrest video is a ‘record’ as defined by the Act.”
Vinita attorney Josh Lee, who filed the lawsuit against the City of Claremore and several city officials, said he was pleased with the court’s ruling.
“It’s a good ruling for us. It’ s a good ruling for the citizen involved. It’s a good ruling for the public, anyone who’s a fan of open government,” said Lee, who often represents clients charged with alcohol and driving related criminal offenses. “It’s good for the citizen, because unfortunately way too often we get video tapes that prove what the arresting officer wrote in the original report isn’t accurate.
“Getting these videos is the best way for us to determine exactly what happened.”
The court also ruled Lee was entitled to “reasonable attorney fees.”
Matthew Ballard, an attorney representing Claremore, did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.
Open government advocates praised the ruling as a victory for the public.
“Common sense would say this is a public record, but unfortunately we had a trial court judge in Rogers County who didn’t see it that way,” said Joey Senat, a journalism professor at Oklahoma State University and an expert on media law.
The public should know what the facts are concerning when someone is arrested.
“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the video should be worth a million words.”