Activist Jess Eddy filed a lawsuit against the City of Oklahoma City Monday asking the courts to force body-worn camera footage of recent police shootings released under the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
He believes “the City thinks it’s above the law and doesn’t respect the citizens’ rights to exercise oversight over the government.”
It is a next step in an ongoing effort that began in November when he made seven Open Records requests and then another later that month.
“The City has now had 109 days – three and a half months – to comply with the act
But, City officials say that the current standard for release of officers’ body-worn camera footage is to wait until District Attorney David Prater makes a decision about whether or not to charge an officer in a shooting.
The DA has not made such a decision for the shootings cited in the suit.
“I’ve been concerned by the conduct of Oklahoma City Police Department particularly in 2020, surrounding protests, and then police shootings,” Eddy told Free Press in a video call.
“I submitted open records requests to figure out and find out what’s going on at the police department at the city. And I feel obstructed from getting those records, which are my rights under the law. And I’m frustrated by that.”
“It’s my sentiment, feeling, that the city thinks it’s above the law, and doesn’t respect the citizens rights to exercise oversight over the government, in this case, the police department and the city,” Eddy said.
In an interview with Free Press earlier in the month on February 2, we asked Oklahoma City Manager Craig Freeman about the release of police body-worn camera footage.
He pointed out that the policies they are following were established by the City Council several years ago but that they continue to evaluate what other cities are doing about releasing the videos.
“It’s something that we’re going to continue to evaluate,” said Freeman.
“I think there’s an expectation from the public at some point, too,” Freeman said. “So we’re still evaluating, but right now, our policy or procedure is still to wait until the DA determines charges. And, once they determine, we make sure the family has the opportunity to see it, and then we release it.”
Challenge to practices
In the suit (embedded below) Eddy claims that the City is violating the Oklahoma Open Records Act by withholding requests for footage of Oklahoma City Police body-worn camera footage from incidents where officers have shot and killed individuals.
He has also been seeking the release of body-worn camera footage from several protests in the summer focused on the police killing of George Floyd and others around the country.
The first protest on May 30 started with encounters with police at NW 23rd and Classen and ended in front of the OKCPD Headquarters where police dispersed about 1,000 by shooting tear gas and shotgun bean-bag rounds into the crowd.
After several nights of protest, tensions were reduced when Mayor David Holt intervened to hear protesters’ objections about police treatment during the protests and of the population in general. A curfew that was to start that evening was rescinded by Holt and tensions were reduced significantly.
In Oklahoma City’s system of government, the Mayor does not make hiring and firing decisions or have direct authority over the police chief or any other department head. Instead, they answer to City Manager Craig Freeman.
After more recent events like the shooting of Bennie Edwards, more demands for the release of body-worn camera footage have increased along with tensions when it has not been.
The suit also cites certain other practices of the City Counselor’s office where Eddy believes excessive redaction of emails and messages have occurred.
Eddy is also asking the court to rule on what he believes are unnecessary and unreasonable redactions to released materials that do little to help the public understand how the City is making decisions and treating its residents.
He included several examples of redactions as exhibits where he believes the City has either not cited why the redactions were made or where they have forwarded emails where the entire body of the email was redacted.
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