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State Senate committee passes bill prohibiting release of audio/video showing law enforcement officers dying in line of duty

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that prohibits law enforcement agencies from releasing audio or video of an officer dying in the line of duty unless a court orders it released in specific cases.

Senate Bill 968 prohibits the release of audio/video of an officer dying in the line of duty, as well as events leading to the officer’s death. However, such a video can be released if a court finds that either public interest or individual interest outweighs the reason for denial, a Senate Communications Division news release states.

Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow, wrote the bill.

“Unless there’s a compelling reason to make such a recording public, the release of graphic video of the execution of a law enforcement officer serves no redeeming value, but it could cause problems in the prosecution of the case in terms of jurisdiction and jury selection,” Haste said. “It can retraumatize family and fellow officers, and once released, it will be there forever on the internet. This is about protecting the dignity of the officers who paid the ultimate price while upholding the law.”

Haste said he was contacted by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office officials and Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin about amending Oklahoma law to prevent such audio and video from being released, according to the news release.

The law enforcement officials were concerned about a September court ruling that forced Tulsa Police to release video of the shooting of Sgt. Craig Johnson and Officer Aurash Zarkeshan during a traffic stop last June.

Sgt. Craig Johnson and Officer Aurash Zarkeshan

Johnson and Zarkeshan pulled over David Ware, a motorist and allegedly refused to get out of his vehicle after receiving 12 orders to do so. The officers used both a stun gun and pepper spray to get Ware to comply. When Ware was out of the vehicle, he allegedly pulled out a gun and fired on the officers.

Johnson died from his wounds. Zarkeshan spent months rehabilitating from his injuries.

The bill allows for  family members of an officer killed in the line of duty to view the audio or video of the death.  It also gives prosecutors and defense attorneys the right to use such videos as evidence in a legal proceeding.

The bill next goes to the full Senate for consideration.

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