OHP Dash Cam Videos Are Now Public Records
A new Oklahoma law that took effect in November, 2014 finally opened Oklahoma police dash cam videos to public scrutiny. The new law also removes exemptions that previously singled out audio and video recordings produced by the Oklahoma Dept. of Public Safety.
The new law makes available for public inspection most audio and video recordings made by equipment attached to a police vehicle or worn by individual officers of any agency. Revisions further specify that all law enforcement records open for public inspection must also be made available for copying.
A growing number of police agencies nationwide now use body cams – with the Los Angeles Police Department among the latest to make the move toward more complete documentation of police activities. The trend toward use of police body cameras accelerated when unrest erupted in Ferguson, Mo. in response to the fatal police shooting of an unarmed man. Ferguson police were among those who elected to use body cams in the wake of that incident.
Exceptions still allow Oklahoma police agencies to withhold from release under public records requests recordings — including dash cam videos — that show a person under 16 years of age, nudity, a death, or matters related to officers under investigation. Unedited recordings must be made available after internal investigations are concluded, or sooner when the investigation or disciplinary proceeding “lasts for an unreasonable amount of time.”
The law pertains to requests under the Oklahoma Open Records Act. Dash cams videos that might be evidence in a trial are often otherwise available by subpoena regardless of content that might be exempt under the Open Records Act.
Public May Enforce Open Meetings Act
Another new law now allows Oklahomans to sue public agencies for violations of the Open Meetings Act to recover attorney fees if they win. Courts previously recognized that the public could bring lawsuits for violation of open meetings laws, but the new law codifies the public’s right to enforce their legal right to attend public meetings.
Before you file a lawsuit alleging that, let’s say, county commissioners violated the open meeting act by all attending the same high school ball game, you should take notice. Agencies can also now recover attorney fees from individuals who bring frivolous lawsuits on Open Meeting Act allegations.
Oklahoma law at Okla. Stat. tit. 51 § 24A.17 previously allowed private individuals to file civil lawsuits for violations of the Open Records Act, and to recover private open records attorney fees. Until now, there were no similar provisions codified in Oklahoma statutes for civil enforcement in open meetings violations.
Willful violations of either open records or open meetings laws in Oklahoma can also be prosecuted by local district attorneys as a misdemeanor. A conviction can result in fines of up to $500 and as much as a year in county jail.
Free Consultation: Tulsa Lawyers
If public officials do not honor your request for public records, you might have grounds for a lawsuit. For answers to your questions about open meetings and public records, contact the Tulsa Oklahoma lawyers at Wirth Law Office.
For a free consultation with a Tulsa open records lawyer, call (918) 879-1681 or send your question using the form at the top of this page.