Why Won't OHP Release Dashcam Video?

Thursday, June 11th 2009, 4:12 pm
By: News On 6

By Craig Day, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- The Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper involved in an altercation with a paramedic is on leave.  Daniel Martin has been on paid administrative leave since last week.  Trooper Martin has been the subject of an OHP internal investigation since an amateur video surfaced showing the dispute.

The trooper insists the medic started the fight.  So, why won't the highway patrol release the dashcam video they say proves it?

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol is refusing to release a copy of their dashcam video of the incident between a state trooper and paramedic saying it isn't their practice to do so, and that the video isn't covered by the Oklahoma Open Records Act.       

Tulsa Attorney Doug Dodd is an expert on media law including the Open Records Act.

"It says that everything is open to inspection under the Open Records Act, unless it is specifically exempted.  Except when it comes to law enforcement records," said Tulsa attorney Doug Dodd.

Instead in Oklahoma, there are seven different categories that law enforcement must make available to the public. They are mostly things like arrest and booking reports and details about arrest warrants.

But, it doesn't include anything about dashcam video which Dodd says probably wasn't even thought of when the measure was passed.

"I can almost guarantee you that the legislature and the governor back in 1985, did not envision dash board cams," said attorney Doug Dodd.

Dodd says the video could be obtained through litigation by some of the parties involved in the incident.  Also, an elected official could ask for an attorney general's opinion in the case.

Attorney General Drew Edmondson refused to comment about the matter during his announcement to run for governor.  His office says it hasn't looked into the issue of whether recorded images of a dashcam are subject to the Open Records Act.

"It may be time for the legislature to look at that again and say are we really following the spirit of the law, which is openness in government," said attorney Doug Dodd.

While Dodd thinks the answer may lie with the legislature, he doesn't expect any additions to the act in the near future, considering more pressing concerns on state lawmakers' priority lists.

According to Freedom of Information-Oklahoma, a statewide group supporting open records rights, the legislature curtailed the public's access to Department of Public Safety audio and video recordings in 2005.  That measure says open records do not include DPS audio or video recordings.

06/10/2009  Related Story: OHP Trooper Involved In Fight On Leave