Oklahoma Watch sues city of Tulsa seeking details of a woman’s arrest during a mental health crisis

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Oklahoma Watch and reporter Whitney Bryen are suing the city of Tulsa, seeking details of an incident that resulted in the violent arrest of a woman in the midst of a mental health crisis.

Bryen requested all police reports and statements related to the arrest of LaDonna Paris under Oklahoma’s Open Records Law on April 4 after video footage sparked public outrage. The reaction included hundreds of comments on video footage of the incident and on social media.

Angry Tulsans speaking at a City Council meeting criticized the officers’ handling of the 70-year-old great-grandmother who was experiencing a bipolar episode.

On April 13, Bryen also requested the audio and transcript of the 911 call that triggered the police response.

LaDonna Paris was reportedly having a bipolar manic episode at a nonprofit retail store where she had locked herself in a bathroom for hours.

Jocelyn Finley, administrator of the Tulsa Police Department’s records office, said in an April 15 email that the department would not release the audio or transcript of the call.

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In May, two department records managers told Bryen they did not have the authority to release the reports because the incident was under internal investigation. They directed her to the office of Chief Wendell Franklin, who never responded to Bryen’s request.

The lawsuit also alleges that the Police Department violated state law because it did not have a designated custodian of records who could respond to public document requests during business hours.

The named defendant in the lawsuit filed Tuesday is the city of Tulsa, which oversees the Police Department. The City and the Police Department are taxpayer-funded public agencies and are subject to the state’s open records law.

Department spokesman Capt. Richard Meulenberg said in an email Wednesday: “The Tulsa Police Communications unit is unable to provide any statement regarding the incidents that are in dispute.”

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Ted Streuli, executive director of the nonprofit Oklahoma Watch and former president of Freedom of Information Oklahoma, a nonprofit formed to protect government transparency, said that “the Open Records Act is absolutely clear on the points that we are discussing in this lawsuit.”

“There is no justifiable reason for the Tulsa Police Department to delay or completely ignore our request. We have been waiting eight months and have given the city multiple opportunities to avoid litigation, but they have chosen to ignore us and the law.

“When public officials choose to operate in the shadows, they must be held accountable. The affairs of the public must remain public. It’s the only safeguard we have against corruption, and no one, not even the mayor or police chief, is above the law.”

Law enforcement agencies are required by the Oklahoma Open Records Law to make certain records, such as information from crime reports and facts related to an arrest, available to the public.

Kathryn Gardner, a Tulsa-based attorney with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press who represents Oklahoma Watch and Bryen, told Franklin via email that the reasons given by the employees for withholding the records violate state law. The boss did not respond.

“A ruling in favor of Oklahoma Watch and Whitney Bryen would send a clear message that Oklahoma public agencies, including police departments, must comply with the requirements of the Oklahoma Open Records Act,” Gardner said.

The police kicked in the door from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore bathroom in which Paris had locked herself, knocked her to the floor, handcuffed her, and imprisoned her on October 25, 2021.

Months later, Paris’ son posted portions of body camera footage provided by police on YouTube, which showed officers taunting Paris before his arrest. From outside the bathroom, the officers laughed and mocked Paris. An officer tasered her outside the door, while Paris frantically talked to herself, saying that she was afraid the police would kill her.

The edited youtube video It has more than 68,000 views and 400 comments, many admonishing the officials.

The Police Department responded posting the full video account online and investigating the actions of the officers involved. Franklin will decide if and how to discipline the officers.

Paris, now 71, filed a lawsuit in May against the city, Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum, and three of the responding officers, alleging assault, emotional distress, and violation of their civil rights, among other claims.

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