Transparency in question as City of Tulsa, TPD faces lawsuit over Open Records Act

TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma Watch and Whitney Bryen are suing the City of Tulsa over the Oklahoma Open Records Act (ORA) in connection to a mental health call Tulsa Police responded to regarding a mental health crisis with a woman called LaDonna Paris.

RELATED: Woman sues City of Tulsa, police officers after altercation with Tulsa police

Oklahoma Watch is a non-profit investigative news organization and Whitney Bryen is an award-winning investigative reporter for Oklahoma Watch.

The ORA gives the public the right to request and access specific Oklahoma records such as photographs, sound recordings, film recordings, video records, data files; any materials created by public officials or public bodies.

The incident involving 70-year-old, LaDonna Paris took place on Oct. 25, 2021, at ReStore in Tulsa.

Paris had locked herself in the bathroom.

Employees of ReStore had asked Tulsa Police to remove LaDonna from the premises.

Tulsa Police attempted to order Paris out of the restroom.

After 34 minutes, Tulsa police forced themselves into the bathroom and took Paris into custody.

The Tulsa Police Department (TPD) stated that the woman had, “sustained an injury to her face,” but did not specify exactly what caused the injury.

In the TPD body cam video, one of the officers states, ‘This is going to be so fun,’ before the elderly woman experiencing a mental health crisis is taken into custody.

TPD addressed the verbal conduct of the officers in the video saying that it “can be received as unprofessional” and had “been addressed with the officers.” They also added that the “overall actions of the officers and the way in which the call was handled is within the policies of the Tulsa Police Department.”

The video has since been posted on YouTube with over 68,000 views and 400 comments, according to the Petition for Relief for Violations of the Oklahoma Open Records Act filed by Oklahoma Watch and reporter Bryen.

The following is also stated in the petition.

TPD is considered a “public body” incorporated with the City of Tulsa.

On April 4, 2022, Bryen on the behalf of Oklahoma Watch submitted an ORA request for “all incident reports, case reports and statements related to LaDonna Paris on Oct. 25, 2021.

On April 13, 2022, Bryen on the behalf of Oklahoma Watch submitted a second ORA request for “the audio recording and transcript of the call that sent Tulsa Police officers to Habitat Restore 1234 S. Norwood Ave. where LaDonna Paris was locked in a bathroom.”

On April 15, 2022, TPD denied the second request stating, “Our 911 call center will only release a call log. You can’t get the audio without a subpoena. Do you want the call log?”

On April 17, 2022, TPD sent Oklahoma Watch one page of what was described as a “call log.”

On May 27, 2022, Bryen followed up on the request through a phone call. She was then asked to contact the Chief of the Tulsa Police Department.

On June 6, 2022, Oklahoma Watch contacted the City of Tulsa via email regarding the initial request made on April 4.

On June 28, 2022, the Tulsa Police provided Oklahoma Watch with two pages of what was described as “incident reports.” This included the address, phone number of the location where the incident with Paris had taken place, the date and time, the reporting agency and the reporting officer’s identification number.

Attorney for Oklahoma Watch and Bryen, Kathryn E. Gardner shared the following statement with FOX23.

“A ruling in favor of Oklahoma Watch and Whitney Bryen would send a clear message that public bodies in Oklahoma, including police departments, must follow the requirements of the Oklahoma Open Records Act.” -Kathryn E. Gardner.

Richard Muelenberg of TPD responded to FOX23 regarding the lawsuit and said, “Since we are in litigation, I cannot give a statement at this time.”

FOX23 also reached out to the City of Tulsa and Oklahoma Watch but has not heard back. We will update this story if statements from those parties are released.