Kay County Detention Center denies request for records
NEWKIRK (KOKH) —
The Kay County Detention Center, KCDC, will not release incident reports or video that led to the arrest of two jailers charged with assaulting a restrained inmate. The KCDC referred FOX 25’s records request to an Oklahoma City-based law firm which denied multiple open record requests for documents related to the incident and the contract with the outside attorney.
“Incident reports are public record, flat out. That is not a grey area; that's not subject to interpretation, the law says it,” said Dr. Joey Senat, a communications law professor at Oklahoma State University who is also the author of the textbook “Mass Communications Law in Oklahoma.”
FOX 25 initial requested all initial incident reports for assaults on jail staff or inmates when we first heard rumors about the alleged assault in early October. The Oklahoma City lawyer denied our request citing only the section of the Open Records Act that deals with law enforcement records. That section of the ORA defines a myriad of records that are public records which includes a “chronological list of all incidents, including initial offense report information showing the offense, date, time, general location, officer, and a brief summary of what occurred.”
“It doesn't matter if you are a law enforcement or any other agency if you're government and you have an incident report you have to provide it,” Senat told FOX 25. “Our former [Attorney General], Scott Pruitt, said years ago, sent a letter to the Chiefs of Police of Oklahoma you must release these, because we had cities at the time saying you can't have it because I am putting it in an investigative file.”
After the initial denial of records, FOX 25 requested the contract or documents relating to the hiring of an outside attorney by the KCDC. The local-based attorney which represents the detention center told FOX 25 they had no responsive records.
On October 31, 2018, more than a month after the alleged assault occurred, Kay County prosecutors filed criminal charges against Danial and Zane Vandaveer. Zane had already resigned his position at the jail.
According to court documents Danial head-butted the inmate after he spat on him. The same documents referenced as specific detention center incident report and the surveillance video that prosecutors say showed Zane striking the inmate in the face and head and kneeing him in the face.
After the charges were filed and both Vandaveers had been through the arrest and booking process at the Kay County Detention Center, FOX 25 requested the specific incident report referenced in the court records and the video that related to the arrest.
Again, the Oklahoma City law firm emailed FOX 25 saying they had been retained to respond to our open record request and again denied any requests for the incident report, while providing other records related to the employment of the Vandaveers.
The attorney again did not respond to questions for what specific part of the Open Records Act justified denying the report’s release. The same attorney did not reply to a request to provide a copy of the contract between the law firm and the publicly-funded detention center.
“It is outrageous not to provide an incident report. That can't be any clearer under the Open Records Act that you have to provide one. You can't hide it,” Senat said. “It is not a question of whether the video should be public, that's been answered by the courts.”
Senat said the idea of video relating to an arrest is not a new concept. However, the public’s right to view and copy video relating to arrests was recently upheld by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
The City of Norman had to pay $60,000 in legal fees to the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters to cover legal fees when they improperly withheld video that showed a then star for the University of Oklahoma Football team punching a young woman in the face.
“If it is video that is related to an arrest that shows the cause of the arrest, the reason why someone is arrested, it is a public record,” Senat said. “This was an issue again in the Joe Mixon video case, 3:35 where the state Supreme Court said, ‘We're saying what we've said for a long time what the lower courts have said if it shows the cause of an arrest which is public under the open records act then it must be made public.’”
Violations of the Oklahoma Open Records Act is a misdemeanor crime, according to state statute. FOX 25 notified Kay County District Attorney Brian Hermanson of the situation. He said while his office was responsible for enforcing the Open Records Act, he was unable to do any investigation into an open records violation claim on his own. The Kay County Sheriff’s office initially told FOX 25 they would have to ask Hermanson what they should do before taking a report about the situation. A deputy did contact FOX 25 and asked for a summary of the requests and denials.
The Kay County Detention Center is run by a trust, not by the Sheriff’s office. However, the Sheriff does sit on the commission that oversees the detention center. A previous allegation of abuse of an inmate at the center did not result in criminal charges, in part, because the out-of-county prosecutor assigned to review the case found evidence of one of the incidents reported was destroyed by the detention center.
“Those jails operate, those public jails are operating in your name,” Senat said. “You should be concerned about how you are going to be treated there if someday you or a relative end up there. You can't just dismiss it and say, ‘It doesn't matter.’ It is how government operates in your name and you have an obligation to know what's going on down there and to expect it to be run correctly.”