Frontier Media Group, Inc. v. Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center Trust
Case Number: CV-2021-93
Court: Pottawatomie County District Court
Clients: Frontier Media Group, Inc. and Kassie McClung
Petition for Relief Filed: June 7, 2021
Background: In November 2019, Kassie McClung, a reporter for The Frontier, submitted Open Records Act requests seeking access to records related to the custody of Ronald Gene Given, who died in January 2019 after being taken to the Pottawatomie County Jail. McClung specifically sought booking sheets, videos, mugshots and incident reports from the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center Trust, which operates the jail.
McClung was investigating the circumstances surrounding Given’s death. Given, a member of the Kiowa Tribe, was transferred to the hospital after entering a local store in a frenzied state. Healthcare providers determined that Given was in need of emergency detention at a state behavioral health center, but because all of Oklahoma’s facilities were full, he was placed in county jail.
Given was in jail for fewer than 10 hours before he was transported to the hospital after suffering from alleged use of force by jail employees. The Shawnee Police Department said there was a struggle between Given and the staff. He died eight days later. A state medical examiner’s report indicated that Given died from injuries resulting from the officers who restrained him, and ruled the death a homicide.
In response to her records requests, McClung received only the booking and release sheets. Jail operators refused to turn over the rest of the requested records, including videos, mugshots and incident reports.
On behalf of McClung and The Frontier, Reporters Committee attorneys sued the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center Trust and its executive director for unlawfully withholding the requested records. In their petition for relief, they ask the court to order the jail operator to immediately disclose all of the requested records, as is required by the Open Records Act.
Quote: “A ruling in favor of The Frontier and Kassie McClung would send a message that public bodies in Oklahoma, including detention facilities, should follow the requirements of the Oklahoma Open Records Act and promptly release public records upon request,” Kathryn E. Gardner, the Reporters Committee Local Legal Initiative staff attorney in Oklahoma, told The Frontier.
Update: During a hearing on Sept. 2, 2021, Pottawatomie County District Judge John G. Canavan Jr. ordered jail officials to release surveillance video documenting officers’ struggle with Given. On Jan. 11, 2022, the defendants appealed the judgment in favor of The Frontier and McClung. On Dec. 14, 2022, Judge Gregory Blackwell of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision ordering jail officials to release the surveillance video. On Jan. 27, 2023, jail officials released redacted surveillance footage to The Frontier.
2021-06-07: Petition for relief
2021-07-16: Plaintiffs’ response and brief in opposition to defendant’s motion to dismiss
2021-09-02: Court minute — motion to dismiss denied, writ of mandamus granted
2021-09-30: Sept. 30 Journal Entry
2022-01-11: Defendants’ appeal
2022-02-18: Plaintiffs’ answer brief