McCurtain Gazette v. McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office
Case Number: CV-2023-34
Court: McCurtain County District Court
Clients: McCurtain Gazette, Christopher Willingham
Petition Filed: March 10, 2023
Background: Beginning in March 2022, McCurtain Gazette reporter Chris Willingham submitted Oklahoma Open Records Act requests to the McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office seeking information related to the death of Bobby Barrick, a Choctaw Nation citizen who became unresponsive and later died at a local hospital after he was Tasered by McCurtain County sheriff deputies. Among other records, Willingham’s requests sought police-worn body camera footage, officer Taser certifications, and the sheriff’s policies and procedures on use of force.
The sheriff’s office turned over six pages of documents, including a radio log and three written deputy statements. However, the sheriff’s office declined to turn over additional records, including police body-worn camera footage, officer Taser certifications, and use-of-force policies and procedures, claiming that they were exempt from disclosure under the Open Records Act.
On behalf of Willingham and the McCurtain Gazette, Kathryn E. Gardner, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney for Oklahoma, filed this lawsuit against the sheriff’s office, alleging that it violated the state’s Open Records Act by unlawfully withholding records responsive to the reporter’s requests. The lawsuit requests that the court order the sheriff’s office to promptly turn over all of the requested records.
Update: Following this lawsuit, the sheriff’s office released the police body-worn camera footage and other records requested by the McCurtain Gazette. According to the newspaper, the recordings show Barrick begging for his life after he was Tasered multiple times.
2023-03-10: Petition for relief for violations of the Oklahoma Open Records Act