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State of Oklahoma v. Pridgeon

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  1. Freedom of Information

Case Number: CF-2021-98

Court: District Court of Muskogee County, Oklahoma

Client: Muskogee Phoenix

Motion Filed: Feb. 18, 2021

Background: Muskogee County District Attorney Orvil Loge moved to block the release of body camera footage and a 911 call recording related to a high-profile murder case, arguing the public records would compromise an ongoing investigation.

On behalf of the Muskogee Phoenix, Reporters Committee Local Legal Initiative Attorney KatieBeth Gardner intervened in the matter and requested the court presiding over the criminal prosecution reject the district attorney’s motion to shield the records from the public. She argued that prosecutors failed to meet the required showing under the Oklahoma Open Records Act to withhold the video evidence and were without a proper basis in law to ask the court to withhold the 911 calls.

Quote: “This tragic series of events has deeply affected the community and sent shockwaves far beyond. Spurred to action, the community has come together to organize fundraising efforts, vigils, and memorials. The public has a right to information, such as the body camera footage, that would better inform their understanding of what took place.”

Update: The Muskogee Phoenix obtained the 911 recording after the court ordered its release on March 2, 2021, finding in favor of the public interest and no compelling reason to withhold the tape from the public. On June 4, a judge ordered the release of portions of the police body camera videos.

During a preliminary hearing on Aug. 9, a judge closed the courtroom to the press and the public, prompting Reporters Committee attorneys to object on behalf of the Muskogee Phoenix and urge the court to open the proceeding to the public when it reconvened on Aug. 11. However, the court denied the request. On Aug. 19, Reporters Committee attorneys filed another motion in the case, requesting that the court provide transcripts of the preliminary hearings on Aug. 9 and 11. 

Filings: 

2021-02-18: Special entry of appearance on behalf of the Muskogee Phoenix to respond to the state’s motion to prevent release of video evidence and 911 calls

2021-02-24: Court order

2021-03-02: Court order

2021-05-28: Memorandum of law in support of making body camera footage available to the public

2021-08-09: Muskogee Phoenix’s motion to intervene for the limited purpose of opposing closure of preliminary hearing and for access

2021-08-11: Court order

2021-08-19: Muskogee Phoenix’s renewed motion to intervene for the limited purpose of requesting preliminary hearing transcripts