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RCFP urges Owasso Police Department to release reports related to nonbinary teen’s death

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  1. Freedom of Information
The department denied a reporter’s request for police reports related to the death of Nex Benedict.
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Update: On Feb. 28, 2024, the Owasso Police Department disclosed the requested incident reports, with some information redacted.

An attorney for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is urging the Owasso Police Department to release police reports that could help shed light on the recent death of a 16-year-old nonbinary student in Oklahoma.

Nex Benedict, a student at Owasso High School, collapsed and died on Feb. 8, one day after the teen was reportedly involved in a fight in the girl’s bathroom at the school. Many questions about the physical altercation and the student’s death remain unanswered, but Benedict’s death has sparked debate about whether the teen was the target of bullying.

On Feb. 16, Oklahoma Watch reporter Jennifer Palmer submitted a public records request to the city of Owasso seeking access to all police reports related to the fight and Benedict’s death. The city denied the reporter’s request, citing the involvement of minors in the incident and the police department’s ongoing investigation.

Days after rejecting Palmer’s request, the Owasso Police Department released some records related to the incident, including a search warrant affidavit, surveillance camera footage from the school, and police body-worn camera video showing an officer’s interaction with Benedict’s family at the hospital.

In a letter sent to Owasso Police Department Captain Shaun Jones on Feb. 26, Reporters Committee Local Legal Initiative Attorney Denver Nicks commended the police department for taking an “important step” toward transparency. However, he wrote that the department’s denial of Palmer’s request for police reports does not comply with the Oklahoma Open Records Act.

The letter pointed out that the Owasso Police Department is required by law to turn over initial incident reports in response to a public records request regardless of the status of any ongoing investigation. Additionally, the letter stated, the law does not permit the police department to withhold all records simply because the incident involves juveniles. Instead, the police department is required under the Open Records Act to release responsive records with exempt information redacted.

“The records released thus far indicate a laudable commitment to transparency by the Owasso Police Department,” the letter concluded, “but your response remains incomplete.”

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