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The Oklahoma Watch, along with journalist Whitney Bryen, are suing the city of Tulsa and TPD over its failure to provide public records. The city refuses to release information about the violent arrest of a then 70-year-old Black woman experiencing a mental health crisis. 

Tulsa Police officers arrested LaDonna Paris in October 2021, while she experienced an acute mental health episode. Police kicked in her bathroom door, knocked her to the ground, and handcuffed her, while officers laughed at her distress.

Months after the violent arrest, Paris’ son released video camera footage from the incident on YouTube. The video has over 68,000 views and over 400 comments.  

Meanwhile, Tulsa PD released the full video as well, with Police Chief Wendell Franklin vowing to investigate the officers actions. However, Franklin has not yet disciplined the officers involved.

On April 4, 2022, journalist Whitney Bryen requested all police reports and statements related to Paris’ arrest. Bryen filed the requests under the Oklahoma Open Records Act. 

Bryen was initially denied the information she requested because the incident was under internal review by Tulsa PD. She was directed to Chief Franklin’s office, which did not respond to her request.

In mid-April, Bryen also requested details from the 911 call that preceded Paris’ violent arrest. In an email reply, a Tulsa PD spokeswoman would not release any information related to the 911 call. 

Oklahoma Watch, journalist sue city, police department

According to Ted Streuli, executive director of the non-profit Oklahoma Watch and former president of Freedom of Information Oklahoma, the lawsuit against TPD and the city of Tulsa is integral to maintaining government transparency. “There is no justifiable reason for the Tulsa Police Department to delay or outright ignore our request.”

The Oklahoma Open Records Act requires public entities like Tulsa Police Department to provide information to the public regarding arrests. The city of Tulsa is a defendant because it oversees the police department. 

In an email, Department spokesman Capt. Richard Meulenberg stated, “The Tulsa Police Communications unit is not able to give any statements in reference to incidents that are in litigation.”

Kathryn Gardner is a Tulsa-based attorney with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, who represents Oklahoma Watch and Bryen in the lawsuit.

According to Gardner, “A ruling in favor of Oklahoma Watch and Whitney Bryen would send a clear message that public bodies in Oklahoma, including police departments, must follow the requirements of the Oklahoma Open Records Act.” 

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...