OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Governor Kevin Stitt has signed a measure into law that supporters say would protect the families of fallen law enforcement officers.

Senate Bill 968 would prohibit the release of a recording showing an officer dying in the line of duty unless the court rules that the material should be released in specific cases.

“This bill is about protecting the dignity, not only of our fallen heroes, but their fellow officers and surviving family members, who can be retraumatized by these recordings.  It can also make it more difficult to seat a jury in such cases,” Sen. John Haste said.  “I’m grateful for all the support we had in both chambers and by Governor Stitt who has now added his signature.”  

Officials stress that the defense and prosecutors would still have access to the recordings. Also, family members of the deceased officer would be able to view them.

The legislation was filed after a September court ruling that forced Tulsa Police to release video of the shooting of Sgt. Craig Johnson and Officer Aurash Zarkeshan during a traffic stop last June.

Haste said he was contacted by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office and Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin about amending Oklahoma law to prevent such audio and video from being released.

Sgt. Craig Johnson and Officer Aurash Zarkeshan
Sgt. Craig Johnson and Officer Aurash Zarkeshan

Johnson and Zarkeshan pulled over David Ware, a motorist who allegedly refused to get out of his vehicle after receiving 12 orders to do so. The officers used both a stun gun and pepper spray to get Ware to comply. When Ware was out of the vehicle, he allegedly pulled out a gun and fired on the officers.

Johnson died from his injuries, and Zarkeshan spent months in a rehabilitation facility.

“This is important legislation that will help protect the integrity of our law enforcement officers when they are shot and killed in the line of duty,” Rep. Sheila Dills said. “We ask these officers to willingly place their lives at risk to protect public safety. Audio and video recordings of their deaths should be reserved as evidence for courts of law only as they have no redeeming value to society.”

The measure will go into effect 90 days after sine die adjournment.