OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma State Senate passed a bill Thursday that prohibits the release of audio or video that shows an officer dying in the line of duty unless a court finds that there is a compelling reason the material should be released in specific cases.
Senate Bill 968 was written by Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow.
“This is about protecting the dignity of our fallen heroes. Once these images are released, they are out there forever. The family and fellow officers are retraumatized, and it can actually cause problems with prosecuting the case—jury selection is one example of that,” Haste said. “The video would still be available to be viewed by family members, and of course prosecutors and defense attorneys, and if a court rules there is a compelling reason, the video could still be released. But in most cases, I believe there is simply no justification for releasing these recordings.”
Senate Bill 968 prohibits the release of audio/video of an officer dying in the line of duty, as well as events leading to the officer’s death. However, such a video can be released if a court finds that either public interest or individual interest outweighs the reason for denial, a Senate Communications Division news release states.
Haste said he was contacted by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office officials and Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin about amending Oklahoma law to prevent such audio and video from being released, according to the news release.
The law enforcement officials were concerned about 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.
Johnson and Zarkeshan pulled over David Ware, a motorist and 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 wounds. Zarkeshan spent months rehabilitating from his injuries.
The bill allows for family members of an officer killed in the line of duty to view the audio or video of the death. It also gives prosecutors and defense attorneys the right to use such videos as evidence in a legal proceeding.
The measure next goes to the House of Representatives for further consideration. Rep. Sheila Dills is the House principal author of SB 968.