Request for city of Tulsa records in police case brings no response
BY JARREL WADE World Staff Writer
Saturday, December 08, 2012
12/08/12 at 8:07 AM
Learn more: Read the city’s open records policy.
Read the state Open Records Act and find other resources involving public records.
The city of Tulsa has not responded to a request made by the Tulsa World more than two months ago for records on police arbitration proceedings.
A second request for a more limited number of records involving two Tulsa police officers has been pending more than seven weeks without a formal response. Both requests have been sitting in the city's legal department for weeks.
The city has a history of slow response involving some public records requests under Mayor Dewey Bartlett.
Last summer, a Tulsa World open records survey found problems in Tulsa and a few other cities and counties.
On Oct. 2, the World requested records of arbitration rulings involving Tulsa police officers for the past five years. Officers appealing disciplinary actions may seek a ruling from an arbitrator under provisions of the city's contract with the Fraternal Order of Police.
City spokeswoman Michelle Allen said earlier this week that Legal Department officials have not responded about the status of that request.
Gerald Bender, an attorney in the city's legal division, said late Friday the request was being reviewed to determine whether arbitration rulings are public under the Open Records Act. Bender said he hoped to have a decision by early next week on the request.
The act states records of "any final disciplinary action resulting in loss of pay, suspension, demotion of position or termination" shall be made public. The act contains no language allowing officials to withhold personnel records in cases involving appeals, which could take months or even years in cases involving state employees.
The Tulsa Police Department routinely releases information on officers who are demoted or fired, though they may still appeal to an arbitrator. In some cases, arbitrators have overturned decisions to demote or fire officers, ordering back pay and other actions.
The World also requested records regarding two Tulsa police officers named in a federal lawsuit. The suit was filed by a Tulsa man, Brian Lumpkin, who was allegedly ordered by one of the officers to do pushups during a traffic stop.
The World sent its request to Allen on Oct. 19 for all tort claims and personnel actions involving Officers James Bohanon and Kevin Warne. City officials said there were no public records involving final disciplinary actions against the two but have not provided a response on records of tort claims.
Before residents can sue a governmental entity such as the city of Tulsa, they must first file a tort claim, giving the city an opportunity to resolve the claim before it reaches district court.
Allen said staff responsible for records in the city's legal division have not responded to her requests for an update on when the request may be completed. She said she made attempts throughout November to determine the status but received no response from City Attorney David O'Meilia or others in the legal division.
The lawsuit against Bohanon and Warne was filed in October, and the World filed its open records request the same day.
The lawsuit alleges Bohanon and Warne were investigating a home where they suspected drugs were sold in October 2010.
The home, near the 4800 block of South Mingo Road, was under surveillance when Lumpkin, 24, left the area, according to the lawsuit. The officers followed his car and pulled him over without probable cause, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit quotes officers it identifies as Bohanon and Warne from recorded radio traffic. It details an alleged conversation between Bohanon, who stopped Lumpkin, and Warne, who was parked farther away.
"Did you see that?" Bohanon asks while laughing, according to the lawsuit. "I told him, 'Hey, you're going to have to give me some pushups if you want to not get any tickets.'"
The lawsuit claims Warne and Bohanon violated Lumpkin's civil rights and that Bohanon used excessive force. At the time the suit was filed, city officials said the two would not be allowed to comment on the case.
Records show Bohanon has previously been named in a federal civil rights lawsuit, which the city settled.
City payroll records show Bohanon has worked for the department for 11 years, and Warne was hired 10 years ago. Both are paid an annual salary of $55,830.
Bartlett said in October that city officials have seen an "exponential increase" in open records requests. He said officials are reviewing their policy, last updated in 1995.
In a summer project, the World's interns requested a single day's worth of emails to and from Bartlett's office. The city took six weeks to provide 43 emails.
A World request in August for emails regarding police promotional exams took about six weeks before about 250 emails were provided.
"We are updating the executive order that addresses how we process such requests to ensure we are as efficient as possible," Bartlett said.
The mayor said while he is "mindful that open records requests must be filled within a reasonable amount of time," records custodians have other jobs to do.
"Each has a full workload in their respective department and must work in the responses to open records requests as time allows while still meeting their primary work responsibilities."
The law requires a "prompt and reasonable response" to requests.
A request last month by the World for emails from the mayor's office in Oklahoma City received a response within a few days.
Original Print Headline: City records request brings no response
Jarrel Wade 918-581-8367