BY World's Editorials Writers
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
12/11/12 at 2:53 AM
When a law enforcement agency, in this case the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, denies or ignores legitimate requests for information under the state Open Records Act it raises serious questions: What is the agency trying to hide, and why?
OSBI general counsel Jimmy Bunn has refused to release to The Oklahoman records related to the arrest of Jonathan Weaver, 15, who is charged with stabbing Nick Tilley, 16, outside a Seminole High School football game on Nov. 9. OSBI is investigating the incident at the request of Seminole police.
Bunn claims that state law exempts the OSBI from the open records rules that apply to every other law enforcement agency in the state.
A district court judge has sealed an arrest affidavit in the case because it names witnesses who have been threatened. But there are other records related to the case that do not fall under the judge's order and that ought to be released in a timely manner.
Efforts to hide those records behind a veil of secrecy spawn mistrust among members of the public. That's the opinion of Lindel Hutson, president of Freedom of Information Oklahoma Inc. and we agree. After all, it is transparency that distinguishes law enforcement agencies in the United States from those in authoritarian regimes.
State Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, is right to have asked Attorney General Scott Pruitt for an opinion setting the OSBI straight on its imagined open records exemption. And if Pruitt doesn't deliver, Holt and his fellow lawmakers should not hesitate to make the law more clear.
The OSBI, like other law enforcement agencies, is supposed to be the servant of the taxpayer. There is no reason why it should be more secretive than any other law enforcement agency in the state.