Oklahoma attorney general: Police mug shots are public records
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Friday, December 14, 2012
12/14/12 at 7:29 AM
Learn more Read the attorney general’s mug shot opinion.
Police booking mug shots are public records and must be released to the media or anyone else who asks for them, Attorney General Scott Pruitt ruled Thursday.
The opinion - written at the request of state Sen. Ron Justice, R-Chickasha, and Sen. Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater - also determines that if police booking mugs are kept in electronic formats they must be released that way upon request.
David Reid, publisher of OK Jailbirds, pushed for the opinion after he had trouble getting mug shots from sheriffs in some cases.
"They're wonderful human beings and in most cases they've been very cooperative, and I think most of them would have been cooperative regardless," Reid said.
But in some instances, he said, sheriffs hesitated to release mug shots, necessitating the opinion.
OK Jailbirds publishes mug shots of all prisoners arrested in 55 rural Oklahoma counties. The newspaper is available in 850 locations around the state, Reid said.
Halligan said he was pleased with the attorney general's opinion.
"The public pays for these mug shots," he said. "They ought to have access to the mug shots."
While the Legislature has put many law enforcements records outside the public's reach, the opinion holds that booking photographs must be released because they would be part of an arrestee's description.
"Because a mug shot is one of the best physical descriptions of an arrestee, it is a type of record that must be disclosed," the opinion says.
In general, the opinion determines, the release of a mug shot by a law enforcement agency will not constitute an invasion of privacy.
However, an invasion of privacy may occur if the picture places the person in a false light, the opinion says.
"By itself, the act of disclosing a mug shot is not enough to constitute an invasion of privacy even if the person has been acquitted," the opinion says. "This is because a mug shot taken during the booking process does not show that the person has been convicted of a crime but only that the person has been arrested and booked into the jail.
"An invasion of privacy may occur when the disclosure of the mug shot is accompanied by a knowing or reckless false communication that the person in the mug shot has been convicted of a crime."
Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association, said police mug shots have always been public records and he thinks public sentiment is on the side of keeping them that way.
The ruling doesn't apply to pictures of federal prisoners held by county sheriffs.
In 2009, the Tulsa World filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Marshals Services seeking the release of booking photos of federal inmates. The federal government protects the mug shots of its inmates, citing privacy rights. Oklahoma's Open Records Act, however, considers jail mug shots to be public documents.
After the World filed suit in the case, the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office began providing booking photos of federal prisoners except for people held on immigration violations.
Original Print Headline: AG: Police mug shots are public records
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
Scott Pruitt: He said police booking mug shots must be released to the public when requested