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Oklahoma Senate bill blocks video release of officers killed in line of duty

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Posted at 10:41 PM, Mar 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-05 07:52:56-05

TULSA, Okla. — The Oklahoma State Legislature is a step closer to approving a bill that hits home for law enforcement officers.

The senate bill lets agencies refuse to release footage of an officer killed in the line of duty.

READ MORE: One Tulsa police officer dies, another in the hospital after shooting

"It's traumatizing enough to go through it once, but a thousand times... It's just torture," Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado said.

State senators passed Senate Bill 968 with a 39-7 vote, Thursday. It goes to the House floor for approval, next.

The bill amends the Oklahoma Open Records Act to allow police agencies the power to deny public release of audio and video "that depicts the death of a law enforcement officer."

"It allows the family of police officers to rest easy," Regalado said.

The bill's author, State Senator John Haste (R) of Broken Arrow, Okla., told 2 Works for You Regalado and Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin came to him with the idea after TPD Sergeant Craig Johnson was shot and killed during a traffic stop in June 2020.

In September, a Tulsa County judge ordered the release of police body camera footage of the shooting.

“In that situation where my family would have to view that video, and for the deputies that work for me, I don’t want their families to go through that," Regalado said.

READ MORE: Jury finds Matthew Hall guilty in shooting of 2 Tulsa police officers

Language in the legislation still lets a court command the release of video if they find "public interest outweighs the reason for denial."

“Video plays an important role from an accountability standpoint but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this," Haste said.

But State Senator Kevin Matthews (R) of Tulsa, Okla., told 2 Works for You accountability hangs in the balance with this bill. He said he does not trust Republicans' approach to police policy this legislative session.

"In some cases discretion should be allowed when an officer is killed, but I just feel that we’ve gone too far when trying to take away transparency from individuals," Matthews said.

The bill allows prosecuting and defense attorneys access to audio and video. Haste also said the bill would eliminate the chance for jury members to publicly view body camera video online before the start of a trial.

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