NORMAN — A former assistant to Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn claims he was fired two years ago because the prosecutor wanted to distance himself from a controversy regarding the “wholesale” release of mug shots.
David Batton is suing his former boss in Oklahoma City federal court. He is an attorney who worked for Mashburn for five years prior to his abrupt termination on June 22, 2012.
Batton accuses Mashburn of working with political consultant Chad David Alexander to mislead the public about the district attorney’s involvement in a controversial policy that briefly ended the release of jail booking photos.
Alexander also is listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.
“Alexander and Mashburn devised a scheme to mislead the press and public to avoid any adverse publicity as he had done a number of other occasions to avoid adverse publicity,” Batton wrote in the petition.
Batton also describes in his lawsuit a number of other alleged salacious, behind-the-scenes details of Mashburn’s office, painting his former employer as a demanding boss who would bend ethical rules to protect a political image.
The lawsuit claims that Batton is the victim of a conspiracy, that his constitutional rights were trampled and that he was “blacklisted,” making finding a new job extremely difficult.
Mug shot controversy
Batton’s firing came after Cleveland County Sheriff Joe Lester started to refuse requests for mug shots, some time in early 2012. Jail booking photos are often requested by the news media to accompany articles and broadcasts.
Other publications request them, too, including magazines that print nothing but mug shots and a brief description of the charges the pictured individual may be facing.
In June 2012, Batton told The Oklahoman that mug shots — in most cases — aren't a necessary record to be released to the public. He said some people who've been arrested may be innocent of the charges and that “pretrial detainees” deserve to have their privacy protected.
“We want to make sure and remember that there are two sides to the First Amendment,” Batton told The Oklahoman.
“The public's right to know on one side and the protection of the individual's privacy on the other.”
Batton also cited a federal appeals court ruling in February 2012, which stated that releasing mug shots isn't always required under the Freedom of Information Act.
During an interview in June 2012, Batton said the ruling, despite being in federal court, should translate well locally. “I think the application is clear in Oklahoma,” he said at the time.
Under federal law, a mug shot can be exempted from disclosure if releasing it “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."