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."
“Wholesale release of these photos just doesn't serve a law enforcement purpose in most cases,” Batton said at the time.
In the lawsuit, Batton wrote that Mashburn was not happy when a story appeared in The Oklahoman on June 19, 2012, explaining why elected officials in Cleveland County were not releasing mug shots.
“Mashburn was visibly upset with the article and all but threw a fit about how law enforcement officers would perceive him over the issue and wanted to know how to fix the statements made by the paper that sometimes innocent people are arrested,” Batton wrote in the petition filed Monday.
Batton also wrote that Mashburn accused Cleveland County Sheriff Joe Lester of lying to a reporter working for The Oklahoman and that Lester “threw the office under the bus.”
In June 2012, Lester told The Oklahoman that his office was complying with policy that restricted the release of mug shots, though he declined to offer his opinion on the subject at the time.
“We are going to follow the advice of the county's legal counsel, who is advising us not to release those photos,” Lester said in a statement.
Batton was fired three days after the news story appeared in The Oklahoman. The restrictive mug shot policy was reversed within a week, too.
Mashburn declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit.
“He was last employed and paid by this office in September of 2008,” Mashburn wrote in a text message Wednesday afternoon, when asked about his relationship with Alexander.
When asked by The Oklahoman if he still used Alexander, in any capacity, Mashburn again had little to say.
“Since that relates to the claims in the lawsuit, I have no further comment,” he said.
In the lawsuit filed on Monday, Alexander is described in less-than-glowing terms by Batton, who claims Alexander leaked information about his termination to the news media “less than five minutes” after the firing.
“When Mashburn took office, he made it clear that Alexander was his campaign manager and that he held a special status,” Batton wrote in the petition.
He also wrote that Alexander was paid to work as a public information officer for Mashburn’s office. Yet, Batton wrote, Alexander was “never in the office or had any work duties or provided any public relations work relating to the district attorney’s office.”
Alexander was arrested May 13 in Oklahoma City on drug complaints. He is accused of being in possesion of cocaine and prescription drugs he wasn’t supposed to have and lying to a police officer.