Cleveland County no longer will release mug shots to public
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The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a 2011 ruling by a Tulsa judge, who also had found that the mug shots in question were exempt under the law.
Cleveland County Sheriff Joe Lester said his department is complying with the new policy, although he declined to offer his opinion on the subject when asked by The Oklahoman.
“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.
Oklahoma's open records laws don't specifically list mug shots as items to be made available for public inspection, although the phrase “jail booking information” is included in the text.
And unlike federal open records laws, Oklahoma statutes don't feature an exemption for mug shots.
Diane Clay, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma attorney general's office, said the mug shot issue isn't a new one.
“This isn't the first time this issue has been discussed,” Clay said. “And it may be a situation where an attorney general's opinion needs to be requested.”
Clay said the opinion process “is very thorough ... and involves several different people around the office.”
“It allows us to study the law, get different points of view ... it's a very comprehensive process,” she said.
In the meantime, Batton said he's not aware of other state counties with a similar mug shot policy in place.
“We don't care what other counties are doing,” he said. “We evaluated the case law and decided this is what's best for us.”
Batton said the county still will release mug shots, just on case-by-case basis.
County officials also will be the ones deciding whether a mug shot should be released.
“If law enforcement has a purpose to ID this person ... they're going to release the photograph,” he said. “If not, they won't.”
CONTRIBUTING: Correspondent Robert Boczkiewicz
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