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Openness laws play critical role in bringing investigations of crime and government to light in Oklahoma

The Oklahoman relies on open government records and meetings to provide a variety of stories to its readers every day. March 13-19 is Sunshine Week, a national effort to promote open government.
BY BRYAN DEAN Published: March 15, 2011

The Oklahoman has closely followed proceedings in the murder case against Jerome Ersland. Ersland is accused of shooting and killing a teenager who, along with another teen, tried to rob him in 2009 at Reliable Discount Pharmacy in south Oklahoma City.

Ersland tried to defend himself, shooting the teen and chasing off the other suspect. Prosecutors claim Ersland left the store to chase the other suspect before returning and repeatedly shooting the unarmed teen robber who was lying unconscious on the floor.

Ersland and his attorneys have sought to change judges repeatedly in the case, which has delayed the trial for months.

An Oklahoma City transient made headlines when officials determined his repeated arrests and treatment cost Oklahoma City $160,000 in one year.

Floyd Crawford, 66, has been arrested more than 450 times since 1989, with most of the arrests coming in the last decade on public drunkenness and trespassing complaints.

A study of homelessness in the city highlighted Crawford, estimating the cost of his care from April 1, 2009, to March 31, 2010, to be at least $160,000.

A series of stories in July focused on problems at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. An investigator who resigned from the agency last year accused the OSBI of “incompetence, laziness and fraud” in its handling of homicide cases, use of federal funds and publication of crime clearance rates.

Kyle Eastridge, a longtime Oklahoma City police homicide detective, was hired by the agency as a cold case investigator but resigned less than a year later. He said the agency has allowed murder suspects — linked to crimes by DNA, witnesses and other evidence — to wander free.

The agency's interim director, Harvey Pratt, was appointed just as the stories were published. He acknowledged the OSBI had made mistakes and pledged to be more transparent about its handling of criminal cases in the future.

Staff Writer Bryan Dean is president of Freedom of Information of Oklahoma Inc., an organization which educates the public about the First Amendment and promotes open government.