Tulsa: Inmates’ mug shots stay private

BY GINNIE GRAHAM - Tulsa World Published: February 8, 2009
An illegal immigrant held on complaints he stabbed a Tulsa man to death. A man arrested in the rape of an 11-year-old girl. Family members accused of leading a large-scale, drug-trafficking operation between Tulsa and Mexico. A police officer suspected of informing a drug suspect of an upcoming search warrant.

Mug shots of these inmates taken at the Tulsa County jail have never been seen by the public.

The federal government protects the mug shots of its inmates citing the right to privacy. The federal practice is in contrast to the state’s Open Records Act interpretation, which considers jail mug shots a public document.

That means people arrested for violating state laws will have their mug shots made available. But the photos of people detained by federal officials stay secret. If a person is arrested on state and federal complaints, the mug shot is not released.

In practice, a college student arrested for public intoxication will have a mug shot publicly available while the face of a suspected multistate drug leader or identity theft mastermind remains unseen by the public.

"Arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and ridiculous is how I would describe it,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "It’s the federal Privacy Act run amok.”

Requests denied
Tulsa World requests for mug shots of federal inmates at the Tulsa County jail have been consistently denied. The practice is to post mug shots on the jail’s Web site of all inmates except those held for federal agencies or juveniles, said Undersheriff Brian Edwards.

"All we do is house inmates for the respective federal agencies,” Edwards said. "It’s up to them to release information on their inmates.”

The Tulsa World requested mugshots of six inmates indicted in March 2008 on complaints of smuggling marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine between the Mexican border and Tulsa area.


Unavailable jail mugshots
Following are examples of inmates held on federal complaints at the Tulsa County jail who had mugshots protected by the federal government, citing privacy rights.

Kimberly Chancellor of Salina was convicted in July on federal charges of committing sex crimes against three children and sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors say he forcibly raped an 11-year-old girl in 2003 and used force while trying to sexually assault two girls, 14 and 15, in 2007. The crimes occurred in Delaware County.

Buddy Visser, a former Tulsa police officer, was sentenced to 18 months in prison last year for stealing guns and ammunition from the police department’s firing range and selling them on the Internet.

• Former Tulsa police officer Rico Yarbrough was released from prison last year after serving about 15 months for engaging in a criminal conspiracy, obstructing justice and giving unlawful notice of a search warrant. The charges stem from Yarbrough’s efforts to help a friend involved with drugs avoid police.

Zobair Enwar Baig, Raffi Akbar Din and Nadeem Mustafi pleaded guilty last year in federal court as being part of a conspiracy to fraudulently exchange food stamps for cash at a Tulsa convenience store. Baig owned the store and Din and Mustafi were clerks. About $838,000 was obtained starting in January 2005.

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