Oklahoma Watch sues city of Tulsa seeking details of woman’s arrest during mental health crisis

Oklahoma Watch employee

Oklahoma Watch and reporter Whitney Bryan are suing the city of Tulsa, seeking details of an incident that resulted in the violent arrest of a woman in mental health crisis.

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Bryan requested all police reports and statements related to the April 4 Oklahoma Open Records Act arrest of LaDonna Paris after the video sparked public outrage. The reaction included hundreds of comments on video footage of the incident and on social media.

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Angry Tulsans who spoke at a city council meeting criticized police officers’ handling of a 70-year-old great-grandmother who suffered a bipolar episode.

On April 13, Brian also requested the audio and transcript of the 911 call that prompted the police response.

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LaDonna Paris reportedly had a bipolar manic episode at a non-profit retail store where she locked herself in a bathroom for hours.

Jocelyn Finley, administrator of the Tulsa Police Department’s records office, said in an April 15 email that the department will not release the audio or transcription of the call.

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In May, two department records administrators told Bryan they were not authorized to release the reports because the incident was under internal investigation. They referred her to Chief Wendell Franklin’s office, which never responded to Brian’s request.

The lawsuit also alleges the police department violated state law by not having a designated records custodian who could respond to requests for public records during business hours.

The defendant named in the lawsuit filed Tuesday is the city of Tulsa, which oversees the police department. The City and Police Department are taxpayer-funded public bodies and are subject to the state’s open records law.

Department spokesman Capt. Richard Meulenberg said via email Wednesday, “The Tulsa Police Communications Unit cannot make any statements regarding incidents that are in litigation.”

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Ted Streuli, executive director of the nonprofit Oklahoma Watch and former president of Freedom of Information Oklahoma, a nonprofit formed to protect government transparency, said “The Open Records Act is absolutely clear on the points we’re arguing in this lawsuit.”

“There is no justifiable reason for the Tulsa Police Department to delay or completely ignore our request.” We waited eight months and gave the city multiple opportunities to avoid litigation, but they chose to ignore us and the law.

“When public servants choose to work in the shadows, they must be held accountable. Public business must remain public. It is the only protection we have against corruption and no one, not even the mayor or the chief of police, is above the law.”

Law enforcement agencies are required by the Oklahoma Open Records Act to make certain records, such as offense report information and arrest facts, available to the public.

Kathryn Gardner, a Tulsa-based attorney with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press representing Oklahoma Watch and Bryan, informed Franklin via email that the reasons given by employees for withholding the records violated state law. The boss didn’t answer.

“A ruling in favor of Oklahoma Watch and Whitney Bryan will send a clear message that public bodies in Oklahoma, including police departments, must follow the requirements of the Oklahoma Open Records Act,” Gardner said.

Police kicked down the door of the Habitat for Humanity restroom Paris had locked herself in, knocked her to the ground, handcuffed her, and locked her up on October 25, 2021.

Months later, Parris’ son posted portions of police-provided body camera footage to YouTube, showing officers taunting Parris before her arrest. From outside the toilet, the officers laughed and jeered at Paris. An officer activated her Taser at the door as Paris frantically talked to herself, saying she was afraid the police would kill her.

The edited YouTube video has more than 68,000 views and 400 comments, many admonishing the officers.

The police department responded by posting the full video account online and investigating the actions of the officers involved. Franklin will decide whether and how to discipline the officers.

Paris, now 71, filed a lawsuit in May against the city, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and three of the officers in charge, among other claims of assault, emotional distress and violation of her civil rights.


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