A judge in Pottawatomie County has ordered jail officials to release surveillance video from detention officers’ struggle with a man who later died.
The Frontier and reporter Kassie McClung filed a lawsuit in June to force the public trust that oversees the Pottawatomie County jail to release records in connection with the death of Ronald Gene Given. For more than a year, the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center Trust has denied McClung access to the records.
Given, 42, died after jailers restrained him at the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center in January 2019. The state medical examiner’s office ruled Given’s death a homicide, but no one has ever faced criminal charges in connection with his death.
Pottawatomie County District Judge John G. Canavan Jr. said at a court hearing on Sept. 2 that surveillance video from Given’s stay at the jail should be released under the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
“When it comes to surveillance records of a public jail, I do think the public has an interest in seeing how prisoners are cared for and seeing how the jail is operating,” he said.
The jail trust is expected to appeal the ruling.
Given’s aunt, Eva Given Kopaddy, filed a federal lawsuit in December that claims surveillance footage from the jail shows a detention officer held Given down by pressing a knee on his neck, which ultimately caused his death.
Kathryn Gardner, a Tulsa-based attorney for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, is representing The Frontier in the lawsuit.
Jail officials have never provided a valid reason to withhold the records and state law requires their release, Gardner said at the hearing.
“The Oklahoma Open Records Act exists to facilitate transparency and accountability for those in positions of power across the state of Oklahoma. And that’s what this case is ultimately about,” she said.