The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals has upheld a decision ordering Pottawatomie County jail officials to release surveillance video showing a man’s fatal struggle with jailers in 2019. 

The Frontier sued jail officials in June 2021 after they denied access to the records. A Pottawatomie County judge initially ordered the release of the video in September 2021, but the jail trust appealed the decision. 

Ronald Gene Given, 42, died after jailers restrained him at the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center in January 2019. No one has faced criminal charges in connection with Given’s death, which was ruled a homicide.

One of Given’s family members filed a federal lawsuit in 2020 claiming surveillance footage shows a detention officer holding Given down by pressing a knee on his neck, ultimately causing his death. The lawsuit is still ongoing.

“In the era we live in, if something is stolen, if a crime is committed, or someone is injured on property, the first question inevitably asked is: ‘Is there a video recording?’” Civil Appeals Court Judge Gregory Blackwell wrote in the Dec. 14 ruling. Blackwell wrote that the purpose of surveillance cameras, like those at the jail, is to create records for future use.

Kathryn Gardner, a Tulsa-based attorney with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, represented The Frontier in the lawsuit. She said the ruling is an important step for providing community members transparency around Given’s death. 

“I am hopeful that what this means is that we’ll be able to secure from the jail trust soon a copy of those records,” Gardner said. 

Pottawatomie County jail trust officials could still seek a new hearing or ask the Oklahoma Supreme Court to take up the case.