The lawsuit was announced Thursday during a press conference at the office of attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, who represents the woman and her family.
The police department’s public information office released a statement Friday morning saying the office was unaware of the press conference until it had taken place and that due to the lawsuit, they would be unable to comment.
Solomon-Simmons said the woman was sexually assaulted in late August while participating in a group placement program administered and supervised by the Bridges Foundation. The foundation is a nonprofit that helps find special needs adults jobs, education, and living arrangements.
“(The woman,) who is a special needs adult and suffers from down syndrome … was unfortunately sexually assaulted while she was participating in a program by the Bridges Foundation back in August,” Solomon-Simmons said.
“Since that time, this mother and father has tried diligently to get information from the Tulsa Police Department about this particular sexual assault.”
Solomon-Simmons, who appeared at the press conference with the woman’s mother, father, and brother, said the lawsuit had been filed because TPD had “failed/refused to articulate any law enforcement interest” in the case, and that Jackie Ziegler, the woman’s mother, had been “repeatedly denied access to the investigative police report in violation of the Oklahoma Open Records Act.”
Solomon-Simmons said he and the family “asked repeatedly” for the police report about the alleged assault and were denied several times.
“(We) asked in person, through email. Were asked to provide guardianship papers by the city because they are the legal guardians of the adult daughter, who has Down Syndrome. They provided that info … Yet still, they were not able to get the police report. They don’t even know the identity of the individual who attacked their daughter.”
The state’s open records law can be a puzzling set of rules that is in many ways more open that similar laws in any states, but is rarely enforced by district attorneys. It also provides public entities with wide berth to deny requests with little fear of punishment, at times forcing lawsuits to be filed in order for clearly open records to be released.
In this case, with no criminal charge being filed against the alleged assailant and the case being considered closed, it’s unclear what “open” records might exist. Often initial reports are withheld by agencies who claim a law enforcement exemption, stating that those reports are “investigative” and thus not available to be released to the public.
Solomon-Simmons said his office has received similar police records in the past through open records requests with no problems, and disagreed with TPD about whether the records in question would be considered public. Even if the records do fall under the law’s law enforcement exception, he said, the public interest in releasing them outweighs the agency’s decision to refuse to release them.
“I think we’ll let the court decide that,” Solomon-Simmons said.
Tulsa Police Department’s own website states that TPD will provide free copies of reports to victims of crime if they show up in person. However, Solomon-Simmons said, despite showing up in person — in addition to requests over the phone and through correspondence — the family has repeatedly been denied a copy of the report.
Solomon-Simmons said the woman’s family needed the report to provide to her medical providers for “the substantial trauma the sexual assault has caused.”
“Unfortunately, we had to do this,” he said at the press conference. “We had to file a lawsuit, they had to take off work to come and review a lawsuit just so they can get some answers they deserve to have. We don’t believe this is something that should happen in Tulsa. We believe our city government should be accountable to its citizens. These are hard working citizens of Tulsa and all they wanted was information about what happened to their daughter.”
In a statement read by Ziegler at Thursday’s press conference, she called on the police department to treat her daughter “with the compassion and support” due a victim.
“My family and I are deeply hurt we had to hire an attorney, to publicly speak out just to get records from the Tulsa Police Department that my daughter and I are entitled to have,” Ziegler said, her voice catching as she tried to hold back tears. “TPD refused to deal fairly and compassionately with my daughter.
“I want Chief Jordan to know why the man caught sexually assaulting my daughter has not been charged, why my daughter has not been treated with the compassion and support that a sexual (assault) victim like her deserves.”
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