The Frontier is suing the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority for withholding records related to medical care at the Oklahoma County jail. The Frontier alleges Oklahoma County jail officials have unlawfully withheld the records in violation of the Oklahoma Open Records Act. 

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed the lawsuit on March 4 on behalf of The Frontier and Managing Editor Brianna Bailey after the Criminal Justice Authority denied two open records requests in 2023 for communications between jail employees and staff for the jail’s health care provider, Turn Key Health Clinics. She also requested information related to the jail’s contract with Turn Key.

The Criminal Justice Authority claims the documents are “law enforcement records,” and exempt from the state open records law. 

The Frontier’s lawsuit argues that this exemption doesn’t apply, because the Criminal Justice Authority doesn’t perform law enforcement functions and the records aren’t related to law enforcement. The lawsuit also argues there is a compelling public interest to release the records. 

Since the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority took control of the jail in 2020, the rate of inmate deaths at the facility has risen dramatically, according to the lawsuit. A Multi County Grand Jury report issued in 2023 concluded that “inadequate staffing, funding, surveillance, and training, coupled with poor law enforcement protocols, led to the significant loss of life within the jail.”

Denver Nicks, a Local Legal Initiative attorney for the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, attempted twice to speak with legal representatives for the jail, expressing the strong public interest in releasing the records.

“Please proceed as you feel necessary,” Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney Aaron Etherington replied to Nicks in an email.

“Considering the cloud of suspicion OCCJA has been under, and the profound concern for the health and welfare of OCDC inmates registered in the Multiple County Grand Jury report, and the cloud of suspicion OCCJA operated under for years, the public interest in release of records that pertain narrowly and specifically to matters related to inmate health vastly outweighs any interest OCCJA may have in keeping them secret,” Nicks argues in the lawsuit.