Videos of officer-involved shootings are often redacted, either to conceal the identity of innocent bystanders or to hide what is often graphic footage.
But Pittsburg County District Attorney Charles Sullivan has gone a step further, filing a request in Pittsburg County District Court seeking to stop the release of an entire video.
Mark Anson Schoggins, 35, was shot and killed July 17 in McAlester after leading authorities on a pursuit that began after Schoggins’ allegedly shoplifted merchandise at an area liquor store.
Why Schoggins was shot is not yet clear, though the video could potentially shine light on the shooting. Authorities have not said whether Schoggins was armed at the time of the shooting, though they did say that an officer received minor injuries after being “struck by shrapnel.”
Schoggins reportedly fled from the liquor store and reached a nearby highway before returning back into McAlester city limits. He was shot and killed by Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers, and the OHP’s Troop Z, rather than the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, is conducting the investigation into the shooting.
Sullivan filed a motion to quash on July 30 seeking to stop public release of the shooting video, court records show. The McAlester News Capital and Brecken Wagner, a local attorney, had filed open records requests for the video, according to Sullivan’s motion.
The Pittsburg County District Attorney argued in the filing that the footage in the video would “show the struggle between Mark Anthony (sic) Schoggins and the Law Enforcement Officers and ultimately the Officers firing upon suspect Schoggins and ultimately his death.”
Often officer-involved shooting videos are redacted by authorities in small ways, as Oklahoma law allows for certain things to be concealed.
For instance, when Tulsa Police released a video in June of the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Derrec Jamal Shaw, the department blurred the faces of bystanders. The department also blurred the view of Shaw’s body after the 25-year-old had been shot multiple times by a responding police officer.
Likewise, the Oklahoma City Police released video last week of a fatal officer-involved shooting on an Oklahoma City highway from early June. The body camera video shows officers approach and eventually shoot and kill 24-year-old Vincense Dewayne Williams Jr. as he stands on the side of a highway. Williams, who allegedly was firing at passing vehicles and reached for his handgun just before being shot by police, is blurred out for the entirety of the video.
Sullivan, in his motion, “concedes” that the video of Schoggins’ shooting is a public record, but argues that state law allows for the “entirety of the video” to be redacted.
“The state believes releasing this footage to the public prior to trial will materially compromise (criminal) prosecution, and equally concerning is the effect it would have on any defendant’s right to a fair trial,” Sullivan argued in the motion.
Given that Schoggins died in the shooting, the only possible defendants would be law enforcement. But Sullivan told The Frontier on Thursday that the wording in his motion isn’t implying wrongdoing on the part of any officer, and said he hadn’t yet seen the video himself.
“I personally have not seen the video itself,” Sullivan said. “I’ve certainly discussed with the officers what it contains.”
Sullivan said he had filed a similar motion in a 2017 officer-involved shooting in Kiowa where 50-year-old Marvin Washington was shot and killed by a Kiowa Police Officer.
Sullivan said he filed the motion to quash the video from 2017 shortly after the shooting. He said that once he ruled the shooting justified, the video was released.
“Once the investigation was completed and we knew we weren’t going to file something, we went ahead and released (the video),” Sullivan said. “If the question is would we ever change our stance on it being released, certainly. Once the investigation is over … I agree that the public has a right to see it.”
Sullivan said that he does not yet know what the findings of the investigation into the Schoggins shooting will be, but he worries that should a trial be necessary, the release of the video could taint a potential jury.
“If I have to have a jury pool, (the video) is very prejudicial, I mean, (Schoggins) passed away,” Sullivan said.
Wagner told The Frontier on Thursday that he had filed an open records request for the video because “It’s public information and I’m the public, so it’s something I should be able to see.”
“Now they’re doing everything they can to block people from seeing the video,” Wagner said. “They’re going to pretty serious lengths to keep someone from seeing something. What does that tell you? How can you not look at that and say ‘Why are you trying to hide that? What’s on there that we can’t see?’”
No date has yet been set for a hearing on Sullivan’s motion to quash. Sullivan said that his motion was immediately granted in the 2017 case, though this time it was not.
“I kind of thought that’s what would happen here,” he told The Frontier. “But it didn’t.”
Ed Choate, McAlester News-Capital publisher and editor, said the paper filed a routine request for dashboard or body camera video and audio of the fatal shooting, and release of the video would serve the public’s right to know.
“It is the responsibility of journalists to help ensure transparency in government — including law enforcement,” Choate said. “The public has a right to know whether law enforcement officers follow procedure or acceptable practices — particularly in instances involving the use of deadly force.”