While I was the publisher in Guymon we received a tip from someone about an issue with the police department.

The tip involved information that would have been provided in departmental memos the police chief had sent to his officers.

The police chief was known for his secrecy and for being somewhat of a bully, so we felt it would be better to place an open records request with the police department asking for all departmental memos from a certain time period instead of asking for memos dealing specifically with the topic of the tip.

This would provide a broad scope of topics where the police chief couldn’t determine what we were looking for and possibly pull any memos specifically dealing with the tip we received.

After receiving our open records request, the police chief immediately called me to inquire why I wanted the memos.

I told him we had received a tip concerning some matters and we were wanting to check out the tip, not letting on what the tip was about.

“Well, good luck in getting them,” he said.

I then informed him that according to Attorney General’s office he had five business days to fulfill the open records request, which the AG had deemed an appropriate time frame to comply with an open records request.

If he didn’t comply, I added, then I would be forced to run a front page story telling our readers the chief law enforcement officer of the city was violating the Open Records Act.

It was a gutsy move on my part, but one I felt I needed to make to let him know I wasn’t going to be bullied into dropping our request.

“I’m calling the city attorney. I’ll call you back,” he said rather tersely and hung up the phone.

About an hour later he called back and said our records would be ready in a couple of days. He called us back when the records were ready to pick up and I sent our managing editor to the police department to acquire them.

When he handed the copied memos to her he said, “Oh, by the way. Don’t be shocked if some of my officers ticket you or Jeff in the future.”

She came back to the office and informed me of the threat he made and I wasted no time in calling the Attorney General’s office.

The law states no public official or public body shall make a threat or create a threatening atmosphere to the general public who is making open records requests.

When the police chief asked what I wanted the memos for that, according to the AG’s office, is putting the requester in a defensive position and is considered a threatening situation.

He then took the bullying too far when he threatened my managing editor when she went to pick up the memos.

Needless to say, this infuriated the AG’s office who placed a call to both the police chief and the city manager. It wasn’t a pleasant phone call on their end.

Years ago when the city manager of a another municipality in the state was being investigated by two separate newspapers on allegations he falsified his resume, the city manager went out and bought, with city funds, security cameras so he could see who was making open records request concerning him.

He claimed it was for security reasons, but the fact the cameras were all pointed at the city clerk’s office, where open records requests were made, and the only monitor was in his office, the Attorney General told the city to remove the cameras as that was deemed as a creating a threatening atmosphere to those making requests.

He then got the city council to pass a rule that when anyone makes an open records request they had to provide a copy of their drivers license to the city clerk before the request would be fulfilled.

Again, this created a threatening atmosphere as a person’s drivers license contains a good deal of personal information on the person making the request. Again, they were ordered to cease the practice.

As the law states, the purpose of the Open Records Act is to assure the people of their vested right to know and be fully informed about their government.

If a public body or official tries to squelch an open records request with threats or creating a threatening atmosphere, then they have denied the general public that right.

By the way, the memos we received from the police department only proved our tip was bogus. It was simply a rumor and there was nothing to it.

However, his actions sent up a red flag to city officials who basically asked “What is he really trying to hide?” They began an investigation into the police chief’s activities and what they found wasn’t pretty.

He later was fired for stealing evidence from the police department’s evidence room, including seized drugs which he was selling on the streets.

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