'Tulsa World' Files Suit Seeking Federal Inmates' Mug Shots

By: The Tulsa World has filed a lawsuit challenging a government policy of withholding mug shots of federal inmates.

The newspaper filed suit on Sept. 4 against the U.S. Marshals Service, seeking an order releasing the photos.

The government contends privacy rights of inmates prohibit the release of the photographs. The newspaper said in its suit that Oklahoma's Open Records Act considers jail mug shots to be public documents.

"The Tulsa World disagrees that this is an invasion of privacy for people who have been arrested," Executive Editor Joe Worley said. "The public deserves to know how our law enforcement agencies are doing. The public needs to know who law enforcement groups are arresting and how they are being detained."

The Marshals Service office in Tulsa would not comment on the suit.

The lawsuit states that the federal government releases photos of inmates who become fugitives and posts mug shots on its Web site when a fugitive is captured. The newspaper argues that people have limited privacy rights once they are charged with a federal crime.

"A great deal of information has already been released, such as the name of the person, the home city and/or street address, the alleged crime, the alleged elements of the crime, the plea, the request for release, the bond, other crimes he has committed, risk of flight and other information used in the criminal or detention proceedings," the lawsuit states.

The newspaper said its requests for photos of federal inmates held at the Tulsa Jail have been consistently denied.

The World argues that reasons for releasing photos include showing whether a person was abused upon arrest; showing the race, sex and/or ethnic status of detainees; disclosing unfair treatment or favoritism among different social classes of detainees; revealing the appearance and demeanor of a person upon arrest; identifying the person to solve other crimes or prompting people to come forward with information about the detainee.

"The public has a legitimate interest in the appearance of the detainees as shown in the mug shots, and the Tulsa World submits that the disclosure of the detainees' mug shots is warranted," the lawsuit states.

The suit notes that other law enforcement agencies routinely make mug shots available to the public.

Newspaper challenges in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals resulted in a 2005 directive to release federal inmate photos, but only in the circuit's states: Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee.


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