Custer County sheriff sued over refusal to send public records to requesters

Custer County sheriff sued over refusal to send public records to requesters

Custer County Judge Jill C. Weedon is scheduled to hear arguments Monday morning on whether the sheriff’s office must provide public records by mail or email.

A Marquette University assistant journalism professor sued the Custer County Sheriff's Office on Thursday over its insistence that public records be picked up in person.

In early June, A. Jay Wagner of Milwaukee, Wisc., requested "a digital file containing all incident reports or initial offense reports" by the sheriff's office from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1, according to his lawsuit.

In a June 25 email, Sheriff Kenneth Tidwell said the Open Records Act "does not require us to reproduce a record in a format of your choosing and send it to you electronically or otherwise."

In that email and in another on June 28, Tidwell said Wagner could pick up the records in person at the sheriff's office in Arapaho, Okla.

"According to legal counsel, your appeal procedure for this denial would be for you to file a petition for a hearing in the District Court of Custer County to have the District Judge determine if we are in error or not," Tidwell added.

Wagner hired FOI Oklahoma Inc. board member Kevin Kemper of Norman to file the lawsuit.

Wagner would have to drive nearly 2,000 miles roundtrip or fly to and from Oklahoma City's Will Rogers Airport and then drive 196 miles roundtrip to retrieve the records in Arapaho, the lawsuit noted.

The Open Records Act does require that government bodies provide records electronically if they exist in that format. (See 2006 OK AG 35, ¶ 19; 1999 OK AG 55, ¶ 23.)

Wagner's lawsuit argues that requesters aren’t required under the statute “to be present physically at the office” to receive public records.

“Indeed, in the 21st century, the ORA empowers access through e-mail, facsimile, phone, and more. These electronic transactions happen each and every business day across Oklahoma," the lawsuit notes.

In March, the Custer County Sheriff's Office refused to respond to a telephoned records request from The Frontier, saying a written request was needed to send documents.


Joey Senat, Ph.D., Associate Professor, OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

@Joey_Senat / Mass Communication Law in Oklahoma / Our Right to Know in Oklahoma