September 11, 2014
OKLAHOMA CITY – The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma today filed suit in Logan County District Court requesting a court order to compel Logan County Sheriff Jim Bauman to turn over records of a web-based database called “Black Asphalt,” previously kept secret from those outside law-enforcement and which tracks the activities of thousands of American citizens without their knowledge or consent and without any apparent legal authority to do so.
The database was created by Joe David, the founder of Desert Snow, LLC, a Guthrie, Oklahoma based private company whose employees were caught impersonating police officers in Caddo County last year as part of a scheme with the local district attorney to make traffic stops, seize cash and property from citizens, and funnel it into local coffers in exchange for a percentage of the profits. The scheme was foiled when a local judge learned of the practice and threatened to jail David and other Desert Snow agents if it continued. The scheme has since been shut down following its being widely reported in local and national press and condemned as patently illegal. Despite overwhelming evidence, no criminal charges have been filed.
During ACLU of Oklahoma’s investigation of Desert Snow’s roadside racketeering operation in Caddo County, it discovered the Black Asphalt database, which was taken over by Sheriff Bauman in 2012, and had been created as a part of a “policing for profit” venture in 2004. Black Asphalt, which figures prominently in a recent national exposé of Desert Snow’s operations by The Washington Post, has been used by up to 25,000 law enforcement officers to input information from traffic stops, interrogations, and searches of both suspects and law-abiding citizens and share it with other officers without having to report it through normal legal channels.
Incentives for officers to post citizens’ information to Black Asphalt include prizes and lucrative job opportunities at Desert Snow, consideration for which require minimum quotas of information on citizens’ activities to be uploaded each month. Most of the information is obtained from traffic stops, but is not always obtained legally.
In February, the ACLU of Oklahoma filed a written request for disclosure of the records of Sheriff Bauman’s involvement in Black Asphalt. Despite follow up by letter and in person at Bauman’s Guthrie office, the Sheriff has refused to turn over any records during the six months since. Public access to these records is guaranteed by the Oklahoma Open Records Act. ACLU of Oklahoma’s lawsuit seeks a court order to enforce this right of public access since the Sheriff has not complied with the law voluntarily.
“The Black Asphalt system, secretly tracking the activities and confidential information of law abiding citizens for the last decade, appears to be one of the most disturbing and egregious violations of the rights of American citizens in recent memory,” said Brady Henderson, Legal Director at ACLU of Oklahoma. Henderson continued, “I can understand why Sheriff Bauman might not want to turn over records of his significant involvement with it, but Bauman does not have the right to disregard Oklahoma’s Open Records Act.”
The ACLU of Oklahoma’s investigation, and that of the Washington Post, also uncovered something more disturbing. It appears that Sheriff Bauman began to move the Black Asphalt database out of Oklahoma. As of June, and after the ACLU of Oklahoma’s Open Records Request, Black Asphalt web pages have been placed under the control of a Sheriff’s Office in Illinois. It is unknown how many public records have been removed from the state or destroyed.
Once served with ACLU’s Open Records lawsuit, Sheriff Bauman will have twenty days to respond to the Petition in Logan County District Court.
A copy of the ACLU's Petition is attached here: Petition for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief for Violation of the Oklahoma Open Records Act
ACLU of Oklahoma sues Oklahoma Sheriff for denying access to public records of his office’s involvement in “Black Asphalt” Database
September 11, 2014