Photos Lead to Discipline, New Policies in Okla.

March 09--A two-year-old video showing first responders treating a woman in their care in a questionable manner has led to new policies and minor disciplinary action within the Oklahoma City police and fire departments.

About six minutes of edited video footage shot by local filmmaker Brian Bates shows a woman, who appears to be unconscious or lifeless in the footage, lying on the ground while several first responders stand around her.

Bates, who goes by the nickname "Video Vigilante," has released three versions of the footage since it was shot in south Oklahoma City.

The footage shows a woman described by Bates as "probably a prostitute" lying on the side of the road near S Robinson and SW 38. The edited video also details interactions, from Bates' perspective, between the woman and Oklahoma City police officers and firefighters.

The video shows an Oklahoma City firefighter aiming his camera phone and taking photos of the woman as she lies on the ground.

Some of the footage shows police and fire employees handling the woman in a rough manner, with one of the police officers even nudging the woman with his foot while she was on the ground.

Oklahoma City Fire Chief Keith Bryant said the firefighter in Bates' footage was counseled by his supervisors for his actions but didn't face any official reprimand because a policy that prohibits such behavior didn't exist two years ago.

The actions of the officer involved are not as easy to see, but Oklahoma City police spokesman Capt. Dexter Nelson said there was enough on the video to launch an investigation in December.

"One of the officers moves in position -- similar to what the fireman did -- and appears to be taking a picture, although you don't see a device in his hand," Nelson said. "From that inference, you could imply that the officer was taking pictures."

Nelson said the officer -- who wasn't named because of the minor nature of the offense -- was disciplined, although he declined to provide further details.

That investigation has concluded with unspecified actions taken against one of the involved officers in the video. Those actions did not include termination, demotion or loss of pay.

The woman in the footage has not been identified by police or the fire department, but both Nelson and Bryant have said she was alive during the incident.

Emerging issue

across the country

While the Oklahoma City police and fire departments both say the issue isn't out of control here, there have been high-profile cases in other parts of the United States that have surfaced in recent years.

In late 2010, a couple in Georgia reported they'd received graphic video images from the scene of their daughter's fatal accident via email.

Danya Kempson, the couple's daughter, was killed in July 2010 when her SUV flipped and slammed into some trees on a rural Georgia road.

A local firefighter filmed Kempson's death scene on his camera phone and later shared it with others at a bar. The video, which Kempson's family says clearly shows the 23-year-old woman in her final moments, eventually went viral and found its way back to the parents.

"I viewed the video and, without a doubt, it was our daughter Dayna," Jeff Kempson told a New York City newspaper in 2010. "It was too terrible to put in words, really."

Nelson said the Oklahoma City Police Department first circulated an internal memo in June 2005 directing officers "not to use personal equipment on the scene of a crime or accident to record photographs." He said that memo, drafted by Police Chief Bill Citty nearly seven years ago, was turned into a "chief's directive" in mid-February.

"That was probably, mostly, in response to the incident that was brought to our attention in the Brian Bates video," Nelson said. "I can't think of any other incidents that come up."

The new directive is more a policy than something the chief would like not to see happen.

"It gave it more teeth ... a little more strength for the chief to administer punishment or discipline if someone were to violate that," Nelson said.

Bryant said his department put a similar policy in place roughly a year ago.

"This kind of thing is something we're starting to see across the country," he said. "We've had at least two instances in our department, where we've had to discipline a firefighter, but we realize from what we seeing around us that this a growing problem."

Paramedics working for the Emergency Medical Services Authority operate under a similar ban on photographic equipment.

Lara O'Leary, an EMSA spokeswoman, said the paramedic service put the policy in place about a year ago.

O'Leary said there have been "a few cases over the past few years" that have raised the issue of paramedics using personal cameras while on the job, but that no patients had their privacy violated.

Nonetheless, paramedics should never pull out camera phones while they deal with patients at a scene, she said.

"We want patients to feel safe and secure when they're with us," O'Leary said. "That's on the forefront of medics' minds. ... We are aware that people are watching what we are doing and our behavior."

Calls to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol seeking comment for this story weren't returned as of Thursday evening.

Nelson, who's been with the police department for nearly a quarter century, said technology is often a double-edged sword, and that the authorities are often playing catch-up when it comes to having the latest devices.

He said when he first joined the force, police were using "Polaroid film to photograph crime scenes. Now we don't even use film at all."

"Technology is progressing so fast that it's hard to keep up," Nelson said. "So, we have to tailor our policies to meet the needs and meet the demands ... of technology.

"We're in a day now where someone could take a picture, send it around the world and have it on everybody's phone and computer in minutes."

Copyright 2012 - The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City