Oct. 15—Quinton city officials declined Friday to fulfill an open records request by the News-Capital for the town's settlement agreement with a former police chief — which a press association executive said is a willful violation of state law.
Quinton's Board of Trustees voted 3-2 Thursday during a special meeting to accept the resignation of Lawrence "Larry" Ruiz Jr. and to "authorize the mayor to execute the General Release and Settlement Agreement and to authorize issuance of the payment of the amounts set forth in the agreement upon fulfillment of Lawrence Ruiz of any obligations required of him."
The News-Capital submitted a request Friday morning under the Oklahoma Open Records Act for a copy of the settlement agreement.
In response, a Quinton city official said "there are terms and conditions that have to be met before agreement is final. Once they have been met, we may furnish them when requested."
When asked what those terms and conditions were, the city official said she did not know and was told to give "no comment" on any further questions on the matter "until it's done."
Oklahoma Press Association Executive Vice President Mark Thomas said that unless a specific state statute is cited upon the denial of a records request, then the denial is a "willful violation" of the law.
Under Title 51, O.S. § 24A.7 (A), a public body may keep personnel records confidential that relate to "internal personnel investigations" or if the disclosure would constitute "a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."
The statute continues to say that if a personnel record does not specifically fall under the specific exceptions provided, then the records "shall be available for public inspection" — which includes an employment application, gross receipts of public funds, dates of employment, and any final disciplinary action resulting in loss of pay, suspension, demotion of position, or termination.
"The law clearly anticipated that when people were terminated or resigned resulting in a loss of pay that the public would get to know the details and see the documents surrounding that loss of pay," Thomas said.
Also relevant to the agreement is Title 51 O.S. § 158 (G), which states "judgements, orders, and settlements of claims shall be open public records unless sealed by the court for good cause."
A records search on Friday shows no court has made such a ruling in the case.
Board members placed Ruiz on paid administrative leave in August after a Pittsburg County judge ruled he lacks credibility as a witness due to legal history involving crimes of dishonesty.
An open records request made by the News-Capital showed Ruiz was paid $21.15 an hour.
District 18 Special District Judge Brian McLaughlin granted a motion for disclosure of Giglio material in August, in which he wrote Ruiz's legal history includes multiple "felonies of dishonesty" including two embezzlement counts and impersonating an officer. The judge also wrote that multiple domestic assault and battery charges previously filed against Ruiz could become relevant evidence in domestic violence cases he investigates even though all were dismissed because Ruiz didn't dispute the claims in those cases.
Ruiz's legal history also includes eight protective orders filed against him that were all eventually dismissed with all accusing him of aggressive physical and verbal behavior.
A ninth protective order was filed against Ruiz in July 2021 by a woman who claims Ruiz stalked and harassed her with some instances occurring while he was on-duty. An interim three-month protective order was granted against Ruiz following a September hearing.
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