A Texas agency tasked with assessing the beleaguered Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office came to a withering conclusion: The office “has been in a perceptible decline for over a decade, during which time there developed a systematic and institutionalized practice of disregarding organizational policies and procedures.”
The Community Safety Institute spent 202 days interviewing more than 360 employees of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office before issuing a highly critical, exhaustive 238-page report.
CSI was tasked last year by former Sheriff Stanley Glanz to conduct a full assessment of the sheriff’s office following the April 2 shooting of Eric Harris by reserve deputy Robert Bates. Bates — armed with a handgun — said he believed Bates was holding a Taser when he shot Harris, who was handcuffed and tackled on the ground.
Harris died not long after, and Bates was charged with second-degree manslaughter and awaits trial on that charge. Glanz, a longtime sheriff popular with voters since his 1989 election, resigned last year after being indicted in the shooting’s aftermath, and also awaits trial on a pair of misdemeanor charges.
The CSI report concluded that “individuals in leadership positions made unpredictable decisions and enforced punitive measures against individuals who disagreed with them, creating an atmosphere of distrust and low morale among employees. The reserve program with its disregard for proper policies, procedures, supervision, and administrative controls was simply the most visible manifestation of a system-wide failure of leadership and supervision.”
The sheriff’s office did not issue a statement about the report’s release, instead opting to schedule interviews with members of the media for Monday.
However, an email from Interim Sheriff Michelle Robinette to TCSO employees was provided to The Frontier, and in it she says the report has “some very good ideas” on how to improve the agency.
“There is a lot to do,” Robinette told her employees. “But, with your support and loyalty to TCSO, we will get there together as a team. I truly believe that the darkest of our days are behind us and that we now have a road map for a better future.”
The report was completed at a cost of $130,000 to taxpayers. It was originally slated to cost $75,000, but its scope was expanded late last year at an additional cost of $30,000. The report noted that the $130,000 figure included $25,000 worth of training given to the sheriff’s office by CSI personnel.
The report’s sharpest criticism was aimed at the reserve deputy program. The volunteer program has existed in Tulsa County since Glanz created it not long after his first election, but was halted after the Harris shooting.
The reserve deputy portion of the CSI report seemed in parts to specifically address Bates, who, nonetheless, was not named in the document.
“The structure for assigning these duties is not provided in a clear organizational standard procedure and many reserves, especially those of advanced reserve status, appear to assign themselves to duties with little pre-approval or oversight. Advanced reserves were able to patrol in their own vehicles, donated to the county, without the knowledge of or supervision of superiors.
“Reserve deputies are to be assigned as supplemental manpower and not as a replacement for full-time certified deputies.
“The reserve deputy will follow the chain of command and is not permitted to contact a captain, major, the chief deputy, and/or the sheriff prior to exhausting all issues and concerns with his or her immediate supervisor.
“Many reserves feel they are exempt from or do not have to follow various policies because of who they are or who they are friends with in the agency. This informal system violates all chain of command within the organization and undermines the supervisor’s authority, causing dissent within the organization.”
Those four statements mirror complaints about Bates documented by numerous members of TCSO in a 2009 Internal Affairs query into Bates’ rise within the reserve deputy ranks. Deputies told IA Sgt. Robbie Lillard in 2009 that Bates was allowed to drive his own patrol vehicle, work special assignments, and could violate chain of command by bringing complaints directly to Glanz or to former Undersheriff Tim Albin.
Albin resigned not long after the Bates investigation was leaked to the media in April.
The reserve deputy program was in such shambles, the report recommended scrapping the entire thing and starting from scratch: The program “should be terminated and reconstituted under a new codified set of policies and procedures,” it states.
“All TCSO reserves should be required to complete a new application process, undergo a new background investigation, meet new training and physical requirements, and abide by new reserve policies and procedures.”
Marq Lewis, founder of grassroots group We The People Oklahoma, said he was pleased with the CSI report, particularly with the reserve deputy portion.
Lewis held a number of rallies and protests in the wake of Harris’ death, and his group’s signature collection efforts enabled the grand jury that ultimately indicted Glanz.
“I think the report is an eye-opener,” Lewis said. “No one can say ‘Oh those things weren’t happening,’ anymore. Sheriff’s office employees told (CSI) that this stuff was happening, that it was going on. And it was so bad their advice was to ax it, to kill the program and start from scratch.
“To me, that’s damning.”
The report only briefly acknowledged Harris’ death in the section covering TCSO’s public information office. The sheriff’s office often released contradictory information in the wake of Harris’ death, and Shannon Clark, who was PIO during the beginning stages of the scandal, later told the grand jury that he often was told to mislead the media as Glanz attempted to get a handle on the incident.
The CSI report said those inconsistencies were due to “an information underload,” and “an apparent desire to hold back information, hoping that the issues would subside.”
The report was also extremely critical of TCSO’s policy regarding its deputies use of force and the extent that those deputies were versed in that policy.
Deputies interviewed by CSI personnel said “that they would not know what to expect if they or another deputy were involved in a shooting,” and even sergeants reported being “unclear as to how the (investigative) process would work.”
Deputies involved in deadly incidents or in incidents where deadly force was used are at increased risk of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the report stated, yet those deputies were routinely allowed to return to work without post-shooting psychological review.
“This could be a significant liability to the deputy and the organization,” the report states.
The sheriff’s office has been in unprecedented flux since the Harris shooting. Deputies who spent decades serving under only one sheriff have served under three in less than five months.
And that instability continues: Robinette will be acting sheriff until the April 5 election, when she will be immediately replaced by the victor.
But that sheriff will not only be tasked with continuing to clean up and reorganize the agency, he will have to promptly begin campaigning again. Another election, this time for a four-year full term, will be held in November.
“Whoever is the new sheriff is going to have his hands full,” Lewis said.