Wearing an orange shirt declaring “#GunFreeZones are #CrimeSpreeZones,” a red Donald Trump hat, and a green handgun tucked into a holster on his hip, Tim Harper slowly walked backwards out of the Gathering Place during the park’s Sept. 8 grand opening.
Thousands of people descended on the park that day, but it was Harper who drew the most attention. His handgun at his side, he was herded out by a group of Tulsa Police officers on bicycles who told him the park was “private” and that guns were not allowed on the premises.
“There were other infractions going on all around them, but they were letting all that slide. But with a handgun, they just chased me down,” Harper said. “I felt like I was in Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany, where they’re imposing rules that apply to only certain people.”
His eviction angered many gun rights supporters. Some allies on social media compared him to Civil Rights pioneer Rosa Parks. In response to the incident, Oklahoma Second Amendment Association president Don Spencer has since organized a “Second Amendment Rally in Tulsa” for 10 a.m. Saturday outside the Gathering Place.
Spencer called Harper “the perfect example” of a well-meaning gun owner peacefully exercising his rights and being reported to police.
But court records obtained by The Frontier paint a different picture of the man whose expulsion from the park kicked off the upcoming rally. In separate protective orders filed in Oklahoma County, Harper has been accused by several people of making threats toward them with a firearm, attempting to hit them with vehicles and of threatening to cut his stepdaughter’s head off with an axe.
Harper — who records show has not been convicted of anything worse than minor traffic infractions — said he is a peaceful gun owner and, in several cases, his accusers “weaponized” the protective order and legal system against him.
Tim Harper with Oklahoma 2nd Amendment association wanted to open carry his gun at Gathering Place. That is against park rules. He was removed from the park and informed it is a private park @tulsaworld #gathertulsa pic.twitter.com/VtmOhjmTaR
— yikes slime-ons (@mikesimonsphoto) September 8, 2018
Meanwhile, he said he plans to attend the rally outside the park on Saturday, and the initial incident in September was, in part, an effort to draw attention “to the fact this is a city park.”
For local authorities, internal uncertainty over whether the park is truly private has left them in a difficult spot. While the department has maintained a presence at the Gathering Place every day since it opened, A Tulsa Police Department spokesman said the department is “not in the practice of infringing on people’s rights.”
“If people want to peacefully gather and protest and give their message, the police department supports that,” Sgt. Shane Tuell told The Frontier. “You can’t be a law enforcement agency and not proudly support all the amendments.
“We just want to make sure when we’re enforcing laws and ordinances that we’re doing it the right way.”
The police department said they were monitoring the rally’s page on Facebook to determine the potential attendance (more than 600 people had professed interest in attending as of Wednesday, though fewer than 70 said they planned to go.) The size of the rally would determine how many officers would be on call to respond should tensions flare up.
“We’ll be there to protect everyone’s rights,” Tuell said. “We’re going to make sure everyone’s rights are taken care of. That’s the one thing that everyone expects of their police department.
The 51-year-old Harper, who lives in Midwest City, is a self-described “First and Second Amendment auditor.”
His YouTube channel — under the name News Now OKC — features multiple videos of Harper walking into public buildings or other public locations and taking video of often-irate public employees he films. Sometimes, the situation ends with police being summoned or with Harper allegedly being assaulted by security guards attempting to remove him.
Harper, Spencer and others have also attempted to carry guns or knives into other public locations such as the Capitol building, the Oklahoma City Zoo, music concerts in Norman, and into Tulsa’s Hop Jam and Oktoberfest.
It’s partially an exercise in self-defense, partially about proving a point, Harper said.
“Ultimately, we want to be able to carry our handguns where we’re legally allowed to,” Harper said. “We have a right to self-defense. If a handgun truly is an issue, why are they allowing them in there with police? Police carry them too.”
Harper said he has personally been responsible for at least four towns taking down “no guns” signs down at city parks
So, on the day the Gathering Place opened, Harper and two others decided to perform one of their audits there.
“We went in there to see if they would actually kick us out and they did. So they’re showing their intent, so we have to fight them in court,” Harper said. “I was going to make my point and leave.”
Harper said he carried a concealed handgun into the park and walked around for several hours. When he was getting ready to leave, Harper said, he began carrying the gun openly as he continued to walk around the park and film.
Though most people took little notice of the gun he was wearing on his hip, about 20 minutes after he made his firearm visible, Harper said a park volunteer noticed and radioed it in. Police were summoned and officers on bicycles herded him out of the park.
“We went in there to see if they would actually kick us out and they did. So they’re showing their intent, so we have to fight them in court,” Harper said. “I was going to make my point and leave.” – Tim Harper
Harper, who said he obtained his handgun license in April 2017, said he is often asked to show his handgun license by law enforcement who see him open carrying. But when he was removed from the Gathering Place, Tulsa police did not ask him to see it.
“They did not ask for my name, they didn’t ask for my carry permit, they didn’t do anything,” Harper said. “If I had been a true threat to the children, to anyone in the park, do you think they would have been pushing me out with a bicycle with both hands on the handlebar of the bicycle?”
“They didn’t actually take me as a threat, they just didn’t like the image of what I was doing,” Harper said.
But not all gun owners are fully on board with OK2A’s planned rally or Harper’s actions. Tulsa talk radio host Pat Campbell, of KFAQ, expressed concern about OK2A’s the lack of coordination with police for the upcoming rally, and some of the show’s callers — including Tulsa resident Aaron Allen — said the protest was premature, as there is still a question of whether the park is public or private.
Allen, who has a handgun license and is a gun owner, told The Frontier that he supports Harper’s and others right to own and carry guns, but he is not a fan of the planned rally.
“I personally think it kind of hurts it. I understand the need and want to protest. But I think it’s drawing negative attention to the gun platform,” Allen said. “This, I think, is an in-your-face political move. It just think it makes us look crazy.”
Allen said it would be better to first determine whether the park is public or private property, before pulling out the protest signs.
“My biggest thing is, I think it’s premature,” Allen said. “This just needs to be fought in court. Because until a judge makes a ruling on whether it is city property or private property, you’re bringing awareness to something that might be a moot point.”
“I think, pun intended, they’re jumping the gun,” Allen said.
Harper said he has heard from other gun owners who have cautioned against his approach, but is not deterred.
“We’re not going to tell them what to do, don’t tell me what to do,” Harper said. “What I’m doing is legal. If they don’t like it, those feeling don’t trump my rights. I have the right to do it. Please don’t let your tears and your sad feelings overrule law and overrule what I have a right to do. If you don’t like it you can leave.”
Harper said the issue is important because a licensed gun owner could save lives.
“You don’t get anything done when protesting for handgun rights by being violent or being threatening,” Harper said. “We’re peaceful people who would protect you or your kids if somebody comes in there with a rifle and starts hurting people. We are actually our own first responders. You, me every citizen around us is a first-responder. Police are actually second-responders.”
However, according to court records, there have been several individuals who say Harper — the face of the Gathering Place gun protest — has in the past not been the proverbial “good guy with a gun.”
Between 1999 and 2006, Harper’s first ex-wife applied for protective orders four separate times against Harper, though she voluntarily dismissed one before a permanent order was issued, voluntarily dismissed a second one after a permanent order had been granted, had one denied by a judge and had one permanent order approved in 2006, according to court records. Permanent protective orders are valid for three years.
That last protective order stemmed from an alleged incident in late 2006 that ended with Harper being charged by the Pottawatomie County District Attorney with felony assault with a dangerous weapon.
According to a McLoud police report, the day after Harper’s first ex-wife filed a protective order application against him, Harper was allegedly upset at being denied access to pick up his child from school (who was also named in the protective order.) Harper saw his estranged wife driving in McLoud and allegedly attempted to run her off the road with his truck. Two witnesses also told police that they saw Harper’s estranged wife swerve completely off the road and into the grass to avoid a collision with Harper.
One witness said Harper tried to back up in another attempt ram his estranged wife’s vehicle, and officers said the alleged victim arrived at the police station shortly after the incident “in a panic.”
Records show a protective order was granted against Harper shortly after the alleged incident, but the criminal case was dismissed in June 2007.
Harper said his ex-wife had a habit of filing protective orders against him and making things up, and had “weaponized the protective order system” against him.
“My ex-wife made it up that I tried to run her over. She actually police-station-shopped about four or five police departments until McCloud picked it up,” Harper said. “She got the location, she made the up the scenario and she made the claim I tried to run her over. If I was dead set on that I would have probably ran her over.”
It would not be the last protective order filed against Harper.
In 2009, Harper was living with a woman, her daughter and her son-in-law in Oklahoma City. On the night of June 3, Harper’s girlfriend and her daughter were having a conversation about filing a protective order against Harper “for some of his previous actions,” according to an affidavit filed by the daughter in the protective order application.
Harper allegedly heard the conversation and began saying he would file his own protective order so the judge would throw hers out, the daughter’s affidavit states. Harper allegedly began screaming and the woman’s daughter states she went outside to smoke a cigarette.
Meanwhile, the daughter’s husband (who also filed a protective order application against Harper) said he was sleeping in the bedroom when his wife woke him up as she grabbed a cigarette from the bedroom. He said he could hear Harper and his mother-in-law arguing and then heard the mother-in-law start screaming for him.
The son-in-law, in his affidavit, states he saw Harper holding a rifle and his mother-in-law had grabbed it and was trying to wrest it away. The son-in-law states he jumped on Harper’s back and then put him in a headlock while trying to get the rifle out of his hands and yelling for Harper to stop.
The daughter, who said she heard the mother yell for her husband, came back in the house as her husband and Harper were wrestling in the hallway, the affidavit states. Seeing the daughter come back in, Harper then allegedly pointed the gun — an SKS rifle that was later found to be loaded — at the daughter, both affidavits state.
The son-in-law yelled for his wife to run, and he was able to move the gun and then pull it from Harper’s grasp, the affidavit states. According to the son-in-law, as he was walking away with the gun Harper began yelling at him to ‘get it out before it does harm,’” the affidavit states. The son-in-law took the gun to a neighbor’s house. Police were summoned and Harper was arrested.
The rifle was taken into custody by the Oklahoma City Police Department, but was lost before it could be returned. The city of Oklahoma City agreed to pay Harper to replace the rifle, court records show.
Both protective order applications were granted in June 2009 and ran until June 2012. Harper also attempted to file a protective order against the daughter-in-law, but later voluntarily dropped the case.
Harper said the protective orders in this case were the only ones “that ever really stuck to me and lasted,” and that detectives were able to later determine he did nothing wrong, which is why no charges were filed.
Harper said he was actually trying to leave and take his gun with him, but was falsely accused of pointing the gun at the woman. Again, he said, those accusing him of wrongdoing were using the protective order system and law enforcement in an effort to remove him from the house.
“I was living with a woman, and her kids lived there and they really didn’t particularly like me living with their mom,” Harper said. “They made the environment totally miserable and I decided to leave. I was carrying my rifle out to my truck to leave and the girl made a fabricated story that I pointed the gun at her and threatened her, which I didn’t do it.
“The detective got to the bottom of the case and they just dropped charges,” he said, adding that the woman he was seeing and neighbors backed up his story to police.
In 2011, Harper’s ex-step daughter filed a request for a protective order against him, alleging that he would not leave her alone and that the two had gotten into an argument. The step-daughter made allegations against Harper going back to 1998, alleging that when she was 10 years old Harper held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her. The step-daughter also alleged that in 2009 Harper had threatened to behead her with an axe he kept in his van. She also alleged he attempted to run her over in his vehicle. In her case, the judge granted an emergency protective order, which stayed in effect for a little more than a year before being dismissed because she failed to show up for a court date, court records show.
“’As he was leaving he leaned across the hood of his work van, pantomimed holding a rifle and said ‘Bang, bitch’” before driving off.” – protective order filed against Harper
Harper was then arrested in 2012 after allegedly running into a tow company’s impound lot and retrieving a vehicle of his that had been impounded. One of the workers at the tow company said Harper nearly hit her as he drove out of the lot. Harper was later arrested, records show, but was not charged.
In 2014, Harper’s second ex-wife (who had divorced him earlier that year) filed an application for a protective order against Harper in October that year, alleging that Harper had entered her parents’ home without permission to drop some of her things off.
In her application, the ex-wife also alleged that Harper had blocked her car in her driveway, approached her and said he had bought an AR-15 rifle and “he would end things his way,” the affidavit states.
“I had to push him out of my face to get him to leave,” the affidavit states. “As he was leaving he leaned across the hood of his work van, pantomimed holding a rifle and said ‘Bang, bitch’” before driving off, she said.
An emergency protective order was granted in that case, and extended until April 2015, when the case was dismissed after the ex-wife failed to show for a hearing.
Harper denied ever threatening his ex-wife or entering her house without permission. No criminal charges were filed against Harper.
“That didn’t happen,” Harper said. “That was her saying that. It (the permanent protective order) wasn’t granted. So, if it’s not granted, it’s not an issue in the eyes of the law and I didn’t do it.”
“Divorces get that way,” Harper said.
Your financial support for our investigative journalism is now tax deductible. Click here to become a Friend of The Frontier.