Citizen group calls for sweeping changes at Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office

We The People Oklahoma's founder says he hopes the sheriff's office is ready for changes including a citizen oversight board.

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Marq
Marq Lewis, founder of We The People Oklahoma, walks toward the Dave Faulkner building Nov. 3, 2015. The grassroots group met with Undersheriff Rick Weigel to discuss concerns and to present a list of recommendations. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office should establish a citizen oversight board, halt patrols in city limits and install body and dash cameras, according to a proposal presented to Undersheriff Rick Weigel Tuesday morning by the leaders of a grassroots group.

We The People Oklahoma calls for those policy changes and many others in its “five-point plan.”

Weigel agreed to meet with the group following the indictment of Sheriff Stanley Glanz on two misdemeanors. Marq Lewis, We The People Oklahoma founder, said following the meeting with Weigel that it went well, and that the Undersheriff was receptive to their discussion.

Some of the proposals by We The People mirror suggestions by the grand jury about ways to improve the sheriff’s office and are likely to be implemented in some form. The group may find persuading the sheriff’s office to implement others, such as the citizen oversight panel, more difficult.

Months ago, former sheriff Stanley Glanz laughed off the the suggestion of there ever being a citizen review panel connected to the sheriff’s office.

“I do understand that it’s going to take time,” Lewis said. “As long as (Weigel) has the confidence in the public to let them know the changes that they’re doing – a lot of the problems the sheriff’s office had was that they would implement changes, but they would keep them internal and the public had to play guessing games.”

Tuesday’s meeting was attended by Lewis, his attorney Laurie Phillips, Alvin Muhammad, Stacy Kamau and Renee Shoate, as well as Weigel, TCSO general counsel Meredith Baker and attorney Scott Wood. Wood has represented the sheriff’s office in numerous lawsuits in the past, as well as representing Glanz during his testimony in front of the grand jury.

Lewis said another meeting had been set with Weigel for Dec. 10.

“It’s more of a followup, to give them some time to look at our policies and what we put into plan and to see what they can implement, and what they can’t,” Lewis said.

We The People Oklahoma led the petition drive to empanel the Tulsa County grand jury that investigated Glanz’s office. The grand jury was prompted by the April 2 shooting death of Eric Harris during a gun sting by volunteer Reserve Deputy Robert Bates, a wealthy friend and campaign manager for the sheriff.

Tulsa County Undersheriff Rick Weigel addresses the media last month.
Tulsa County Undersheriff Rick Weigel addresses the media last month. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Bates, 74, said he accidentally shot Harris when he mixed up his Taser and handgun. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter charges.

An investigation by The Frontier into potential conflicts of interest involving District Judge James Caputo resulted in Caputo recusing from the case last week. Bates’ case has now been assigned to District Judge Sharon Holmes.

District Judge Sharon Holmes is now assigned to oversee hearings involving Robert Bates.
District Judge Sharon Holmes is now assigned to oversee hearings involving Robert Bates

Marq Lewis, who founded We The People Oklahoma, met with Weigel, accompanied by attorney Laurie Phillips and three group members.

“We feel that if they take a serious look at our recommendations and implement some, it will prove to the community they are willing to change the image” of the sheriff’s office, Lewis told The Frontier.

“I hope that we can agree to start implementing some of our recommendations and the main one is having a citizen’s oversight review board.”

Even if the sheriff’s office refuses to make the changes proposed by We The People Oklahoma, Lewis said the group will continue pushing for change.

“It’s important to the community to stay connected to what happens at the sheriff’s office, especially the jail. There have been a plethora of problems dealing with that facility,” Lewis said.

Lewis said the group also pushed hard for Weigel to outfit his deputies with body cameras, an expensive task, but one many law enforcement agencies have trended toward recently.

“They were very receptive to that, (that is) something (Weigel) had wanted to implement,” Lewis said.

Currently, Tulsa County deputies have neither body cameras or dash cameras. Tulsa Police offices do not have body cameras, but the department recently finished outfitting their patrol cars with dash cameras, a process that took years due to many errors and glitches, and cost millions of dollars.

TPD recently received nearly $600,000 from a federal grant to pay for body cameras and training.

Weigel will continue to fulfill the duties of sheriff until the special election to replace Glanz, whose last day in office was Sunday.

During a press conference last month, Weigel said he was focused on making changes based on the grand jury’s eight recommendations. He said he was making some changes now and waiting for a consultant’s report to make others.

Weigel said he planned to improve transparency at the sheriff’s office, holding more frequent press conferences and releasing information to the public about policy changes in the works. He said he realized it would take time to rebuild trust with some in the community.

Marq2
Marq Lewis, right, and Laurie Phillips, talk to the media on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015, outside the Dave Faulkner building. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

“Everybody gets lip service, OK? I don’t expect you to believe me. … My actions are going to tell you that this is more than lip service.”

So far, there are seven announced candidates for Tulsa County Sheriff. Weigel has not said whether he will run for the office.

Former Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz
Former Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz

The filing period for the election will be Dec. 7-8, with a primary on March 1 and general election on April 5. If a primary is not necessary, the special general election will be held March 1.

Lewis, who attended a candidates’ debate on Friday, said We The People Oklahoma has no favored candidate.

“We just want to make sure that all candidates running will be open to change and will take our five-point plan as a point of reference if they were to win.”

Here are highlights of the proposal by We The People Oklahoma to improve TCSO’s community relations:

  • Create an “inclusion task force” to review hiring policies and draft new training material that includes how to work with “minority, economically disadvantaged, non-conforming and mentally ill populations.”
  • Conduct a thorough audit of all employee files and verify training records.
  • Revise policies for reserve deputies to prohibit service on special operations teams such as SWAT and drug task force; restrict donations by reserves to a maximum of $2,500 cash or in-kind per year and prohibit reserves from carrying firearms.
  • Revise policies for all deputies to prohibit ticket quotas; require deputies to provide information to citizens on filing complaints and terminate deputies with three or more violations of TCSO policy.
  • Create a six-member citizen oversight committee to review complaints from citizens and to survey the community. The committee will consist of five voting members and one non-voting member, who is assigned to internal affairs. The board will review evidence and make recommendations to internal affairs and the Tulsa County District Attorney.
  • Ensure the Internal Affairs Division operates autonomously and collects data regarding use of force, deaths in custody and officer complaints. Such data should be published annually.
  • Allow the Internal Affairs Division to make recommendations to Tulsa County Commissioners and Tulsa County District Attorney as required.
  • Outfit each deputy with a body and dash cam and allow civilians to review footage of themselves or relatives within 30 days of an open records request. Require officers to complete initial reports, statements, and interviews before reviewing incident footage.
  • Allow citizens to record interactions with TCSO using personal equipment.
  • Ban the use of tear gas and stop accepting donations of military equipment.
  • Restrict no-knock raids to cases involving imminent threats to life.
  • Limit patrols to unincorporated Tulsa County and avoid operations in other jurisdictions, including city limits. Notify schools and businesses of operations in the area.
  • Establish a mental health response team with social workers and crisis counselors.
  • Ban placing suspects in chokeholds or hog-ties and using Tasers on restrained suspects.
  • Require officers to intervene when they witness excessive force being used.

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Ziva Branstetter

Editor in Chief / Staff Writer

Ziva maintains she was always too nosy to be anything other than a reporter. Though she's on a new adventure with The Frontier, she spent more than 25 years in the newspaper business, making politicians nervous and making sure readers got the truth. Contact: ziva@readfrontier.com or 918-520-0406.
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