Editor’s note: This story is one of three stories detailing how the state has often failed to oversee private security guards it licenses. The investigation was produced by The Frontier and our media partner, NewsOn6.
The images flicker on the screen. There’s the casket. There’s the family members, embracing each other.
The video shows Monroe “Trey” Bird III’s funeral. His 4-year-old niece, Carrington, watches it intently, then asks to watch it again. Then again. And again.
“People that die, she wants to know, ‘How did they go to Heaven,” said Bird’s mother, Zondra Magness. “She’s had that experience at four years old of a loved one that babysat her and took care of her is gone.
“She wants to watch it over and over and over and we have to stop her. It’s difficult.”
In the end, only about 10 feet separated Bird from the bullet that eventually took his life at age 21.
Late one night in February 2015, Bird was sitting in his car in the parking lot of a south Tulsa apartment complex with his friend Talie Owen, a 15-year-old Jenks High School student. Ricky Stone, a security guard at the complex, approached the car.
Managers at the Deerfield Estates complex had told Stone to “run off” people parking in the lot Bird and Owen were in that night, because management had often found couples having sex in their cars at the complex. (Owen later told police she and Bird were in the back seat talking about her grandmother.)
Stone approached the vehicle and began yelling orders. He shouted that he needed to see identification, and ordered both to exit the vehicle.
However according to new records obtained by The Frontier, Stone didn’t look much like a security guard that night.
Instead of a marked security vehicle, he was driving a black Ford F150 pickup belonging to his supervisor. Stone also wasn’t wearing his jacket that clearly identified him as a security guard.
Bird, who lived in the apartment with his sister, later told The Frontier he had panicked that night, seeing only a bright light from Stone’s flashlight and hearing him barking instructions. He told Stone he didn’t have his identification, confirmed by police reports showing it took hours to determine Bird’s name after the shooting because he did not have his wallet on him.
Stone told police Bird complied with Stone’s order to exit the vehicle, but “acted angry” and entered the front seat, locking the door.
Bird was 6-feet, 8-inches tall and weighed 225 pounds. Stone was nearly a foot shorter and weighed 145 pounds.
Stone, who had only worked for Smith and Son Security for a few months grabbed the door handle and tried to yank the locked door open.
Security guards have limited authority on premises they protect. State statutes give them the same authority as the owner of the property they’re paid to watch. However they have no more power to arrest someone than the average person has to make a citizen’s arrest.
In a 2013 Facebook post, Stone bragged that a job he’d just taken was “brutal,” and said he’d “already made 7 arrests.”
When someone replied to the post, asking if Stone was a cop, he replied: “No, security. But we are like a private police force.”
But on this night Stone claimed he was growing increasingly worried. He yelled at the car’s occupants, but they weren’t responding. He thought he saw Bird rummaging through the car, and he worried he was going to emerge with a gun.
The girl told police Bird was buying time, pretending to look for an identification card he didn’t have while he figured out his next move.
Stone finally moved behind the car, announcing he would shoot if Bird tried to run him over.
Bird then decided to leave, and backed the car up, allegedly striking Stone hard enough to flip the security guard on the trunk. Stone said he tried to jump in the air to avoid contact but when he was hit, his gun hand struck the back windshield, cracking it.
Stone told police he was afraid Bird planned to “sling (him) off into the street and injure (him) further.”
“I was in fear for my life,” he told police.
After the collision, Bird put the vehicle into drive. That’s when Stone fired.
The first bullet struck Bird in the back, and Stone fired two more shots, apparently to incapacitate the vehicle. Tulsa police later recovered one of the bullets in a flattened back tire while the vehicle was stored at a local wrecker.
In the story Stone told to police, he fired his gun at the same moment Bird began to drive away, a version more supportive of a self-defense claim.
However, in Owen’s statement to officers, the 15-year-old said she didn’t think the car struck Stone, because she saw him jump out of the way. And she said they were several feet away from Stone, noting she had time before the shots to ask herself “I wonder why he isn’t shooting.”
TPD Homicide Unit Sgt. Dave Walker told The Frontier that Stone was “no more than 10 feet” away when he shot Bird from behind. The shot destroyed the back windshield of Bird’s car, striking him in the back as he and Owen began to speed away from the Deerfield Estates apartment complex, 8812 S. Delaware Ave.
Had Stone aimed his Winchester Luger 9mm pistol a few degrees away, the bullet might have whizzed by harmlessly and Bird and Owen would have had left the complex with a harrowing story to tell. Instead, it struck Bird between the C4 and C5 vertebrae.
Bird’s car slammed into a nearby tree. When police arrived, they found Stone giving Bird CPR outside the damaged vehicle. A witness told police he saw one of Bird’s arms moving briefly but by the time a doctor saw Bird, it was obvious he would be paralyzed.
A few months later Bird was dead, his life claimed by a blood clot that went undetected until it was too late. His family was left with more than $1 million in medical bills and a hole in their lives.
Meanwhile Stone fled Oklahoma for his home state of Texas. The night he shot Bird, the slightly-built security guard had marijuana in a small white vial tucked away in his backpack. He told police the drug was likely in his system as well.
Stone did not respond to The Frontier’s request for an interview.
The marijuana revelation left investigators with questions. They had to decide if Stone was criminally negligent when he fired his gun at the vehicle, which also included Talie Owen. They also had to determine if Bird was at fault for allegedly striking Stone with his vehicle on the way out of the apartment complex.
Stone was licensed by the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) to carry a gun while working. But was he breaking a law by being armed while under the influence of drugs?
Records provided to The Frontier show police initially labeled the shooting as “shooting with intent to kill.” Reports about Stone being hit by the vehicle were labeled “assault and battery with dangerous weapon.”
Still, Tulsa police did not recommend filing charges against Stone or Bird as a direct result of those actions.
Stone was charged with misdemeanor drug possession but not with possessing a firearm while carrying drugs. The drug possession charge wasn’t filed until nearly four months after the shooting, after Stone had moved to the small Texas panhandle town of McLean.
The odds he will ever be extradited to Oklahoma to face the drug possession charge are slim.
More than a year later, the attorney representing Bird’s family still hopes Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler will change his mind about charging Stone with Bird’s death.
“Ricky Stone should be charged. He should be brought to trial and the state of Oklahoma should try the case,” attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons said. “If they can’t prove it, then fine, that’s the jury system. But for him not to be charged, it almost says that Trey’s life doesn’t matter.”
Did drugs nullify stand your ground defense?
While the DA’s office declined to charge Stone for shooting Bird, the security guard was censured by CLEET for the shooting.
Stone’s security guard license was revoked by CLEET Aug. 11 because, rather than pay a fine related to the Bird shooting, he left the state and avoided contact with the agency.
Bird’s shooting wasn’t the first time CLEET had disciplined Stone, according to new records obtained by The Frontier.
He was ordered by CLEET to undergo extra firearms training after a 2012 incident where he fired a gunshot inside a vehicle near an east Tulsa motel. Stone was bounty hunting with a man named Lionel “Lenny” Biggers, records show.
Biggers is a well-known local bounty hunter sued for libel in 2015 by Beth Chapman, wife of reality TV star “Dog the Bounty Hunter.”
The Frontier received disciplinary documents on dozens of security guards through an Open Records Act request to CLEET. In that batch of documents was a “final order” showing CLEET fined Stone $500 for an “inappropriate firearm discharge” from the Bird shooting.
Stone told CLEET investigator James Burton he had fired at the vehicle as it was driving away, according to that order.
Investigators at CLEET would not comment on the case. In an email, Kunzweiler said it was his understanding Stone was fined for shooting at the car as it drove away after he had already shot Bird in the back.
“It is my understanding that the order deals with Mr. Stone’s discharge of his weapon at the vehicle following the initial shooting,” Kunzweiler said in the email. (However the CLEET order doesn’t specify that.)
“That administrative sanction appears to address Mr. Stone’s election to shoot at the back tires of Mr. Bird’s vehicle after it was moving away from the initial shooting scene. In fact, one of the back tires received a penetrating gunshot which deflated the tire.”
Oklahoma’s Stand Your Ground law states that the defense cannot be used to shield someone “engaged in an unlawful activity.” Stone had marijuana in his backpack and in his system, leading attorney Solomon-Simmons to argue that Stand Your Ground protection should not apply.
“From a legal standpoint, it’s very frustrating to know what the law states about Stand Your Ground, and to know that Ricky Stone was in commission of a crime,” Solomon-Simmons said. “He had marijuana in his body and on his person and therefore did not have the right to be covered” by the law.
“While I can never feel the pain that they feel of losing a son and a brother, I feel the pain of knowing the DA knows the law and for whatever reason, he’s choosing not to cover my client’s rights, but to cover the rights of Ricky Stone.”
Kunzweiler told The Frontier that Stone, despite the marijuana possession, was eligible for Stand Your Ground protection because the drugs were in a backpack in his vehicle instead of on his person.
Stone told police that night he was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol but when informed police found his marijuana, Stone said he hadn’t smoked any for “at least two weeks.”
Stone also told police he took many medications, including pills for seizures, to regulate his blood pressure and for migraine headaches. The medicine Stone took for seizures, Neurontin, comes with warnings telling users the drug “may impair your thinking or reactions,” and urging them to “be careful if you drive or do anything that requires you to be alert.”
Attorneys for Bird’s family argue Stone was impaired at the time of the shooting, something that may have more sway in the civil case than it did in the criminal investigation. Both the Bird family and the family of Talie Owen have filed civil lawsuits against Stone and his employer, Smith and Son Security.
Smith and Son Security is operated by Benjy Smith, a longtime reserve deputy under former Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz. (Smith could not be reached for comment for this story.)
On the issue of whether Stone was impaired, Solomon-Simmons has pointed to states where marijuana is legal, including Colorado and Washington. Those states define “impairment” as having more than 5.0 nanograms in your system.
Bird’s attorneys have said a post-shooting blood test shows Stone registered 6.8 nanograms of marijuana. Though the test results are not publicly available, Stone told police after the shooting that marijuana would likely be in his system.
Regardless, by the time Stone had been charged for the marijuana possession, he had already left the state for Texas. He’s only spoken once publicly, telling television show “Crime Watch Daily” in a phone interview that if he had done something wrong when he shot Bird, he would have been charged with a crime.
“I hid nothing from the police,” he told the show. “I told them everything that happened, the way it happened. The facts are the facts. If the case was so strong, I feel like I would have been charged.”
Stone has at least one other mark on his record: According to the Amarillo Police Department, Stone was arrested there in 1996 in an apparent road rage incident.
In 2011, while Stone was a resident of Tulsa, a man was granted an emergency protective order (that was later dismissed) against him, alleging Stone had threatened to burn down his house.
The “Stand Your Ground” law originated more than a decade ago in Florida, and has been adopted in more than a dozen other states since. Intended to protect the rights of people who are being attacked to kill their attacker, the law has been criticized as being too open to interpretation.
Earlier this year Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, proposed a bill to amend the law. His bill, which didn’t make it to a committee, would have added language requiring people to try to retreat before using deadly force.
“I think the fact that we have armed security guards that … have the ability to kill a citizen while being employed to protect citizens, it’s odd that they get to use that law” in their defense, Matthews said.
Matthews authored other bills to increase the amount of training required of security guards and increase the amount of insurance a security guard and private security companies must carry. Currently, an individual guard needs at least $10,000 in coverage and a company employing guards needs at least $100,000.
None of those bills made it to committee.
“Oklahoma is a very strong Second Amendment type state,” Matthews said, noting he received death threats when he proposed his Stand Your Ground amendment. “And as such there is a strong push back to any Second Amendment type bills.”
Matthews pledged to continue to fight for those bills, and said he hoped to author a bill to increase transparency related to security guards and security companies. Under Oklahoma’s Open Records Act, only disciplinary actions against security guards are open to the public, not licensure files.
“Security guards don’t get near the level of training (of a full-time law enforcer) and they have the ability to kill a citizen without sufficient training,” Matthews said. “I believe that Monroe Bird would still be here if we had higher standards that would have either had the individual that did this be better trained or screened him out.”
The operators of 438 Cops, a Tulsa company that trains hundreds of security guards each year, say they always advocate for more training.
“We believe there should be more training, but that’s to some extent a selfish thing on our part, more training, more students, more money,” said George Kennedy, who operates the company with his son, Tim.
The Kennedys teach a variety of courses to would-be security guards.
“Everybody would benefit from more training,” Tim Kennedy said. “You’d benefit from more training. I can think of a lot of people who have been in the news lately who would probably benefit from more training too.”
Regardless of whether Bird’s shooting was called justified or not, the former basketball player’s 6-foot-8 inch body was trapped in a cruel new reality.
He said following the shooting that he would dream most nights of playing basketball, or simply running. Then he would wake up, and start to slowly realize he couldn’t move his feet or his legs.
Then he’d try to move his arms, or his fingers and begin to remember he was paralyzed from the neck down.
“Waking up and not being able to move, it’s on me every day,” Bird told The Frontier in an interview last year. “It’s like when I wake up, it’s back to reality.”
Following police shootings, a battle sometimes ensues over how the victim should be perceived.
Family members circulate pictures of their relative smiling and happy, while others circulate posts on social media of the victim holding a gun, posing with drugs or throwing up gang signs.
But no such photos of Bird have surfaced.
In a batch of police documents provided to The Frontier by a source, there were pages printed by investigators of Bird’s Facebook profile.
In one, he’s sitting in a car smiling at the camera, looking more like a boy than a 21-year-old man. In another he’s posing while wearing an Okemah High School sweatshirt, the high school where he starred on the basketball court.
In the final image, he’s celebrating that he’d passed a test and could start work soon with the Tulsa City-County Health Department.
But by the time police culled the images off social media, those days had faded into Bird’s past. He was now consumed by thoughts that he’d never be able to walk, or run again. Or go outside on his own.
His friends had been steadfastly loyal to him following the shooting, coming over to watch movies, or basketball, and to joke like they used to. But he feared they’d eventually abandon him.
Bird had been rushed to Saint Francis Hospital following the shooting, but his hospital stay was shorter than his family hoped.
When the DA’s office declined to file charges against Stone, Bird’s insurance denied the family’s claim. Instead of a high-tech rehab facility in Houston, that denial meant Bird would be confined to a hospital bed in the tiny living room of his family’s home in Boley, just south of Okmulgee.
No more doctors, no more nurses, just whatever home-health aides the family could afford. Before Bird left the hospital, his mother Zondra received a crash course in caring for a quadriplegic patient, training many nurses spend years acquiring.
And just like that, they were on their own.
They bought the expensive bed, a contraption that was so confusing it took days to put together and was so large it would only fit in the family’s living room. They bought a generator to ensure that if the home lost power, a somewhat regular occurrence, that Bird wouldn’t be affected. They began expensive renovations on the bathroom, installing safety equipment to allow Bird to shower.
And then life went on. Every day Bird awoke with his lanky frame taking up every square inch of the bed. He would talk to whatever friends came to visit, watch Netflix and dream of being whole again.
“I know we’re supposed to stay positive, like looking for a miracle,” Bird told The Frontier last year before he died. “I know life goes on. But I don’t want to live this life for the rest of my life. Sometimes I wish I had cancer or something, at least that way I could move around.”
After Bird died, his mother said she had to get rid of the living room furniture because it all reminded her of her son. Zondra struggled to adjust to her new life. The most difficult reminders are holidays and special occasions.
“My first Mother’s Day, my first birthday, his birthday,” she said. “Even though, by the grace of God, I’m dealing with it. It is difficult.”
The family believes the timing and circumstances surrounding Bird’s shooting and death have made things more difficult for them. Bird was shot after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. sparked a national discussion. But the public was in the beginning stages of a debate over shootings of unarmed young black men.
Bird also lived for months after the shooting. By the time he died, scores of cases across the nation had ridden the viral media wave, garnering hashtags and protests before passing through the news cycle.
Kiera Bird, Monroe’s sister, said she tries to keep up with national cases with circumstances like Bird’s, but each new video reminds her of the day her brother was shot.
“It’s really difficult,” she said. “I feel like I’m living it all over again. I can’t get on any social media right now especially. I couldn’t watch the videos, I had to block them from my page, not that I didn’t want to see it but i just can’t.”
When he was little, Monroe would joke about being married, his mother said.
“He used to say, ‘I’m going to marry a deacon’s wife,” Zondra said, laughing. “It was like, ‘No, you have to be a deacon’ … he had even talked about, ‘When I turn 25, I’m probably going to get married.”
Monroe was named after his father who, in turn, had been named after his father. As the only male child, when Monroe died, the Bird family name died with him.
If he can’t have a familial legacy to leave behind, his family hopes he can leave a legislative one. Since Matthews has pledged to continue to push forward legislation to revamp the way security guards in Oklahoma are trained, Zondra said she hopes that can be what her son leaves behind for the future.
“I would hope that all effort would be made to keep it going so that there won’t be any other families that have to suffer through what we’ve gone through.”