John Dominguez had a knife, a gun, and perhaps a prescient idea of what was about to happen when he dialed 911 late last month.
The dispatcher asked the 31-year-old Stillwater resident if he was going anywhere in particular.
“Hell,” Dominguez responded.
Minutes later Dominguez was dead. Stillwater police officers had arrived to check on the suicidal man, and Dominguez responded by pointing his gun at them.
Dominguez was at least 19th person shot by Oklahoma police in 2018 and at least the 11th Oklahoman to die during an encounter with law enforcement this year.
His identity was released by Stillwater police the next day after they reached his next of kin. But nearly two weeks later, the officers who shot him are still anonymous.
There have been at least 21 officer-involved shootings in 2018, according to figures compiled by The Frontier. In 13 of those shootings, the names of the officers involved have been withheld.
The larger cities are exceptions — Tulsa and Oklahoma City both identify officers involved in a shooting within 48-72 hours. This year Norman and Wagoner both released the identities of officers involved in shootings in less than a week.
It appears to primarily be smaller agencies, who often have no dedicated media liaison, who have gone weeks or even months without identifying their officers following a shooting.
Law enforcement agencies are somewhat between a rock and a hard place following an officer-involved shooting, particularly a high-profile one. There’s never been more scrutiny on the actions of police officers, and agencies fear blowback toward individual officers who kill a citizen.
At the same time, the Oklahoma Open Records Act demands openness and transparency.
When Terence Crutcher was shot and killed in Tulsa in 2016, it was clear the shooting would garner national attention.
All the elements were there — Crutcher was black and unarmed. The officer was white. Tulsa has a long history with racial division, stretching back to the 1921 race massacre, and more recently the fatal shooting of Eric Harris.
It became the most high-profile officer-involved shooting in Tulsa history.
But still, two days after the shooting TPD released the name, rank and picture of the officer involved.
“Officer Betty Jo Shelby is the officer who discharged her duty weapon during the incident,” the statement read. “Her date of hire was December 1st, 2011.”
“We know the officer’s name is a public record,” said Shane Tuell, a public information officer for the Tulsa Police Department. “We kind of view it like the officer is an employee of the city, they’re a public official. We have to put there name out there, it’s just the way it is.”
But records show not every agency is that forthcoming. As The Frontier has followed officer-involved shootings across the state in 2018, it has found many law enforcement agencies — mostly from smaller rural communities — have not identified their officers following a shooting.
For example, in Bartlesville, an officer there killed 72-year-old Geraldine Townsend in January while officers were arresting her son, Michael Livingston, for allegedly selling marijuana from the home. Livingston was handcuffed on the floor when Townsend, whose family said she suffered from dementia, fired a replica BB gun at officers in the home. One officer returned fire, killing her. Three months later, despite that shooting being cleared by the Washington County District Attorney’s Office, the who officer who killed Townsend remains unidentified.
“We know the media needs information,” Tuell said. “I can help you by giving you the right info or we can make you search for it on your own and end up with speculation.”
Dash camera video released by Stillwater police showed the fatal encounter their officers had with Dominguez, an incident that took place near the Stillwater High School campus.
Dominguez is not seen in the video, which shows two Stillwater Police Department officers — both of whom have their faces blurred — arrive and briefly speak to the man.
“Hey, buddy, come here,” one officer said to Dominguez. Then his tone changed.
“No, don’t. Don’t do it!” Shots are then fired and the video ends.
Following the shooting, Stillwater police Capt. Kyle Gibbs told Oklahoma State University student reporter Kels Schlotthauer the department would not identify the two officers involved in the Dominguez shooting “until the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation’s homicide investigation and SPD’s internal investigation are complete.”
Gibbs told The Frontier the decision to not identify officers involved in a shooting was made by Police Chief Ryan McCaghren.
“It’s his position that based on the Open Records Act that while either the criminal investigation is going on or the administrative review that follows that, we are not going to release the name of the officer,” Gibbs said. “In a nutshell, the officers are suspects, and we don’t release the names of suspects until there’s an arrest.”
Often the names of officers involved in the shooting appear will appear in incident reports that cannot be redacted or altered under Oklahoma’s open records laws. However neither officer who fired his weapon at Dominguez that night is listed in any of the publicly available documents, according to a story by Oklahoma State University’s student newspaper, the O’Colly.
Gibbs told the paper the “names and badge numbers of the officers who shot Dominguez aren’t listed in the radio log or public incident report because they didn’t file the initial report.”
The state’s Open Records Act states that “a chronological list of all incidents, including initial offense report information showing the offense, date, time, general location, officer and a brief summary of what occurred” must be made available.
Like in the Dominguez shooting, the reason appears to be an informal internal OSBI policy. The agency has been called in to investigate 13 officer-involved shootings so far this year — only once did the agency involved in the shooting identify its officer. And even then, the officer was identified only by her last name and first initial.
“I’m the one who started that,” OSBI spokeswoman Jessica Brown said of the policy of withholding officers names following a shooting. “There was a Lawton Police Officer, and I released his name and he was getting death threats. He had people driving by his house and yelling things and throwing things, so I changed at that point and said I would not release them.”
Brown said her agency is investigating the officers, who “should have the same rights as anyone.”
“If they’re arrested or charged, at that point I would release the names,” she said. “But not prior to that. If their individual department wants to release the name, I say go ahead. It won’t hurt our investigation.”
‘They don’t like their names being out there’
In late January, Joseph Knight was shot and killed by Tulsa police officers following an hour-long standoff just northwest of downtown.
Knight, reportedly armed with a shotgun, had fled from officers and entered his home. An altercation took place and Knight, who police said was holding the shotgun, was killed.
Days later the identities of the officers involved were released — Robert Marcum and Ben Brandt. Both officers were placed on paid leave while the shooting was investigated.
The two-day window between the shooting and the identities of the officers being released is two-fold, Tuell said.
“Part of it is just to make sure we have our info right,” he said. “But it’s also to give the officer time to inform his family and prepare them.”
Tuell said in the past some officers have gotten death threats following an officer-involved shooting.
“Quite honestly, our officers involved don’t like their names being out there,” he said. “God forbid I get involved in an officer-involved shooting. In the off chance I do, the first thing I would do is have my kids stay at their grandparents for a few days. Just because there are groups out there that will try to find you.”
It can take months to learn the identities of some officers
Even if the identity of an officer involved in a shooting is withheld by the officer’s agency and the OSBI, it will eventually become public record.
The OSBI, which has acted as the investigatory agency in at least 13 of the officer-involved shootings this year, eventually must file a report with the district attorney in the county where the shooting took place.
Those reports do not recommend whether charges should be filed, but are merely considered “investigatory.” The DA’s office reviews the file and then either charges the officer, at which point the name enters into the public record, or clears the officer. If the officer is cleared, a letter is written by the DA’s office and forwarded to the officer’s agency.
However, that process can take months.
On Jan. 6, a deputy from the Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Office killed a bat-wielding man named Jonathan Leroy following a violent incident at Leroy’s house.
Leroy was identified by the OSBI, but the deputy was not. It wasn’t until Feb. 3, when Pottawatomie County DA Richard Smothermon declined to prosecute the shooting, that the deputy, James Caskey, was identified publicly.
Likewise, on Jan. 30, agents from a U.S. Marshals task force shot and killed 40-year-old Ricky Leon Rusche during an altercation in Pink, a rural community just east of Norman. Rusche had escaped from a Department of Corrections treatment center in late December but was located about a month later by members of the United States Marshals Service.
Rusche, records show, was attempting to hide in the crawl space of a dilapidated mobile home when he was located by authorities. According to a letter written by Smothermon, law enforcers saw Rusche reach near a pistol after saying “I got a gun, I got a gun.”
Rusche was shot and killed by two task force agents. Rusche was identified immediately, but the identity of the two agents (Deputy Marshal Anthony Deguisti and Agent Robert Lewis of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs) was withheld until they were both cleared by Smothermon on April 3.
Geraldine Townsend, a 72-year-old Bartlesville woman, was the third person killed by Oklahoma police in 2018. Bartlesville officers were at Townsend’s home on Jan. 18 seeking to arrest her son, Mike Livingston, when Townsend fired a bb gun at officers, according to Capt. Jay Hastings.
One officer returned fire, striking and killing Townsend.
Nearly three months later, that officer remains unidentified, even though the Washington County District Attorney’s Office cleared the shooting in a letter written to the Bartlesville Police Department on Feb. 9.
In that letter, which would typically identify the officer being cleared in the shooting, the officer who killed Townsend is only referred to as “Officer 2.” Another officer, referred to as “Officer 1,” is noted in the letter as having been shot by Townsend, who was using a “replica BB gun.”
Hastings told The Frontier that Bartlesville police generally wait a few days before identifying the officers involved in a shooting, but that in this case they were more protective because Livingston had made death threats following his mother’s shooting.
“He had made some threats to kill the officers and their families,” Hastings said. “It’s something we do on a case-by-case basis.”
Livingston was charged with a misdemeanor for threatening to kill officers Steven Silver, Troy Newell and Andrew Ward, according to court records. It is not clear if one of those officers killed Townsend, however, and Hastings said six officers were on the raid that night.
Livingston, who had been held since Jan. 18 on $150,000 bond, was released from jail last week following a hearing that saw his bond reduced to $25,000, court records show.
In the year’s first officer-involved shooting, a California man named Jorge Juarez was shot during a traffic stop in Caddo County. After the shooting, Oklahoma Highway Patrol spokesman Capt. Paul Timmons said a trooper named Russell Boswell had been involved in the traffic stop, but not the shooting. Timmons told The Frontier that officers from the Hydro Police Department and Hinton Police Department were at the scene and that one of those officers shot Juarez, though he wasn’t sure which one fired the shot.
Three months later it’s unclear exactly what happened that day. The Caddo County District Attorney’s Office did not respond to requests for comment, and neither Timmons nor the OSBI released the identity of the officers from Hydro or Hinton.
In February, a man named Jason Kougl, who was reportedly suicidal, was shot by a Logan County Sheriff’s Office deputy. That deputy has not been identified and neither the LCSO or the Logan County DA’s office responded to requests for comment.
The identities of officers in six of the seven officer-involved shootings from March have yet to be released. Those include shootings in Lone Grove, Grady County, Mannford, Owasso, Lawton and Stillwater.
The identities of officers from both officer-involved shootings in April have not yet been released.