Before he died late last month following an encounter with Tulsa police over an old jaywalking warrant, Ollie Brooks Sr. spent most of his time at his daughter’s house.
Brooks grew up an only child, though, so when he had some money in his pocket, he liked to escape to a nearby motel for a few days, said his son, Ollie Brooks Jr., just to have some time alone.
It was in room 226 at a Super 8 Motel near 10th Street and Garnett Road, where the elder Brooks spent his final day.
Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan said in a press conference earlier this month that officers cross-referenced the motel’s registry with an outstanding warrants database and discovered Brooks had a municipal arrest warrant for a jaywalking ticket from 2015.
The two officers, Barry Hamm and Larry Crawford, went to the door of Brooks’ room and knocked. Jordan said Brooks opened the door to the tiny motel room, and the two officers saw drug paraphernalia on a dresser by the bed. Police said Brooks was pepper sprayed, then hit twice with a Taser, although Jordan said neither Taser strike hit Brooks with both prongs, something needed to incapacitate a subject. Brooks ran, the officers tackled him, cuffed him, and sat him on the stairs.
Then he quit breathing, Jordan said.
The 64-year-old man was taken to a nearby hospital after the struggle, where he died. A preliminary report by the state medical examiner’s office indicates Brooks had an enlarged heart, that, combined with the scuffle and exertion, may have caused his death, Jordan told reporters.
The medical examiner’s office said Tuesday Brooks’ case was pending, and they could not release any information about his death. Police, however, have so far refused a request by The Frontier for records related to Brooks’ case, including dashcam footage from the police car used during the incident.
So-called “motel sweeps” are not without controversy. The American Civil Liberties Union has protested in other states on behalf of motel patrons they say deserve to be treated “like guests, not potential criminals.”
The Supreme Court has previously ruled that hotels and motels cannot be forced to turn over their guest registries to police officers, but can do it on their own volition.
However, police officials argue that checking motel registries for people with outstanding warrants is an effective way of policing high-crime areas.
Tulsa police officer Leland Ashley called the sweeps “proactive policing” and said some motels “tend to attract illegal activity” like prostitution or drugs.
“These crimes affect surrounding businesses and neighborhoods,” Ashley said. “Conducting proactive policing at and around the motels is our attempt to stop or slow down the criminal activity. There is no financial gain for the police department. Our only gain is reducing criminal activity in these areas.”
The area where the officers confronted Brooks is no stranger to police activity — four motels sit within spitting distance of each other, and police records show dozens of crimes like larceny, robbery, auto theft, even rape, occurring in that stretch or south Garnett Road.
In fact, it may be that reputation that drew Hamm and Crawford to room 226 that day. The officers apparently routinely conduct motel sweeps — in 2014 Fox 23 news cameras followed Crawford and another officer as they made an arrest at an east Tulsa motel.
“Some people will answer the door and have their drugs out on the table,” Crawford told the television station, adding that many of the people who stay in motels live in Tulsa, but “do their dirty work” in motels because they don’t want to do it “in their own backyard.”
It’s unclear how often similar sweeps occur, or what officers conduct them. Sgt. Luke Sherman, who commands TPD’s fugitive warrants division, said his team typically doesn’t focus on offenders like Brooks with municipal warrants.
“We’re looking for the robbers, or the rapists,” said Sherman, who is running for sheriff. “The guy with 17 misdemeanor warrants for traffic tickets, we’re going to let him get picked up on a traffic stop.”
Sherman said motel sweeps are often conducted under the “cops on dots” theory of police work— “Patrol officers know where crime is happening, so if you look on a map and see the dot that represents crime, you want to have more of a presence there. That’s what leads to these motel sweeps,” Sherman said.
Family ‘taking it hard’
Ollie Brooks Jr. said that while he and his siblings have found it tough to cope with their father’s death, it’s actually his father’s grandchildren who are having the toughest time.
“They loved that man,” Brooks Jr. said. “He was the only grandfather they had.”
He described Brooks Sr. as a “fun guy” who had a passion for two things — food and talking to people.
“You could go to the QuikTrips he went to, or to Walmart, or wherever, and ask about him and they’d talk about him all day,” he said. “He loved to just stand around and talk to people, that’s the kind of guy he was. The pharmacist at Walmart that my dad would always talk to called my sister crying when she heard what happened, because she had helped him out so many times.”
Brooks said his father had no life insurance, so the family is attempting to raise money for funeral and burial costs.
“The officers have gone back to work, but we still need to bury my dad,” he said. “We haven’t figured out how we’re going to do that yet.”