Sunday, September 30, 2012

OKC police refuse to identify officer who fired gun in his home, taken to hospital for mental health check

Oklahoma City police officials won't tell the public which of its officers fired a gun in his house Thursday when other officers responded to a call that he was acting strangely, The Oklahoman reported Saturday.
The officer was taken to a hospital for a mental health check, the newspaper was told.
The officer's wife called police about 3:50 p.m. Thursday to report that he was talking and acting strangely at their house in the 12700 block of South Robinson Avenue., which runs behind Santa Fe Elementary School. I am told that the school was locked down during the incident.
The Oklahoman reported that among those responding was the department's tactical team, which remained on standby while other officers investigated.
The officer fired at least one gunshot into the floor of his home, The Oklahoman was told.
The department's public information officer said he wasn't arrested because police don't know if a crime occurred. Capt. Dexter Nelson told the newspaper:
He can shoot up his house all that he wants to. If he has a firearm in his house and shoots up his house and isn't endangering anyone else, that's not necessarily a crime. We have people shoot guns inside their homes all the time, and they aren't arrested.
But Oklahoma City's Municipal Code says discharging a firearm in the city is a misdemeanor. (Ch. 30, Art. X, § 30-308)
A state statute makes it a felony, punishable by two to 20 years in prison, "for anyone to willfully or intentionally discharge any firearm or other deadly weapon at or into any dwelling, or at or into any building used for public or business purposes." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 21, § 1289.17A)
Nelson said the officer is on administrative leave and the department's internal affairs unit is investigating whether a crime occurred.
Nelson refused to release the officer's name, blaming that decision on city attorneys.
The state Open Records Act requires police to release "initial offense report information showing the offense, date, time, general location, officer, and a brief summary of what occurred." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 21, § 24A.8(A)(3))
The statute allows police to release other information on an incident. (§ 24A.8(B))
But Nelson told the newspaper:
You have already provided a 'brief summary' of the incident. Additional details are not required. Since the subject was not taken to jail, arrestee information does not exist.
The bottom line is that Oklahoma City Police Department officials don't want the public to know which of their officers fired a gun in a residential neighborhood and then was taken to a hospital to have his mental health evaluated.
Nothing in the Open Records Act prohibits police from releasing the name as part of the incident report.
The name of anyone who fires a gun in a residential area should be included in the summary of what occurred. It's even more important because it was a police officer who fired a weapon close to an elementary school.
"Police officers must be held to a higher standard of moral and ethical values then[sic] is expected of the average person. Police officers need the trust and respect of the public to perform their duties and responsibilities effectively." (Richard W. DeShon, Police Officers Oath of Office and Codes of Ethics: A Question of Knowledge, 2000)
Instead, Oklahoma City police officials are twisting the Open Records Act to create a loophole so they can hide which of their officers fired his weapon in a neighborhood while acting strangely.
The City Council should expect police officials to be more forthright with its citizens.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.

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