OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation announced Thursday that it is investigating at least three potential threats involving Oklahoma lawmakers, believed to be connected to the teacher walkout protests, but would not provide specifics on who was threatened, or to what extent.
"These are threats against public officials," said OSBI spokesperson Jessica Brown Thursday. "I can't get into great detail with you. It has certainly made the lawmakers feel very uneasy and that they were in danger as well as their families were in dangers as well as their assistants there at the capitol were in danger."
The OSBI says an unspecified number of lawmakers have contacted the agency "about potential threats made to them." Agents believe that a fourth case may soon be opened. The agency is tasked with investigating any threats made to public officials.
While specifics of the alleged threats are unclear, News 4 is aware of at least one death threat made against teachers earlier in the week. The threat came from comments of a KFOR Facebook Live video feed of aerial shots of the crowds of people outside the capitol. News 4 has since contacted and handed the information about the death threat to teachers to the Oklahoma City Police Department.
Rumors run rampant
The OSBI's announcement of its investigation into alleged threats are the latest developments of the week that also included a number of unsubstantiated rumors floating around the capitol, inside and out. From the capitol's water being shut off to paid protesters being bused into the state.
Thousands of educators and their supports have descended on the capitol since Monday, the first day of the teacher walkout in the state, calling for better education funding after years and millions of dollars of cuts.
Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, told News 4 Wednesday that he made a since-deleted Facebook video in response to the actions of some people at the capitol, vowing to not vote for another measure for teachers and education funding.
McDugle later said he regrets posting the video out of frustration and that he still supports teachers.
"We've got folks that are blocking legislators' doors and vandalism in the parking lots, is what I was told this morning," said Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow. "And we've had several legislators that are receiving death threats."
A short time later, the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety announced that it had identified a "growing number of outside protest groups, not involved with the ongoing teachers' rally" at the Capitol, adding that those groups could be violent or disruptive.
A release from the agency claimed that threats had been made against some lawmakers and people in the governor's office.
"In the past, some of these groups have been known to show violent behavior during non-violent rallies," read the statement from DPS. "There have been reports of threats made towards members of the Legislature and the Governor's office."
However, security officials at the Capitol told News 4 that they had no idea about the alleged threats.
When News 4 spoke with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, which handles capitol security, Capt. Paul Timmons said Wednesday that it had not received any reports of vandalism, or threats made against anyone.
"We have heard various incidents of vandalism, but nothing has been reported to the Troop R division of the capitol patrol," said Timmons.
"There hasn’t been any violent protesters?" asked a News 4 reporter.
“No. There has not. And want to make sure everyone knows that there has not been anything that has occurred to this point and we don’t expect any problems."
Also on Wednesday, News 4 confronted Rep. John Enns, after a constituent took to Facebook, saying Enns told her 25 percent of the people in the crowd were paid actors from Chicago. Enns also claimed that he's had people beating on his pickup and people yelling at him as he's trying to drive into the parking lot.
"This is off the record, right?" said Enns, when confronted by a handful of reporters about the allegations.
"No," replied the reporters.
"I'm just saying that's what I heard," said the Enid Republican. When pressed on who he heard the claims from, Enns said he "can't give that information out."
"I was told that there were paid protesters down there."
"Who's paying them?" asked a reporter.
"I have no idea. That's what I was told."
"And they're from Chicago?"
"That's what I was told."
"Do you believe that?"
"I have no idea."
"I've just got a bad feeling up here. Just a bad feeling. This thing could go bad."
"In what way?"
"I can feel the atmosphere, and I've been told by various entities in security, they said this has got a bad feeling," said Enns.
"It's chaotic," when asked to give an example. "Chaotic. If the wrong people are out here, it breeds real problems and I think we've seen that all over the nation."
For days, News 4 has had numerous journalists documenting the days events and the hundreds of demonstrators inside the capitol and the thousands outside, a large share of whom are women, school teachers and children. News 4 journalists, too, have heard of the rumors of paid protesters, so-called outside groups that may be trying to subvert the peaceful demonstrations, and that the water in the capitol was shut off. None of the rumors we have been able to substantiate.
"I think it’s a deflection from the topic that we’re here to talk about. We have not seen anyone do anything on these rumors that are going around," said Ceretta Bridges, an Oklahoma City Public School teacher. "I’ve heard the rumors, I’ve been here every day, all day, and I’ve not seen any of that."
The Oklahoma ACLU said Thursday its legal observers haven't seen evidence of outside groups, instigators or paid actors taking part in the demonstrations by educators.
"Frankly, we’re confused as to where these rumors are coming from," said Ryan Kiesel, Oklahoma ACLU executive director and former state representative.
"We want law enforcement to investigate every single credible threat that comes to their attention. I think everyone in the state of Oklahoma would agree with that," Kiesel said. "What I think is dangerous is when you have unsubstantiated rumors being floated around, in a way that attempts to delegitimize the message of these educators and supporters at the state capitol."
"I’ve only seen one small (group Thursday), telling us to go back to our classrooms, we should be fired, and we deserve to go to hell," said Karissa Pacione, a 6th grade math and geography teacher at Deer Creek Intermediate School.
"That’s the only thing?" asked News 4 Reporter Bill Miston.
"That’s only thing I’ve seen and I’ve been out here every single day this week."