OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Several civil and human rights organizations are asking state and federal investigators to review the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s decision to drop charges against seven police officers in three separate fatal shootings.
“We are asking for equal application of the law and no longer granting these privileges to protect killer cops,” said Sara Bana of Peoples Council for Justice Reform. The groups joined together Thursday to speak out against what they call an injustice of the law.
“The blood of the victims cries out for justice and so do we,” said Garland Pruitt of the Oklahoma City Black Lives Matter chapter. “We have to speak up and demand something different, we can do better. There’s no way Oklahoma should be at the top rankings of killings. When do we stop? How do we stop? It starts with us addressing those issues and being held accountable. Today is just one of those days that we want to express our disappointment in the system that has failed us.”
The People’s Council for Justice Reform, OKC NAACP Chapter, Poor People’s Campaign, Black Lives Matter, Advocacy Works, and others are asking the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney General, and/or Oklahoma’s Attorney General to investigate three separate, fatal officer-involved shootings in Oklahoma County.
KFOR reached out to Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond who responded to the request stating, “Local district attorneys have full discretion to file or dismiss charges. The Office of Attorney General is not aware of any evidence to suggest that discretion has been abused.”
Oklahoma County DA Vicki Behenna announced in late July that the charges against seven officers in three cases brought by her predecessor David Prater would be dropped.
“We need to see policy change and we need to see more people power and we need more voices amplified the voices,” said Sheri Dickerson of the Oklahoma City Black Lives Matter. “We should not have to call on them again the families of those that were slain by the police officers. It was a slap in the face regardless of whether or not they had talked to certain entities about what was going to happen.”
The organizations say Behenna’s dismissal of the charges “circumvents the requirements of the law” and “constitutes unprecedented, obstructive political maneuvering” that will ultimately “lead to increased police brutality and lethality locally.”
The cases included the five Oklahoma City Police officers charged in the death of 15-year-old Stavian Rodriguez, the teen shot 13 times outside a convenience store after dropping a gun.
OKCPD officer Clifford Holman shot and killed Bennie Edwards, a 60-year-old man police say had a knife. He was shot in the back while he was running away.
The Village Police officer, Chance Avery shot and killed 49-year-old Christopher Poor inside his home; body camera footage shows Poor holding a bat during the confrontation.
The group is also challenging the DA’s decision to hire an outside use-of-force expert, who they say is “a career law enforcement agent with a history of implicit bias against victims of police brutality and lethality.”
“I also want to note that because their use of force expert was asked to evaluate these three cases at the same time we have serious concerns about confirmation bias,” said Bana. “We also talked about the implicit bias that the use of force expert had, which showcases several has for law enforcement given his career in law enforcement.”
KFOR reached out to District Attorney Behenna Thursday for a response and was told that she is off-site and could not respond.
In the past Behenna has stated that the decision she made was based on guidance from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
“There is a specific statute that is entitled ‘justifiable deadly force by [an officer],’” Behenna said. “That statute sets forth the groundwork and the law that we have to follow in evaluating whether an officer has used excessive force or the force that they used is justifiable. That law says that if a suspect is trying to escape or evade arrest and the suspect is believed to have committed a crime involving serious bodily harm or the threat of serious bodily harm, force even deadly force can be justifiable.”
“In each of these three cases, we had two or three meetings where we would sit down in this conference room and go over body cam footage or dashcam footage and ask questions. I want to put a fine point on this is not just a quick spur-of-the-moment decision. This was a very difficult, very fact-intensive decision and review based upon all of that information,” explained Behenna.
“Her actions suggest that her support for total and absolute Qualified Immunity for these officers is more important than exercising her elected duty to prosecute murderers regardless of privilege or power,” advocates say.
The organizational leaders say DA Behenna, in a political decision, overlooked the ‘Reasonable Officer Standard’ and focused instead on ‘Justifiable Deadly Force’ by an Officer.
The group also opposes the DA’s recommendation for designating a Multi-County Grand Jury to handle future officer-involved shootings, stating that “such a decision would only serve to further rig outcomes in a secret process.”
The groups stated that a letter to each of the agencies could be sent by sometime next week.