A fellow sociologist asked the other day, “What’s the matter with Tulsa?” My immediate response was that Tulsa’s violent crime rate of 12.66 per 1,000 residents is 3 times the national average of 3.8 (and nearly 3 times Oklahoma’s rate of 4.41). According to Neighborhood Scout’s crime index, Tulsa is 3 out of 100 – meaning that it is safer than just 3% of cities in the United States.
But, of course, Tulsa’s being a criminally violent city is not new. What seems new – and what has prompted a lot of questioning – is a number of self-defense shootings in the first few weeks of calendar year 2015. According to Tulsa World, through February 4, there were 5 self-defense shooting incidents with 5 killed and 1 injured in the city of 400,000 people – one per week for the first 5 weeks of the year. None were by sworn law enforcement officers, though 2 were by individuals working as security guards. By comparison, in all of 2014, there were 8 justifiable homicides in Tulsa, 6 of them involving Tulsa police.
(It should also be noted that there have been no additional self-defense shootings reported in the nearly 3 weeks since February 4th, so 5 in 5 weeks has now become 5 in 8 weeks, which may soon become 5 in 10 weeks and so on. That is, we could be seeing a “regression to the mean” or return to normal.)
Of course, I should say CLAIMED “self-defense” shootings in 2015, because not all of the cases have been adjudicated yet. Depending on the outcome, these 5 cases could be deemed either justifiable or criminal homicides.
Among the cases not yet fully adjudicated according to the Tulsa World are:
- Jan. 8: Police respond to a west Tulsa apartment complex after a security guard there shoots Dale Long in the chest after he says Long, who had been banned from the property, struck him with his vehicle. Long drove a short distance and crashed his car. The Medical Examiner’s Office determined that the gunshot was the cause of his death. The Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office is awaiting a medical examiner’s report before deciding whether to clear the guard.
- Jan. 16: While on his way with family members to a Garth Brooks concert downtown, Andrew Bryiant, an off-duty Veterans Affairs officer from Oklahoma City, confronted Rodney Walker, who he said was fighting with a woman. Bryiant tells police he shot Walker after he said Walker reached to his waistband for a gun. The DA’s Office is awaiting Walker’s autopsy report before a decision is made on potential charges.
- Jan. 31: Charles Harring, who was living with his wife despite a permanent protective order against him, is fatally shot by her following a domestic disturbance. The DA’s Office is awaiting the police case file before deciding on potential charges.
- Feb. 4: Police respond to a south Tulsa apartment complex to find a security guard performing CPR on a man he just shot. The guard told police he saw two people having sex in a car and that he was struck by the vehicle as it drove away after he confronted them. The security guard fired once into the vehicle as it sped away, striking the driver, who then crashed the car into a tree. The driver lived but likely will be paralyzed, police said. The DA’s Office is awaiting the full police report before deciding on potential charges.
So in 4 of the 5 incidents, with 3 of the 5 deaths, self-defense has been CLAIMED but not determined by the District Attorney. So, is this a “rash” of self-defense shootings? We do not (yet) know. We also do not know how these claims of self-defense compare to previous years, because the figures from the previous year given above (presumably) speak to those cases which were determined (not just claimed) to be justifiable self-defense shootings. Perhaps that is why such a high proportion were police not civilian shootings?
As I have noted previously (and often), CLAIMING self-defense or invoking Stand Your Ground laws does not give you a “license to kill” or to “shoot first and ask questions later.”
The Tulsa World also reports that “only one of the five self-defense shootings so far this year has involved the Stand Your Ground law, and it’s the only one of the five shootings in which the shooter has been cleared by the District Attorney’s Office.” This was the case of a clerk at Ryan’s Convenience Story on East 21st Street in Tulsa.
I am not an attorney, but I question whether Oklahoma’s Stand Your Ground law even has anything to do with this one case.
According to the Tulsa World, “Jan. 13: Bradley Keeling, a clerk at an east Tulsa convenience store, shoots and kills two men during a robbery attempt after one of the men fired a gun at him. Citing Oklahoma’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, the DA’s Office cleared Keeling nine days after the shooting.”
Another news outlet reported the following: “Based upon the facts and the evidence, Keeling was justified in shooting the attempted robbers under Oklahoma’s ‘Stand Your Ground Law.’ The ‘Stand Your Ground Law’ gives Keeling and other Oklahoma business (and home) owners, employees and persons the right to expect absolute safety within their places of business (and homes) and the right to use defensive force likely to cause death or great bodily harm if a person against whom such force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering a place of business (or home),” said First Assistant District Attorney John David Luton. “The law presumes that such a person held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force, and is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution,” Luton said.
This sounds like standard self-defense law as opposed to stand your ground law to me.
It’s worth noting that the two robbery suspects who were not killed – Lakeit Thompson and George Williamson – are also suspects in a string of other armed robberies in the Tulsa area.
So, one justifiable homicide of armed robbers who shot at a store clerk, two incidents that have a domestic violence dimension to them, and two shootings by security guards at apartment complexes. I’m not sure how much of an aberration this is on reflection. In which case I have to go back to my initial answer to the question “What’s the matter with Tulsa?” Its criminal violence.
To wit: On December 22, 2011, two masked men shot and killed 55-year-old Peggy Gayton during a robbery at a Shell gas station convenience store. As part of the investigation, police released surveillance photos from a robbery four days earlier by the same suspects (see above). The photos were taken at Ryan’s Convenience Store on East 21st Street in Tulsa. Yes, that Ryan’s.