TULSA, Okla. — Tulsa city leaders are ready to establish the Office of Independent Monitor over the Tulsa Police Department soon, and calls are growing for them to do so after a viral video of officers mistreating a mentally ill woman began circulating social media this week.
The idea for an Independent Monitor was first proposed in 2019 by Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum. Tulsa City Council Chairwoman Lori Decter-Wright told FOX23 the discussion for the creation of a watchdog outside of the agency never stopped. Councilors have spent years looking into the issue, visiting other cities, holding public meetings, working with the city’s legal team, and meeting with law enforcement about how something like an Independent Monitor could be put in place for Tulsa.
“We have these two groups,” Decter-Wright said. “There’s the why are we still talking about it, we haven’t done it. And then there’s the why are we still talking about this, didn’t it go away? The answer to that is it hasn’t gone away. We are talking about it.”
Tulsa city councilors began to get phone calls, social media messages, and e-mails this week about body camera video of the arrest of Tulsa resident LaDonna Paris. Paris had locked herself in the restroom of the Habitat For Humanity ReStore near East 11th and South Sheridan last October during what was determined to be a mental health episode. At one point, Paris threatened to set a fire in the bathroom.
In the body camera video, Tulsa Police officers responding to the incident determined she was in the middle of a mental health episode, but the TPD Community Response Team, the group in charge of handling mentally ill subjects, had no one free to respond. The normal duty officers went on to tease, make fun of, threaten to taser, and eventually arrest Paris after they broke down the door and pushed her face down causing her to bleed.
EMSA paramedics would arrive on the scene to treat Paris’ wound, but despite those paramedics also insisting Paris was suffering from a mental health episode, the responding TPD officers insisted on taking her to jail and booking her on numerous charges. Charges that would later be dropped when a judge was made aware of Paris’ mental health status at the time of arrest.
The agenda item for an Independent Monitor was created well before the video was released, and there was no way for councilors to know that when they posted their agenda, TPD was about to release the full raw body camera of Paris’ arrest, a community activist would condense the video down, and the video would go viral.
“This is exactly why we need this is what I’ve already been told, and it’s hard to argue with,” Decter-Wright said about discussions she’s already had with constituents reaching out about the video and how it relates to needing an Independent Monitor.
Proponents of the creation of the O.I.M. brought up Paris’ arrest video during a public comment time on if a city charter amendment should be put to the vote of the people on the new office’s creation.
“I support the creation of the office, but I don’t support putting it in the charter,” Tulsa City Councilor Crista Patrick said.
Patrick is in the group of councilors who are concerned about putting something in the charter and then in the future if a problem is found to be playing out, it would be difficult for councilors to make necessary and timely reforms.
Councilors are nearly unanimous on the creation of the O.I.M., but what is problematic among the group is how do they implement the reform. Some are wanting to go the route of a city charter amendment put before voters. Others want to use the traditional ordinance process. Others have even proposed Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum create the office through executive order. There has also been talk if it would be more appropriate for the citizens to take up the cause through a petition to get it on the ballot themselves.
Wednesday, councilors will vote on whether or not to go the route of them putting the charter amendment before the voters. If it passes, that is the route they will likely take. If it fails, they will find another way forward to create the position.
FOX23 reached out to the Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police who has been outspoken in opposition to the creation of an O.I.M. when the discussion began in 2019. They said they are waiting to see the final legislation before they take a position on it.
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