Misconduct Makes Cop’s Testimony Unreliable
When police officers step on the wrong side of the law, the personal tragedy in some ways resembles that of any other person in trouble with the law. Regardless of an urge to gloat among those – including criminal defense attorneys – who often engage cops in legal battles, it is just as easy to empathize with someone who failed to live up to their own expectations.
The accused might face psychological burdens related to their own failure. They incur financial burdens of a criminal defense effort – along with whatever fines and court costs they may incur. They face lost wages and diminished career prospects. They often lose the respect of peers and sometimes even their families.
Members of the accused’s family might even suffer social stigma associated with a criminal allegation. And of course, there is the obvious tragedy victims and victims’ families suffer – especially when the matter involves loss of life.
No matter how keenly we recognize the human aspects associated with criminal allegations, when police officers are accused the situation is even more complex. No matter how tenaciously we maintain a presumption of innocence for those accused, when allegations are leveled against a police officer, criminal defense attorneys take notice.
We take notice because allegations against a police officer can tarnish that officer’s credibility. Courts rely on the credibility of police officers to administer justice. A police officer who lied, cheated, stole or murdered on one occasion may not be the most credible witness against others – including our clients.
A Long List of Police Misconduct
Several Tulsa police officers have lately come under suspicion of criminal conduct – including murder. Tulsa police officer Shannon Kepler and his wife Gina Kepler – also a long-time Tulsa police officer – surrendered after a fatal shooting on Aug. 5, 2014. The victim was a 19-year-old man who had reportedly been dating the Keplers’ daughter. The Keplers’ arrest casts clouds over any ongoing case in which they might be called to testify.
Just hours before the shooting, the Tulsa World had reported the names of eight Oklahoma Highway Patrol Officers who had been suspended in recent months. They included Eric Roberts, Joshua Davies, Sheldon Robinson, Bobby Raines, Joe Kimmons, Ryan Smith, Chris Bunch and Jerrod Martin.
Some of the suspensions were routine, following what the agency may determine was legitimate use of force. Others involved allegations of misconduct.
Robinson was off duty when he fatally shot a man outside a Tulsa motel who witnesses said might have been playing with an air-propellant gun earlier in the day. Joshua Davies crashed a patrol car and the boat it was pulling while allegedly driving drunk – on the job. The Tulsa World reported Aug. 13, 2014 that Eric Roberts was named in a lawsuit by a woman who said he sexually abused her during a traffic stop.
It is safe to say a person cannot expect to get out of a speeding ticket simply because it was written by a highway patrolman who later shot to death an armed, drug-addled suspect in the line of duty. But a drunk driving arrest by an officer who was later arrested for drunk driving on the job might be a different story.
Scandal After Scandal
Tulsa Police Officer Charged in Fatal Shooting
In August, 2013, former Tulsa police officer Marvin Blades Jr. was convicted on five counts of robbing Hispanic drivers while on duty. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on July 25, 2014 upheld Blade’s conviction.
Read the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals decision in Blades v. Oklahoma F-2013-781 here.
Former Tulsa police captain Paul Field on May 22, 2014 lost a federal court case in which he challenged the punishment he was handed after refusing to attend a law enforcement appreciation event hosted by the Islamic Society of Tulsa.
Read the 10th Circuit Court’s decision in Fields v City of Tulsa No. 12-5218 here.
Cpl. David Harrison – a 25-year veteran of Tulsa PD – was arrested May 7, 2014 on domestic violence charges that involved allegations of sexual assault. In April, 2014, 17-year veteran Cpl. David Turner was sentenced to probation in connection with his arrest during a prostitution charge.
In 2012, then Tulsa Police Captain Shawn King was demoted to officer after an ex-girlfriend accused him of having sex on the job. The woman had found pictures on his laptop that allegedly showed him having sex with a female Tulsa police officer.
A Tulsa police corruption scandal exposed in 2009 led to more than 40 defendants having convictions reversed and some being released from prison. Tulsa Police Cpl. Harold R. Wells was sentenced to 10 years in prison, Jeff Henderson to 42 months and John K. “JJ” Gray to four months. An Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent, Brandon McFadden, was sentenced to 21 months in prison.
The FBI videotaped some of the officers in that case taking money during what they believed was a drug bust at a Tulsa motel. Those four were among 11 officers who were charged or named as unindicted co-conspirators. Other Tulsa police officers named in the scandal included Nick DeBruin, Bruce Bonham, John McDowell, Eric Hill and William Yelton.
Read indictments of Henderson and Yelton here.
Read indictments of Wells, Debruin and Bonham here.
A Tulsa Public Schools campus officer was suspended in May, 2014 after he shot at a car occupied by two students. The driver reportedly tried to flee after the officer found the two teens engaged in intimate conduct. The school district refused to provide reporters the name of the officer.
In January, 2014, Maimi Okla. Sgt. Shalyn Jay was charged with obstructing an officer. She had earlier worked as a Porter police officer where her husband, Darryl Jay, was also the police chief – and her supervisor. The Porter Town Council abruptly fired Darryl Jay shortly before Shalyn Jay was charged with obstruction.
We cannot fail to mention the ongoing grand jury investigation in Rogers County, where District Attorney Janice Steidley questioned the credibility of a Claremore detective John Singer, then citizens alleged the District Attorney had interfered with poaching charges against her husband. The grand jury so far has found insufficient evidence to bring charges in any of those allegations.
Why Police Misconduct Matters
Our list could grow very lengthy if we detailed every allegation of misconduct against police even in Tulsa County. Our purpose is not to paint all police in a bad light, but to demonstrate that misconduct or allegations of misconduct are not uncommon – in Tulsa and in most police departments that employ more than a few officers.
When misconduct occurs, there can be consequences for officers involved. As Tulsa criminal defense attorneys, our concern focuses on how misconduct can affect the credibility of officers who level charges against our clients.
Police personnel records are often treated as confidential, so the media only learns some of what occurs in police disciplinary proceedings. When misconduct can affect the credibility of an officer who brought charges against someone, however, police are obligated to provide that information if the defense demands it.
Free Consultation: Criminal Defense Attorney in Tulsa
If you have been charged with a crime, the court needs to know about the character of police involved in bringing the charges. A skilled Tulsa criminal defense attorney will demand access to police personnel records when their contents can shed light on the credibility of an officer bringing charges.
For a free consultation with a Tulsa criminal attorney, call Wirth Law Office at (918) 879-1681 or send your question using the form at the top of this page.