Last Friday, Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan issued a statement addressing This Land Press and its coverage of the unfolding scandal involving sexual misconduct by a senior Tulsa police officer.
We respect Chief Jordan’s efforts to clarify matters. The story is sad and insulting to him and the other professional men and women of the Tulsa Police Department who protect us daily at constant personal risk. Their uniform should be a symbol of pride to every citizen of this community. But this story involves, among other things, the debasement of that uniform by two officers engaging in various sexual activities. That is one reason why this story is so important.
Here’s the background: Keena Roberts, with whom Capt. Shawn King cohabitated, approached the TPD Internal Affairs team with alleged evidence of inappropriate sexual conduct by Capt. King both on and off duty. She claimed they were photos of King and a female officer on a laptop. TPD declined to investigate that evidence and returned the laptop to her, unopened. The materials were presented to This Land Press and we reported it online last Thursday.
The statement released by Chief Jordan explains the TPD basis for deciding not to investigate. It reports that the sexually explicit photographs in question “were stored on a privately owned computer and were password protected.” It also explains that when that laptop was presented the City Legal Department advised that TPD was “unable to legally access that information.”
The legal theory is not spelled out but it appears that ownership and the password were the key barriers. We assume there is more to the decision than the statement tells us, but it is all we know at this point.
This all seems very weak: It’s 2012. We can’t imagine that TPD simply walks away from otherwise legally-obtainable, potential evidence just because a password is in the way, especially when it is brought to investigators. According to Ms. Roberts, when she handed the evidence to Internal Affairs, she wrote the password on a Post-It note and stuck it to the laptop. The password was still there when the laptop was returned.
The ownership question seems to be a possible reason to delay an investigation of evidence, but not to decline it. Ms. Roberts believed she owned the laptop, viewing it as a family computer. If the lawyers had questions about ownership, why didn’t they try to answer them? Why just stop? Moreover, if they had such questions, why would they return property to Ms. Roberts that might not belong to her?
The obvious question here is the level of zeal with which the lawyers and Internal Affairs pursued the investigation. The internal affairs process is essential to protecting the integrity and safety of every officer. And our safety too. It should be aggressive and uncompromising.
TPD has now asked This Land Press for the laptop photos. Originally, we declined to produce them but after some deliberation and consultation with counsel, we will pass them onto the police. If they were stolen, then they should be given to authorities; if the photos contain evidence of wrongdoing, the police should also have them. We don’t know exactly what Roberts told Internal Affairs when she handed over the laptop and that conversation, of course, should remain between those parties. Attorneys R. Thomas Seymour and Scott Graham are now representing Roberts and will speak for her publicly, hopefully clarifying some of these details.
The other reason this story is important is coincidental but heartbreaking.
Capt. King was disciplined, even without the evidence on the laptop, for engaging in sexual acts with Ms. Roberts in the parking lot of Mohawk Park while on duty. Punishment for that conduct was ultimately handed down against the backdrop of the Good Friday shootings. Capt. King had an important leadership role in North Tulsa as a first-shift captain over the Gilcrease Division where the shootings occurred. On April 3rd, Chief Jordan wrote Capt. King a letter notifying him of his suspension, which would begin on April 8th. Between those two dates, on April 6th, the shootings occurred.
Tulsa is a city with a long history of difficult racial relations. The men and women responsible for law enforcement play an essential role in moving our community forward. At a time when we needed a leader the most, Capt. King was facing suspension for conduct unbecoming an officer.
Adding to the urgency of the matter, a court in Osage County Friday issued an emergency protective order against Capt. King. Sadly, it includes allegations of sexual acts by Capt. King involving a minor.
Again, This Land Press has the deepest respect for the many members of the Tulsa Police Department who keep Tulsans safe. They acted with tremendous bravery and skill in apprehending the suspects in the Good Friday shootings so quickly. That is why we care so much about this story. We know the TPD cares about it too and were heartened by the request for the photos. We look forward to further action.
We all want the best for Tulsa and the men and women who keep our city safe every day. We owe it to them.
Vincent LoVoi is the publisher of This Land Press.