The white ’75 Buick Regal races through the red light at 51st Street and careens left onto 129th East Avenue. Tulsa Police Officer Quentin Houck pursues closely behind, the lights and sirens of his patrol car piercing the night. It’s nearly 4 a.m. on May 20, 2000, and Houck’s dashboard video camera documents the high-speed chase that began with the robbery of a Git ’n’ Go store at 16th and Memorial.
The Buick glides through the deserted streets of Tulsa with Houck in pursuit. The wide road narrows to two lanes; the distant flashes of patrol cars approaching from the opposite direction signal the end of the line for the rogue Regal. The driver brakes and swerves right into a residential entrance. The car stops. Suddenly, the driver’s door flies open and James Ezell, 27, jumps out and bolts into the neighborhood. Several patrol cars arrive as another passenger, 17-year-old Willson Duckett, makes a run for it.
As officers sprint after the two men, the Buick’s passenger door opens and two raised arms emerge. A third man, 20 year-old Arthur Bradley, does not run. Instead, he lowers himself onto the pavement, arms above his head, clearly indicating surrender.
Officer Houck is out of his car, his gun raised. Without hesitation, he approaches Bradley and kicks him hard in the upper chest, barely missing his jaw. Houck screams, thrusting the full weight of his hulking body toward Bradley. Houck is a big man. Oklahoma big. Bradley, skinny and diminutive, remains on his stomach, his feet still resting just inside the car. Houck boots Bradley hard, then boots him again. Bradley’s feet go limp. Houck screams and Bradley responds—the words are inaudible. Houck then yells “SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” He holsters his gun and steps onto Bradley. With his leg pinning the suspect and his arms victoriously angled to his waist, the officer poses like a hunter and his prized buck. After a few moments, Houck wraps his arm around Bradley’s and drags the young man off the ground and into his patrol car.
Officer Houck is now Sergeant Houck. Ezell and Duckett were both sentenced for their crimes, but not Bradley. His story took a completely different path, one that illuminates a growing public safety concern. In the past decade, Tulsa has become one of America’s worst cities for police misconduct—outranking places famous for their out-of-control officers. Does the Tulsa Police Department (TPD) allow violent acts of misconduct to bypass public scrutiny? How did this happen, and who, if anyone, is responsible?
The answers begin with a small-time crack dealer.
Arthur Bradley sits in Conner Correctional Center, his second stint in the medium security prison located on the edge of Hominy, 45 minutes northwest of Tulsa, for a charge unrelated to the robbery. The visitor’s room, thick with the acrid stench of body odor, has the stifling aura of a run-down public school cafeteria.
Bradley grew up under the care of an overworked single mother in the violent, gang-infested neighborhood of 56th Street North and Peoria Avenue. His two brothers are incarcerated, a third is dead. His sister has three children and lives in Houston.
When Bradley speaks, he reveals a jagged, haphazard set of teeth.
“I joined a gang at a young age, a really young age,” he says. He was 10 when an older cousin introduced him to the notorious 57 Hoover Crips. As a teenager, he learned to hustle the streets and avoid the law. At 14, he was sent to Shadow Mountain for “behavioral problems,” but the treatment didn’t take, and Bradley eventually dropped out of McLain High School to nurture his blossoming gift as a crack dealer (“I had one hobby: makin’ money”). At 16, he was arrested for possession of a controlled substance and given probation, and, just before his 19th birthday, Bradley was sent to prison—the same one he sits in now—for the first time.
On May 19, the day before his encounter with Officer Houck, Bradley was still stretching his legs as a newly freed man. He’d been released from Conner less than three months earlier and was living with his mother, who’d since relocated to West Tulsa.
By his own admission, Bradley’s recollection of this particular day is foggy and somewhat contradictory.
“I prefer not to dwell on it,” he says.
He remembers that he ended up in the Comanche Park Apartments, a gritty public housing complex known for its drugs and guns, on 37th Street North and Quaker Avenue, where he met James Ezell, Willson Duckett and Tyree Walker. The extent of Bradley’s prior relationship with the three men is unclear (Bradley claims he didn’t know them), but that afternoon, the 20 year-old ex-con found himself lounging around with the men, smoking weed laced with PCP. It was his first experience with the powerful hallucinogen, and as evening turned into night, Bradley was ready to get back to his mother’s. He offered gas money for a ride west; Ezell agreed. With Duckett and Walker tagging along, the group set out to get Bradley home. According to Bradley, at some point near the beginning of the car ride, he passed out. (The more likely explanation is that the dissociative effects of PCP caused him to black out).
Bradley did not make it back to his mother’s. Instead, he sat in a white Buick while his new friends robbed a gas station.
Around 3:30 a.m., Ezell, Duckett and Walker entered the Git ’n’ Go at 16th and Memorial. Ezell locked the doors. The armed men then approached Assistant Manager Martin Hawkins and took his wallet and personal cash. They forced Hawkins to strip, bound him with duct tape (including his eyes and mouth) and tossed him in the bathroom. Walker donned Hawkins’ Git ’n’ Go shirt for the benefit of curious passersby, and the men cleaned out the register.
When Hawkins could no longer hear the robbers, he managed to break free and trigger the silent alarm.
Officer Houck happened to be nearby when the call went out.
A new law enforcement watchdog group, dubbed The National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project (NPMSRP), recently released its 2010 numbers on police misconduct tracked across the United States. For a department its size (between 500 and 999 officers sworn), Tulsa ranked 3rd in the nation for police misconduct complaints. On a per capita basis, however, Tulsa far surpasses cities notorious for misconduct, such as Los Angeles, New York, Detroit and Philadelphia. The national average of credible misconduct complaints is around 977 per 100,000 officers, or less than one percent. Tulsa’s number was 42 credible complaints against 812 sworn officers—5,172 per 100,000, over five times the national average.
TPD has yet to release their own 2010 report, but NPMSRP’s 2009 numbers nearly match TPD’s findings in the same year. On a national level, the vast majority of these complaints fall under “Excessive Use of Force” (other complaint categories include sexual misconduct, fraud/theft, drugs, civil rights violation, and murder). Within the Excessive Force category, 57 percent of these complaints are said to be “physical” (as opposed to “firearm,” “taser” and “chemical”).*
Bradley is quick to excuse Houck’s excessive use of force, which he matter-of-factly describes as an “assault” and then proceeds to defend.
“I don’t think it was out of line,” he offers. “We was on a high-speed chase, my adrenaline would be pumping too if I was the driver trying to chase somebody down.”
After ditching the Buick, Duckett and Ezell were apprehended and, along with Bradley, taken back to the Git ’n’ Go for Hawkins to identify. Traumatized, the clerk—a military veteran with a history of medical problems—mistakenly identified Bradley as being in the store at the time of the robbery. The three men were taken in for questioning.
The next day, Walker was apprehended. On May 26, District Attorney Tim Harris filed charges against the four men. Bradley was charged with three counts—robbing Hawkins, robbing the Git ’n’ Go and, oddly, obstructing justice by claiming to be a victim of the three robbers.
After barely 50 days of freedom, Bradley was back behind bars, nursing the bruises caused by a police officer’s boot and awaiting trial for a robbery he allegedly slept through.
Bradley never reported the beating.
The videotape from Officer Houck’s patrol car first emerged in pre-trial discovery as simple evidence of the chase. On Aug. 10, 2000, Judge Clancy Smith held a preliminary hearing. Notably, during the hearing, the videotape was referenced by prosecution and witnesses for the state, but had not yet been provided to the defense.
Assigned to prosecute on behalf of the state was Assistant District Attorney Bill Musseman, an aggressive 29 year-old just three years out of OU’s law school who came from a law enforcement legacy (his father was an ex-cop who also served as ADA in the late ’70s). With sandy brown hair, piercing blue eyes and a lean, athletic build, Musseman had the kind of All-American, “I Believe in Harvey Dent” demeanor that could win elections.
A litany of problems emerged during the hearing. By now, the security footage from the Git ’n’ Go had been reviewed and it was clear that Bradley was never in the store, despite Hawkins’s positive ID. Detective Bob Little, who initially interrogated the defendants the night of the robbery, testified that Bradley had confessed to discussing the crime with his co-defendants beforehand and to being awake while the robbery went down. But Little also testified that, during questioning, Duckett confirmed that Bradley had been asleep in the car the whole time.
Musseman could not get a consistent positive ID out of Hawkins—in open court, the traumatized clerk once again mistakenly identified Bradley as Ezell. The transcript of Hawkins’s testimony reads like a tragic version of the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first?” routine, with a frustrated Musseman playing the role of straight-man, trying desperately to get a consistent answer out of the befuddled witness.
John Harris, Bradley’s attorney, argued to Judge Smith that the evidence was clear: Bradley was not in the store and did not participate in the robbery. His argument was compelling, but based on Bradley’s initial confession, Smith determined he would stand trial.
Tulsa District Judge Linda Morrissey was about to preside over the jury trial against Bradley when she first saw the videotape of the assault. Although several people had seen the videotape already, including Musseman, nobody had bothered to report what appeared to be a case of violent police misconduct.
“Once I saw the video tape, I felt like I had an ethical duty to apprise the chief of police about it,” Morrissey told me.
Morrissey took the videotape and personally walked it over to the city municipal building, where she presented it to Chief Palmer and an Internal Affairs investigator.
“My concern was the physical actions taken by the police officer,” she explained. “When that defendant was removed from the car and placed on the ground, the police officer proceeded to take some physical action that I felt should be made known to the chief of police, because it was pretty aggressive.”
Sometime in September, Bradley received a visit from two Internal Affairs investigators who questioned him about the incident.
“They asked me a few questions about the officer,” Bradley remembered. “Was I assaulted … I said I was roughed up a little bit.”
The investigators came and went and, for a while, it looked as if the video was a non-factor in the case against Bradley. Bradley’s attorney certainly wasn’t making it an issue, and the defendant himself seemed to hold no ill will against Houck’s aggression.
In October, John Harris filed a motion to dismiss charges against his client for lack of evidence. On Oct. 24, Musseman countered the motion, saying, “There is enough evidence to bind this defendant over and survive this motion … Argument can clearly be made this defendant served a role as a lookout.”
Two days later, five months before trial was set to begin, Musseman inexplicably backpedaled. He moved to dismiss all charges against Bradley.
What caused Musseman to change his mind so abruptly?
There’s a warehouse in North Tulsa that contains the hard copies of every court case filed in Tulsa County before 2009. Though well-hidden—it’s tucked away just off Apache, between Lewis and Harvard, disguised as an extension of the John Crane mechanical seal factory—its doors are open to the public. A small side door bears the name, “Sally Howe Smith – County Clerk.”
When you enter, you’ll likely wait at least a minute before a government employee slinks out of the obscured, back-office space to take your order. Offer a case number and the clerk will write it down and retrieve it for you. Depending on the day and the particular clerk, you may or may not be required to document evidence of your visit. If you are required, you’ll simply write your first and last name on a pink slip of paper. No identification will be requested to verify the information. You’ll receive the file, and you’ll sit down at one of two large tables available in the front area. The clerk will retreat to the back and you will be left alone, save for the occasional coming-and-going of an attorney or courier. You will not be monitored by cameras. You will not be required to check large bags. When you return the file, the clerk will likely barely acknowledge your presence. You will be able to leave with a potentially large number of documents from the case—hearing transcripts, filed motions, police reports, even physical evidence—leaving the clerk happily clueless. The case file will be returned to its proper place of storage.
Decades worth of Tulsa court records are completely unpoliced and up for grabs. Anyone, for any reason, can simply walk in and walk out with original copies of some of the most important case files in our city’s history. Missing material will not be noticed until days, months or years down the line, when the random attorney or reporter complains of the absence of a vital document.
The case of Arthur Bradley is stored here. Over the course of several visits, I pored over the entire file in an effort to find Musseman’s dismissal of charges against Bradley. There was no documentation of any kind, no evidence that the case had been dismissed except for Bradley’s complete absence in the jury trial transcript and an invoice dated in November from John Harris to the State, requesting payment for his representation of Bradley.
On the Oklahoma State Courts Network (oscn.net), the docket history for the case against Bradley briefly lists Musseman’s initial response to Harris’s motion as well as the prosecutor’s own dismissal several days later. The website does not provide details, only the most barebones summary of what went on in court. I called the County Clerk’s office and requested that they pull the information missing in the physical file from their computer database.
Amazingly, the information was missing from the computer as well. The clerk chalked it up to mis-filing and told me that system is run by “flawed human beings” who occasionally invert a number or two when filing. Unfortunately, she said, there’s no way to retrieve the information once the mistake is made.
Bill Musseman now sits as an elected district judge, presiding over criminal cases he would have prosecuted as an ADA. On this particular day, he’s devoted his lunch recess from a jury trial to explain to me his reasons for dropping charges against Bradley. He’s an energetic 39, warm and friendly, and eager to accommodate. Though he’s only given the 11 year-old case a cursory glance in preparation for this interview, his memory is remarkable.
“At no time in the motion, nowhere anywhere else that I can remember, did I ever make the argument that the decision with Bradley could survive trial muster or survive beyond a reasonable doubt. So there wasn’t much of a difference in opinion from the time I filed the motion—the motion was responding to a question of, on a legal basis, would the state survive to fight another day?”
In other words, Musseman doesn’t see the move to dismiss as a contradiction of his response to Bradley’s motion. “There wasn’t really a turnaround, at least in my mind, as far as the position I held when I filed the reply to a legal question, and the final decision that I didn’t have enough evidence to take it to trial, to win at trial beyond a reasonable doubt. So I made the decision I made.”
Musseman goes on to explain with remarkable nuance the reasons a case against Arthur Bradley was more or less doomed from the beginning. He covers Hawkins’s mistaken identification of Bradley and the fact that Bradley’s prior criminal history would not be available to the jury. He even illuminates the problem with Bradley’s supposed “confession” (not available in the case file) which, based on Musseman’s description, was somewhat misrepresented by the detective during his testimony at the preliminary hearing. “You have statements that (Bradley) had made that they had talked about (the robbery) before and he knew that they were thinking about it,” Musseman explains. “But my recollection is that he never admitted that they said, ‘We’re going to do it this day, this is when we’re doing it, here’s your role.’ ’’
According to Musseman, Ezell was the obvious ringleader and the one he wanted to convict. In order to assure that his case against Ezell was ironclad, he made a tactical decision to shed the weakest link, the least culpable suspect.
“One of the big things that made it difficult is they chased this car, and it was a long chase,” says Musseman. “It ended up in East Tulsa, 145th East Avenue or something. I forget who was driving, but I think Ezell. Bradley, I believe, is in the back seat. Well, they all get out and disperse. And Bradley doesn’t move. He sits there. So that’s significant in the sense that you really don’t even have an argument of consciousness of guilt.”
Musseman doesn’t mention the kicking incident, and our conversation moves on to Bradley’s criminal record. A few minutes later, I bring the conversation back to the chase.
“It’s actually videotaped from the officer’s dash-cam,” I volunteer. Musseman’s body shifts, he leans back in his seat and moves his hand to his chin as if deep in thought. His eyes narrow ever so slightly; he’s either deeply curious or extremely annoyed with where I’m leading the conversation.
I describe the events caught on camera.
“What I’m curious about, since the tape had already been viewed by the time of the preliminary hearing, did that play into your decision (to dismiss charges)?”
“I wanna be careful how I answer, because the answer is, ‘Yes,’ ” says Musseman. “I don’t want to give you the impression that I gave it undue weight. It was in a situation where the arrest seemed to have been a bit excessive in force and which I think was later disciplined as excessive force. I don’t want to give you the impression that since that happened, everything’s lost. But yes, it was a factor to be considered with others.”
But after having seen the video himself, was Musseman under any obligation to report it? Our legal system incentivizes people to keep quiet. If Musseman reported the incident himself, he would’ve likely lost the case against Bradley immediately. If he kept quiet about the assault, and nobody outside of the defense discovered the incident, it would strengthen his chances of convicting Bradley. But someone else did notice the tape.
I ask Musseman if Judge Morrissey might’ve told him to report the tape to the proper authorities. Musseman is well-versed in legalese; he knows the right answer.
“I don’t recall,” he says. “I don’t remember.”
I ask what his initial thoughts were upon first viewing the video tape.
“I don’t remember.”
But according to Morrissey, Musseman presumably saw the tape before she did. Then they, along with other attorneys, had a meeting about it.
“I did express real concern about the level of physical force used on the codefendant, and that the videotape should be submitted to IA [Internal Affairs],” Morrissey said. “I felt it was incumbent upon me to report it.”
Morrissey implied that she had an ethical duty to report the tape; I asked Musseman if he felt a moral obligation to make sure that the videotape was investigated.
“Well, luckily in our system we have open discovery which really provides everything to the defense. Everything is inspectable, viewable … That pressure is not so great because everyone knows what happened.”
In other words, Musseman believes it should’ve been up to the defense to report Houck’s assault, and he was under no obligation to report it. Musseman’s situation—in which a private individual acting as a prosecuting attorney is at odds with the responsibility of a public official—suggests the complicated ethical waters the Bradley case stirs. Is a public official obligated to report the misconduct of a public servant, even if it means having to turn a known felon loose?
Sergeant Quentin Houck now patrols out of the Riverside Division (South Tulsa). He’s married, lives in Broken Arrow, and, according to his Facebook page, is a big fan of Las Vegas casinos and luxury cruise lines. He also serves on the Board of Trustees for the Fraternal Order of Police.
The Houck/Bradley incident occurred at a time when IA’s protocol was much more flexible and complaints often went undocumented. Still, at the behest of Judge Morrissey, the incident was investigated and Houck was ultimately disciplined—suspended for two days, according to TPD Public Information Officer Jason Willingham. The suspension was absorbed into Houck’s vacation time.
Houck’s record as an officer shows that from 2004-2010 he’s had at least three incidents involving a use of force, but no complaints. He has a respectable record. Houck declined to be interviewed for this story, as did Chief Chuck Jordan.
The assault of Arthur Bradley represents the most prevalent form of police misconduct reported in Tulsa, but is TPD’s misconduct record the result of an out-of-control police force, or an uncommonly effective and transparent Internal Affairs department?
Tulsa Police Captain Luther Breashears would prefer to believe the latter. The 45-year-old has been with TPD for almost 20 years, the last four of those spent as Unit Commander of Internal Affairs. According to him, the majority of misconduct complaints are “public relations issues”—an officer’s harsh tone or aggressive body language can just as easily result in a misconduct complaint as a kick to the ribs. In defense of IA, Breashears cites changes brought about by 2003’s Consent Decree, a legal truce of sorts that ended nine years of litigation between a group of black TPD officers and the City of Tulsa and directly affected how IA and the department at large conducted and policed itself.
“The biggest change that the Consent Decree brought about for the entire department was some sort of consistency in the way we do business,” Breashears told me. That new consistency included, for the first time, holding the department accountable to the standards of the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). A new complaint investigation process was coupled with a Data Collection policy—complaints in every form, anonymous or not, would now be documented (“I’ve investigated a complaint written on the side of a shopping bag,” said Breashears), investigated and archived for data reporting purposes. It’s this data collection that has since allowed organizations like NPMSRP to reveal police misconduct trends.
“Most complaints are bullshit,” a TPD officer, speaking anonymously, offered me. “They stem from a misunderstanding of what an officer has to deal with on a moment-to-moment basis.” Other officers I spoke with expressed similar opinions.
Breashears was surprised by Tulsa’s high ranking on NPMSRP’s misconduct list, even in light of the recent federal corruption probe that’s resulted in five officers being indicted and two more pleading guilty for crimes far graver than excessive use of force.
“We average around 200 complaints a year, but the majority of those are public relations issues,” Breashears said. “We’ve had a few demotions, we’ve had some suspensions and some terminations, so I think whatever we come across in Internal Affairs, the chain of command is responsive to what the appropriate discipline is for our city, for our officers, for our department personnel. I can’t comment on an outside entity and how they collect their information, but I think our public, in a recent survey that was done by the city, (said they) are very satisfied with their police department.”
Unfortunately, most of the data collected by TPD’s Internal Affairs is not readily available to the public through its own website.
“Karma is a motherfucker.” Back at Conner Arthur Bradley explained to me how robbery is not his “thing.”
“People choose to do what they wanna do and it ain’t one of my choices, robbing somebody. And the Tulsa police know that. The 36th precinct knows the type of situation I’ve been in, what department I work in. (Robbery) ain’t my behavior profile.”
ADA Musseman got his big fish in Ezell, who is currently serving time at Davis Correctional Facility in Holdenville. He won’t be eligible for parole until 2047. Willson Duckett and Tyree Walker both served less than five years for their roles in the robbery. With the charges against him dropped in October 2000, Bradley was once again a free man. He continued to sell and use drugs, and just three months after his release he found himself pleading guilty to a possession charge. He served a year-and-a-half of a four-year sentence. Upon release, he went to a halfway house and found a job in a mechanic’s shop, but the allure of easy money was too much, and soon he was back in the game, selling crack on the street. A year later he was convicted of drug trafficking and false impersonation. He’s seven years into a 20-year sentence and is currently eligible for parole.
Right now, he passes the time in Hominy by playing pinochle with fellow inmates and reading paperback thrillers by Vince Flynn and James Patterson. He goes on walks when allowed.
“I’ve been in and out of this place all my life,” Bradley acknowledged. “I’m 30 now, I’m tryin’ to finish school.” He hopes to be approved for transfer to a lower security facility where he can take classes and prepare for life on the outside. Once released, he plans to develop a trade, maybe learn welding, “something simple.”
“I gotta figure something out, ’cause this ain’t it.”
Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s response to the article:
In July of 2011, Tulsa City Councilor G.T. Bynum exchanged a series of letters asking Tulsa County Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith to review the protocols meant to protect Tulsa’s court records, which resulted in an improvement in the process.
* According to a spokesman for the NPMSRP, the high number of misconduct complaints agains the TPD has no correlation to its current corruption scandal.