Tulsa police officers heckled a great-grandmother in the throes of a bipolar episode and then tackled her in October 2021.
Public outrage over video of the incident prompted the department to launch an investigation into its officers nearly six months after the arrest.
Now, the department is violating its own policy by keeping the results of that investigation secret.
Department spokesman Capt. Richard Meulenberg IV confirmed in an email the investigation is complete but would not say which officers were under review, what investigators found or whether any officers were disciplined.
LaDonna Paris was a 70-year-old graduate student at Phillips Theological Seminary when 911 began receiving calls about her erratic behavior, according to the lawsuit filed in May 2022. Paramedics offered to take Paris to the hospital but she refused and drove off as police officers Ronni Carrocia and Daylan Root arrived, court records and video footage show. Officers followed Paris to a Habitat for Humanity Restore in east Tulsa, where Paris locked herself in an upstairs bathroom for nearly four hours.
Carrocia called Paris a cuckoo bird and threatened her with a Taser outside the bathroom, according to body camera video. Paris was hallucinating and paranoid, footage shows. Carrocia, Root and officer Ty Burns kicked in the door, knocked Paris down, handcuffed her and took her to jail.
“I can vividly remember the video was horrific,” said Jeff Dismukes, a former law enforcement trainer for the Department of Justice who now runs a statewide nonprofit that supports people with mood disorders. “It was completely inappropriate. It goes against how law enforcement are being trained on these issues.”
Thousands watched the edited footage, which was posted by Paris’ son in March 2022. The department responded with a statement that said officers did not violate police policies. An Oklahoma Watch investigation found that officers’ actions conflict with policies outlining the department’s values, use of force and treatment of people suffering from mental illness.
Angry Tulsans condemned the officer’s actions and the department’s statement during a city council meeting and online, pressuring the department to launch an investigation.
In defiance of its own policy, department leaders refused to disclose the findings or say whether officers were held accountable.
Oklahoma law requires the department to disclose disciplinary action against police that results in loss of pay, suspension, demotion or termination. None of the officers faced those consequences, Meulenberg said in an email.
Payroll reports obtained by Oklahoma Watch revealed that Root has not worked for the Tulsa Police Department since at least April of 2022. Carrocia and Burns were still employed at the department as of May 22. Both received pay raises since the release of the video showing their response to Paris, according to the reports. Carrocia’s annual base pay is $69,400, reports show. Burns makes $66,670.
Meulenberg said the department won’t release any details about the investigation to the public. According to their own policy, they’re supposed to.
The Tulsa Police Department’s 537-page policy manual includes seven pages about complaints against police employees.
“The nature of the allegations, the results of internal investigations, and any disciplinary action taken will be treated as a matter of public information,” the policy states.
That section of the policy manual was updated and approved by Chief Wendell Franklin seven months before officers arrested Paris.
Oklahoma Watch requested findings and disciplinary action based on the department’s policy. Neither Meulenberg nor Franklin responded.
The decision of whether to discipline officers and how lies with Franklin. Since Oklahoma Watch began reporting on his department’s response to Paris, Franklin has not responded to interview or information requests about the case.
Oklahoma Watch sued the city and the police department over its refusal to provide the incident report for Paris’ arrest, which is a public record. The lawsuit is still open.
‘That Cannot Be Allowed to Continue’
After the video was released on March 30, 2022, Tulsa City Council members proposed creating a citizens’ oversight board and an independent office to monitor internal police investigations. The motion failed. Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper and former council member Kara Joy McKee were the only members to vote in favor of the changes.
“It should never be a crapshoot whether or not you’re going to get a good officer,” McKee said at the meeting. “Some things have changed under Chief Franklin. … It’s obvious that not nearly enough has changed.”
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum refused interview requests. Spokeswoman Michelle Brooks said in an email that Bynum declined because Paris is suing the city, police department and officers.
Dismukes trained law enforcement for the Department of Justice in the 1990s before his own struggle with mental illness. He said Tulsa’s police and city leaders missed an opportunity to change the department’s culture and set an example.
“It’s disappointing that the department wouldn’t take the opportunity to use this and initiate continued discussion and corrective action that could be helpful for not just that department, but for others,” Dismukes said. “That cannot be allowed to continue because when this type of activity is allowed to continue, we know it becomes worse. Now’s the time to be in front of this.”
Officers made jokes at Paris’ expense and laughed as she mumbled incoherently, talked to someone who wasn’t there and repeatedly said that police wanted to kill her, video footage shows. Officers called for the mental health response team but it was busy with another call. In the footage, Carrocia is seen jiggling the door handle and rattling the bathroom door while Paris screams for her to stop.
“This is gonna be so fun,” Carrocia said as officers prepared to kick in the door.
Blood was visible in the video, smeared across Paris’ face as officers removed her from the store.
The lawsuit alleges that officers violated Paris’ civil rights when they arrested and jailed her instead of providing access to treatment.
The State Under Scrutiny
Similar claims triggered a statewide probe by federal investigators in November. Department of Justice investigators are scrutinizing Oklahomans’ access to mental health care and whether a lack of treatment options resulted in unnecessary psychiatric admissions and arrests.
Oklahoma law enforcement officers have killed at least 75 people who exhibited signs of mental illness from 2013 to March 2023, according to data from the Mapping Police Violence project.
Tulsa Police have killed 38 people, at least 13 of whom exhibited signs of mental illness, according to the data.
More than 20% of Tulsa police officers received specialized training designed to help them respond to people in crisis, Tulsa mental health coordinator Capt. Shellie Seibert told Oklahoma Watch in April 2022. None of the officers who responded to Paris had received the voluntary training.
The Tulsa Police Department no longer tracks its mental health calls because it was too time-consuming, Seibert said. Officers were responding to an average of 1,000 mental health emergencies per month at the department’s last count and those calls have continued to increase, she said.
For 20 years, Dismukes worked at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. He partnered with police departments across the state, including in Tulsa, to train officers and develop best practices for crisis response.
“All I know is that we continue to have negative interactions and negative experiences,” Dismukes said. “We need to find a better way to address this moving forward.”
Whitney Bryen is an investigative reporter at Oklahoma Watch covering vulnerable populations. Her recent investigations focus on mental health and substance abuse, criminal justice, domestic violence and nursing homes. Contact her at (405) 201-6057 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SoonerReporter.