The head of Tulsa's local police lodge applauded a series of changes initiated by interim Police Chief Chuck Jordan in the wake of the indictment and arrest of four current and one former Tulsa Police Department officers last week, but he said he hopes the public will keep an open mind about the guilt of the accused men.
Phil Evans, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 93, said he was pleased at the steps Jordan had taken to crack down on officers guilty of lying in reports or in other legal documents. The chief said such officers could be subject to presumptive disciplinary action of termination, consistent with just cause principles.
Evans said he regarded that new policy largely as a return to the way things used to be at the department.
"When I came on board, if you lied, they fired you," he said, though he claimed that a variety of court decisions and liberal judges had led the department to back away from that policy throughout the years, leading to suspensions instead of firings for those guilty of lying.
"We need to be truthful," Evans said. "People need to know we're honest if we're the ones carrying out the law. This is a huge move in getting us back there. People trust us to be honest and do the right thing."
At the same time, Evans said he wished to remind citizens that the five officers or former officers who were indicted or arrested have not been convicted of anything.
"First off, we need to remember the accused are innocent until proven guilty," he said. "I know all these guys, and I find it impossible to believe they would do any of the things they're accused of. Hopefully, when they get their day in court, they'll be vindicated."
The charges against officers Bill Yelton, Nick DeBruin, Bruce Bonham and Jeff Henderson, and former officer Harold Wells stem from a long-term investigation conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI. The charges against the men, which total dozens of counts in some cases, range from distributing drugs and conspiracy to steal money to perjury and witness tampering.
The four officers have been suspended without pay.
District 2 City Councilor Rick Westcott, a former Tulsa police officer, echoed Evans' reminder to citizens that the accused men have not been convicted of anything and are entitled to a fair trial.
"With that in mind, I am surprised, knowing a couple of the officers," he said. "In fact, I went through the academy with Harold Wells (in the fall of 1975), and while we have not been close the last couple of years, I am very surprised. I never would have guessed he would have been involved in anything like it appears that he is."
The department issued a statement in the wake of the unsealing of the indictments against the men, claiming the actions they are accused of is not indicative of those who make up the department or the profession in general.
"This behavior is an anomaly and an isolated incident; nonetheless, the actions of a few have cast doubt on the hard-working honest men and women of the Tulsa Police Department," the statement reads. "The rank and file is outraged by this type of behavior and will not stand or tolerate it in any form."
Mayor Dewey Barlett Jr. joined Jordan and Evans at a press conference last week announcing the department's new policy regarding officers found guilty of lying. He said he was pleased the three of them were in agreement on the need for the change.
"The city of Tulsa and its citizens have invested large amounts of money in training officers and also a lot of trust," he said. "We trust them to take care of us, and 99 percent of them do. But allegedly, some of them have not and have allegedly been corrupted. That's very discouraging when we hear something like that, and we have to act quickly and very aggressively to punish the offenders."
Evans said the news of the indictments was jarring, even though officers had been hearing rumors that something was afoot.
"We're pretty sad," he said. "We're devastated to think something like this could happen. This is as shocking to everyone else as it is to me; although I hope they did not do it."
Evans said he would do everything he could to reinforce the notion that Tulsa police officers are trustworthy, and he said his fellow officers recognize the importance of avoiding even the impression of impropriety. If the indictments have caused the public to take a negative view of officers, he said, he hasn't been hearing it from citizens.
"No, I have not, and I've been ready for it," he said. "I've been expecting it."
Bartlett was more worried about what the impact the scandal has had on public perceptions of the department.
"It certainly didn't help it any," he said.
Westcott said he believes the department's leadership will play a huge role in keeping that from happening.
"I believe we have the right man in the chief's office," he said. "I've known Chief Jordan for 30 years or more, and I believe Chuck is the right person to address these issues. I hope the public will see these as a small number of officers in the grand scheme of things and see that the majority of officers are dedicated public servants."
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