By Deon Osborne, Senior Writer
Lawton, Okla. — Community leaders denounced a culture of excessive force within the Lawton Police Department in a closed-door meeting with local officials last Wednesday afternoon.
Days after neighbors recorded a viral video in which white Lawton police officers were captured beating and choking an unarmed black man, community leaders called for a meeting with the Mayor and Chief of police to demand a transparent investigation into the incident and to push for solutions to the lack of trust between local residents and LPD.
Neighborhood residents captured an altercation on cell phone video in which officers demanded a suspect get on the ground after being called to the scene of a domestic disturbance. In the video, the officers can be seen continuously beating and choking a man who is already on the ground.
Witnesses told local news KSWO that the man was complying with officers demands and only started to struggle because he couldn’t breathe.
Just before the struggle, one officer can be heard claiming the suspect was on PCP. So far, no toxicology report has been publicized regarding the localized motive for what KSWO politely called a “punching incident.”
Jacobi Crowley is a former candidate for Lawton’s state senate District 32 who contacted the mayor following the release of the video on social media. He quickly gathered other leaders to join him at the meeting.
“I feel that the video shows a brand of cultural display that has been going on for a while,” Crowley said.
While he feels the officer who used excessive force should be fired, Crowley said more needs to be done to change the culture of the police department—a culture which leads to abusing authority.
Crowley invited D.J. Zackery to join him at the meeting. Zackery is the owner of Ice Tre’s Barbershop and a vocal advocate for change in the community.
“I’m disgusted and disgustingly unsurprised by the incident,” Zackery said. “Yes, I would consider it police brutality because the amount of force used was excessive in my opinion.”
Zackery said he would like the Chief to handle the situation in a way that will make the community feel confident in the police.
KSWO, which sometimes acts more like a mouthpiece for LPD than an independent news organization, recently published an article indicating only one man showed up to a protest of the incident. The article seemed to infer that there was no outrage from the community regarding the excessive force incident.
Michael Washington is an activist from OKC who regularly places himself into the affairs of other communities. Yet, aside from Washington, most Lawtonians had no idea a protest was even taking place, according to comments in the popular Facebook group the Lawton Grapevine.
Paula Bowen is a former teacher who serves on Lawton’s City Planning Committee. She attended the meeting to learn if an investigation was underway.
“I would like to see a complete, transparent investigation conducted,” Bowen said.
“In terms of changes in police policy I believe that should be at the discretion of the police chief, however, I would like to see some additional training and perhaps a better screening process for officers coming onto the police force,” Bowen said.
Crowley, Zackery and Bowen all supported the firing of the officers involved in brutalizing Porter, should the investigation deem he used excessive force.
As it stands, Lawton Police Department has chosen to investigate itself rather than call for an independent investigation from a third party.
None seemed more hopeful following the closed-door meeting than new Mayor Stan Booker.
Booker, a progressive change from previous mayors, applauded the respect shown to one another and the agreement for better communication between the community and LPD during the meeting.
Mayor Booker said a calmness came to the room in the meeting after the Chief admitted that he wanted to be better, too.
“There was a fear that the city would try to defend at all costs,” Mayor Booker said. “We acknowledged that we’re not perfect.”
The Mayor said he didn’t know whether there’s a lack of accountability from LPD. He said the results of the investigation would make that determination.
Unlike officers from Oklahoma’s other largest cities, Lawton police officers are not required to wear bodycams and the city has no oversight board.
Mayor Booker said he likes the idea of some form of a citizen’s police advisory board and would be open to other initiatives brought to him by concerned residents.
“I’m very available to talk to people about their concerns,” Mayor Booker said.
— Andy Marlette (@AndyMarlette) December 4, 2014
Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has written for OU’s student newspaper the OU Daily as well as OKC-based Red Dirt Report. He now lives in Tulsa, where he works at a local youth shelter. He is also a former intern at Oklahoma Policy Institute.