Retired school superintendent John R. Phillips said he is accustomed to vehicles whizzing past him when he drives on interstate highways. That’s because he said he always sets the cruise control on his car to 5 mph under the speed limit.
So the 72-year-old said he was surprised when an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper pulled him over back in May while he was driving with his wife to a funeral in Arkansas.
Phillips, of New Mexico, said he had noticed one of two OHP vehicles leave the highway median near Sallisaw on Interstate 40 when he passed but didn’t pay any attention to it.
“But maybe a minute or so later, he pulled me over and said I was following too closely,” Phillips recalled in a telephone interview.
“As soon as the officer came up to the car and saw my wife and her little Yorkshire terrier in her lap, I think he realized he made a mistake,” Phillips said.
He said he didn’t dispute the trooper at the time, who issued him a written warning, even though he says now the trooper’s claim that he was following traffic too closely was “absolutely not true.”
“I don’t ever follow too closely,” Phillips said. “We’re super, super cautious.”
Phillips, it turns out, was pulled over in the No. 2 area of the state for OHP stops in 2018, according to a Tulsa World analysis of OHP traffic citation data.
In 2018, OHP troopers issued about 4,400 citations or written warnings along a short stretch of I-40 just west of Sallisaw.
Only the area near the Will Rogers Turnpike main toll plaza in Craig County ranked higher in the number of stops in 2018.
Phillips said his concerns about the traffic stop were heightened when he relayed the I-40 incident to some longtime friends, both Missouri public school administrators.
“They said they were also pulled over (on I-40 in Oklahoma) for following too closely” the month before while traveling to Arizona, Phillips recalled. The friend, who is also black, said he also received a written warning, Phillips said.
He said he believes the incidents were not coincidental.
“I’m not a law-breaker,” Phillips said. “I’ve always been supportive of law enforcement. We’re law-abiding citizens.”
However, Phillips said he believes he was targeted for stopping because of his race. He also let Oklahoma state officials know about his concerns.
In a letter dated May 21 sent to OHP Chief Col. Michael Harrell, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter and Gov. Kevin Stitt, Phillips wrote afterward, “I firmly believe as African-Americans we were profiled, and I am confident that other African-Americans have experienced the same fate.”
Phillips, in the letter, wrote that the traffic stop along a busy highway for an “inexcusable reason” compromised his safety and the trooper’s.
“My primary concern is safety,” Phillips said in the interview. “Not only for myself, but the officer.”
Tulsa attorney Dan Smolen said following too closely, failure to signal a lane change and failing to wear a seat belt are all moving violations that are commonly used by some law enforcement as a pretext to stop motorists where the real goal may be something else.
“They are using those as precursors to engage with the person they want to get engaged with,” Smolen said.
Proving a traffic stop is a pretext for another reason is difficult, Smolen said.
“It’s your word versus the officer’s word, and as long as the officer maintains that you failed to signal, they have the right to stop you,” Smolen said. “And that’s what generates the start of this process that allows them to all of a sudden search your car” or frisk you for weapons.
Smolen said while the reason for stopping the motorist may be legal, it can be abused by law enforcement.
Since writing the letter, Phillips said he has heard back from the AG and the Internal Affairs Unit of the OHP. Representatives for the AG’s office indicated they were forwarding his complaint to OHP, while the OHP IA officer said he would review the incident.
Phillips said he received another letter from Harrell in late July or early August indicating that the incident had been investigated and that the trooper had been cleared of wrongdoing.
The World analysis of OHP stops in the Sallisaw area of I-40 found that troopers rarely issue citations in the area.
About 79% of the actions taken by OHP in the Sallisaw area were written warnings with a fraction — 4% of the total — for following too closely.
Statewide, troopers issued warnings to motorists in about 69% of their actions involving written warnings and citations.
The analysis also found that non-Hispanic blacks accounted for 8% of all stops statewide, which is in line with driving age population of blacks in the state, which was 7%.
However, blacks accounted for 14% of traffic stops in the Sallisaw area in 2018, or about twice the state driving age population rate.
About 2% of the population in Sequoyah County, which contains Sallisaw and the area where Phillips was stopped, was black according to the 2010 Census.
About a quarter of all stops in the Sallisaw area of I-40 were conducted by troopers from the agency’s Special Operations Unit, records show.
According to the OHP website, “Troop SO is a unit of specially trained Troopers that perform criminal interdiction throughout Oklahoma. Members utilize interviews, canines, and other equipment to detect and arrest criminals of all types as they travel the highways of Oklahoma.”
Records provided by Phillips indicate he was stopped by a trooper from the agency’s Special Operations unit.
The World analysis found that SO Troop units issued nearly one-fourth of the citations and warnings in the Sallisaw area, but nearly eight in 10 stops for following too closely were issued by the SO Troop.
Also, while about three of four OHP traffic stops involve motorists with an Oklahoma driver’s license, nearly 90% of stops by the OHP Special Operations unit involved out-of-state drivers, according to the World analysis.
Asked about Phillips’ allegations and the World’s findings, an OHP spokeswoman declined to comment.
“The letter you are referring to was sent to the AG’s office, and they treated it as a statutory racial profiling complaint,” said OHP spokeswoman Sarah Stewart. “So it is currently assigned for investigation per statutory requirements, and we can’t comment on a pending investigation.”
Phillips said he hopes the Highway Patrol will review its policies and training “to strengthen goodwill and relations with not only its residents, but law-abiding citizens passing through your state.”
Tulsa Police Sgt. Jennifer Murphy talks about the Tulsa Police new reading program and school supply handout at the Darlington Apartments.
ODESSA, Texas — At least five people were dead after a gunman who hijacked a postal service vehicle in West Texas shot more than 20 people, authorities said Saturday. The gunman was killed and three law enforcement officers were among the injured.
The shooting began with a traffic stop where gunfire was exchanged with police, setting off a chaotic afternoon during which the suspect hijacked a U.S. Postal Service vehicle and began firing at random in the area of Odessa and Midland, hitting multiple people. Cellphone video showed people running out of a movie theater, and as Odessa television station KOSA aired breaking developments on live TV, their broadcast was interrupted by police telling them they had to clear the area.
Police initially reported that there could be more than one shooter, but Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke said authorities now believe it was only one.
“Once this individual was taken out of the picture, there have been no more victims,” Gerke said.
Gerke described the suspect as a white male in his 30s. He did not name him but said he has some idea who he is.
The chain of events began when Texas state troopers tried pulling over a gold car Saturday afternoon on Interstate 20 for failing to signal a left turn, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Katherine Cesinger said. Before the vehicle came to a complete stop, the driver “pointed a rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired several shots” toward the patrol car stopping him. The gunshots struck one of two troopers inside the patrol car, Cesinger said, after which the gunman fled “and continued shooting innocent people,” including two police officers.
Gerke said that in addition to the injured officers, there were at least 21 civilian shooting victims. He said at least five people died. He did not say whether the shooter was included among those five dead, and it was not clear whether he was including the five dead among the at least 21 civilian shooting victims.
The shooting comes just weeks after a gunman in the Texas border city of El Paso killed 22 people after opening fire at a Walmart. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this week held two meetings with lawmakers about how to prevent mass more shootings in Texas. He said he would visit the area Sunday.
Seven people remained in critical condition hours after the shooting, said Russell Tippin, CEO of Medical Center Hospital in Odessa. He said a child under 2 years old was transported to another hospital. He also said one person the hospital had received had died, although it was unclear if that victim was among the five dead that Gerke reported.
Tippin said 13 shooting victims were being treated at the hospital Saturday evening but he did not give their conditions or other information about the victims. Social workers and professional counselors are at the hospital to provide support to the families of shooting victims, Tippin said. He also said the hospital has been locked down for that safety of the staff and patients.
“Right now the hospital is stable, it’s secure,” Tippin said.
Dustin Fawcett was sitting in his truck at a Starbucks in Odessa when he heard at least six gunshots ring out less than 50 yards behind him.
At first, he thought it might have been a tire blowing but he heard more shots and spotted a white sedan with a passenger window that had been shattered. That’s when he thought, “Oh man, this is a shooting.”
Fawcett, 28, an Odessa transportation consultant, “got out to make sure everyone was safe” but found that no one had been struck by the gunfire nearby. He said a little girl was bleeding, but she hadn’t been shot, and that he found out she was grazed in the face.
Fawcett said authorities responded quickly and when police pulled out their rifles and vests he knew that “this is not a drive-by. This is something else, this is something bigger.”
Vice President Mike Pence said following the shooting that President Donald Trump and his administration “remain absolutely determined” to work with leaders in both parties in Congress to take such steps “so we can address and confront this scourge of mass atrocities in our country.”
Preparing to fly to Poland, Pence told reporters that Trump is “fully engaged” and closely monitoring the investigation. He said, “Our hearts go out to all the victims, the families and loved ones.” He also praised law enforcement “for their swift, courageous response.”
Pence said Trump has deployed the federal government in response to the shootings. He says Trump has spoken to the attorney general and that the FBI is assisting local law enforcement.
Odessa is about 20 miles southwest of Midland. Both are more than 300 miles west of Dallas.
American Airlines’ recent announcement that it is adding 400 jobs to its maintenance base in Tulsa has been roundly embraced.
By early Friday, just two days after the news broke, more than 800 people had applied for the positions, a good sign for the airline and Tech Ops Tulsa, American’s largest aircraft maintenance facility, said Erik Olund, managing director of the base.
“We’re kind of fortunate at American that when we turn the hiring button on, we see a huge response from people who are interested to come work for us,” he said. “But we are leveraging relationships across the region, both at the Department of Commerce in Oklahoma City and our folks at Tulsa Tech and Spartan (College of Aeronautics and Technology).”
More than 140,000 pilots and technicians have matriculated at the Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology since its inception in 1928. Tulsa Tech’s aviation-aerospace training facility was built in 1999 for about $28.5 million. The institution also is several years into the establishment of an aerospace academy for high school students.
“I can’t speak enough about the Tulsa Tech team and how they have gotten to show the students how important and valuable an A&P (airframe and/or powerplant) license can be to people,” Olund said. “Their enrollment is really important to our future, and we really just push people to get an A&P and get them on board and make them successful.”
Hiring largely for Federal Aviation Administration-licensed mechanics, the base will focus on areas that include aircraft overhaul, landing gear overhaul for the Boeing 737 and 777 aircraft and CFM56 engine maintenance and Airbus A321 interior modifications. The base will receive its first 787 aircraft to undergo scheduled maintenance checks late this year.
Moreover, the base will increase its 777 and 787 maintenance work and will make investments in the Landing Gear Shop, enabling greater production.
While the new Tulsa job postings have drawn interest from around the country, most of the applicants hail from the area, Olund said. There are 9,148 A&P mechanics in Oklahoma, with 2,832 living in Tulsa County, according to Federal Aviation Administration data.
In May 2018, the median annual wage for aircraft mechanics and service technicians in scheduled air transportation was $83,870, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“That’s a big piece of the pie that American is trying to pick up,” Crystal Maguire, executive director of the Aviation Technician Education Council, said of the mechanics pool in the state. “I don’t have anything to back this up, but I would think American would have a relatively easy time of it because their pay is going to be higher than some of the others. These are premier jobs, I would think.”
More than three-quarters of the job openings will be A&P mechanics, Olund said. Other positions include welders, machinists, overhaul shop mechanics and entry-level cleaners, who are responsible for cleaning the inside and outside of aircraft, he said.
Persons may apply at aa.com/careers.
“We are really looking for folks who are motivated and interested in growing their career,” Olund said. “Across all the job applications, it has been very healthy.”
Tulsa Police Sgt. Jennifer Murphy talks about the Tulsa Police new reading program and school supply handout at the Darlington Apartments.