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Mayor unveils ordinance to create independent office to review police use-of-force incidents

Mayor G.T. Bynum presented city councilors on Wednesday with a proposed ordinance creating an Office of the Independent Monitor, saying it would provide protection for police officers and citizens alike.

The OIM as outlined in the ordinance would review police use-of-force incidents, review best practices and make policy recommendations, and conduct community outreach.

Although the use-of-force element of the program has drawn the most attention, Bynum said he believes the OIM’s other responsibilities are equally important.

A key element of the independent monitor’s policy efforts will be to assess the effectiveness of the city’s community policing program and provide recommendations to improve it.

“I think it’s important we have an independent group, not the Mayor’s Office, not the Police Department, looking at it and being able to tell the Police Department, the Mayor’s Office, the council and others, here’s what you are doing well and here’s where you need to improve.”

Bynum said the Police Department has made great strides in its outreach efforts.

“But we also recognize, though, that there is a benefit to having this independent entity that can do community outreach and bring more ideas to the table,” he said. “Everyone benefits from that.”

The City Council is expected to vote on the ordinance in the next two weeks with the goal of implementing the OIM by Jan. 1.

The mayor made clear that the independent monitor’s role in reviewing use-of-force incidents would be limited to reviewing police Internal Affairs investigations to ensure that they are done properly. The OIM would have no authority to discipline officers or recommend discipline.

“This is simply, if you will, the ability to look at the investigation and point out to the chief if OIM feels a policy — or person who should have been interviewed, for example — was overlooked,” Bynum said. “And then the chief decides whether or not the IA team goes back and follows up on that.”

The OIM’s review of Internal Affairs investigations would not be made public. However, in its annual report — due no later than Sept. 20 of each year — the independent monitor will provide a summary of all Internal Affairs investigation reviews done that year and note whether or not the Police Department acted on the OIM’s recommendations.

A six-member screening committee will provide a list of three to five candidates for the independent monitor’s position to the mayor. The mayor can select one of the candidates, or choose not to accept any, and the committee would then go back to work. The screening committee will be led by the chairperson of the Citizens Oversight Board.

That 11-member Oversight Board will include representatives from each of the city’s nine City Council districts and two at-large members. The members will be appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council. Its primary responsibilities will be to assess the effectiveness of the OIM and to provide policy recommendations.

The board will meet 10 times a year with the independent monitor or a member of his staff, hold three meetings a year to take comments from the public, and meet quarterly with the chief of police. All meetings will be open to the public.

Bynum said the intensity and duration of the recent Equality Indicators meetings on police practices has emphasized the need for more frequent public discussion of public safety issues. That’s where the Citizens Oversight Board comes in.

“Suddenly, you have a board in place that is there routinely to facilitate that kind of dialogue,” the mayor said.

Jared Lindsey, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 93, said after the meeting that he could not comment on the mayor’s proposal because he had not seen it.

“We have intentionally been left out of this, so it is difficult for us to give our views,” Lindsey said.

But he cautioned against the City Council acting too quickly. He said the program could lead to more lawsuits against the city and its officers and would certainly lead to a growth in government.

“The citizens need an opportunity to wrap their arms around this,” Lindsey said.


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'We are here to do good': Free clinic opens to serve area residents without insurance

SAPULPA — When her access to medical care became a bigger concern recently, Sheena Jackson did the only thing she knew to do.

She called on a higher power.

“It really is an answer to my prayers,” Jackson said Tuesday of the new Cura Medical Clinic in Sapulpa, as she and her husband, Michael, waited to get checked in.

The Jacksons, who live in Oilton, drove 30 miles to visit the clinic and were among several first-time patients taking advantage of its free primary care services.

Cura, 1012 W. Taft St., serves residents who don’t have insurance and is currently open one evening a week — 6-8 p.m. every Tuesday.

The need for it is already evident.

The volunteer-run clinic, occupying a small donated space in a shopping center, is able to see up to 16 patients on Tuesdays. It welcomed nine on July 23, its first time to be open. This Tuesday, with word having spread, a line of around 30 were waiting when the doors opened. The office phone had 40-plus messages.

The demand will present challenges, said Sam Elzay, clinic administrator and physician’s assistant, adding that he was sorry to have to ask the later arrivers to come back next week.

But he said he feels “really good” about the clinic’s strong start. It testifies to “the support of everybody involved, which has been encouraging and optimistic,” Elzay said.

The free clinic is part of Cura for the World, a nonprofit organization on a mission to plant medical clinics in remote communities around the globe. Founded by Dr. T.J. Trad, a Stillwater cardiologist, Cura currently operates in four other countries and is expanding.

Two Tulsa-area urgent care physicians, Dr. Rachel Ray and Dr. Zach Fowler, are behind the Sapulpa clinic, and said it grew out of their shared desire to reach the “medically underserved” locally.

Starting their own nonprofit would have been a difficult undertaking, Ray said, but their former Oklahoma State University classmate and friend, Trad, had already done that with Cura and had built a successful model.

“We talked to him and he said we could partner with him and start the first (Cura) clinic in the United States,” Ray said.

Creek County was a natural fit, as it’s one of the state’s poorer counties and has a shortage of health care services.

Cura’s plan is to eventually have a clinic like the one in Sapulpa in all 50 states.

Added Fowler: “Cura is Latin for a helping hand. We are trying to embody that and embrace that.”

The clinic is staffed by at least six volunteers every week — two medical providers, along with nurses and office staff.

Patients are seen first-come, first-served. Although the focus is Creek County, anyone who doesn’t have insurance will be admitted.

Among the 16 patients served this week, the Jacksons had been using their former clinic in Calvin, where they used to live, they said. It’s now 100 miles away and trips there make for an all-day affair.

A closer clinic in Payne County takes only residents from that county, they said.

“See what I mean when I say this is an answer to prayer?” Sheena Jackson said.

“I started praying about three weeks ago. And then we heard about this on the news.”

Jenny Box of Sapulpa was one of the patients Tuesday, waiting after her husband dropped her off.

“This is much closer for me,” she said, adding that she formerly used the Bedlam Clinic in Tulsa.

Without access to a free clinic, “I’d be in trouble. I’d probably be back in the hospital,” said Box, who’s dealing with complications from a previous blood clot in her leg.

Now that the Cura clinic is up and running, organizers can begin to think about their next steps.

The hope is to eventually add more hours and days.

Also, the clinic will soon have on site a charitable pharmacy, where prescriptions will be filled for free. Med-World Pharmacy in Sapulpa will be involved with that, and is currently working with the clinic to offer cheaper medications to patients. The clinic is opioid-free, with no narcotics or marijuana dispensed or kept on the premises.

Elzay said he and the others involved with the Sapulpa clinic believe strongly in the Cura mission.

“We are here to do good,” he said.


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AP
Democrats' divisions test Biden's front-runner strength

DETROIT (AP) — The ideological divisions gripping the Democratic Party intensified on Wednesday as presidential candidates waged an acrimonious battle over health care, immigration and race that tested the strength of early front-runner Joe Biden's candidacy.

The former vice president was repeatedly forced to defend his decades-old political record against pointed attacks from his younger, diverse rivals, who charged that Biden's eight-year relationship with President Barack Obama was not reason enough to earn the Democratic nomination.

The attacks on Biden in the second presidential debate were most vivid coming from California Sen. Kamala Harris, who declared that his willingness to work with segregationists in the U.S. Senate during the 1970s could have had dramatic consequences on the surge of minority candidates in political office. And, she said, it could have prevented her and fellow presidential candidate Cory Booker, both of whom are black, from becoming senators.

"Had those segregationists had their way, I would not be a member of the United States Senate, Cory Booker would not be a member of the United States Senate, and Barack Obama would not have been in a position to nominate" Biden to become vice president, she said.

When pressed, Biden repeatedly leaned on his relationship with Obama.

"We're talking about things that occurred a long, long time ago," Biden said. "Everybody's talking about how terrible I am on these issues. Barack Obama knew who I was."

The dynamic showcased the challenges ahead for Biden and his party as Democrats seek to rebuild the young and multiracial coalition that helped Obama win two presidential elections. Those differences were debated on a broad menu of issues including health care, immigration and women's reproductive rights.

But it was the discussion of race that marked an escalating rift shaping the Democratic primary. At the same time, polls show that Biden has far more support from minority voters than his challengers, especially in the crucial early voting state of South Carolina.

Booker, who at times adopted the position of peacemaker, also took Biden to task over criminal justice issues and his role in passing a crime bill while a Delaware senator in the 1990s. When Biden fought back by criticizing Booker's tenure as mayor of Newark, New Jersey, before becoming a New Jersey senator, Booker shot back: "You're dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don't even know the flavor."

In Detroit, a city where Democrats desperately need strong minority turnout to beat President Donald Trump next year, Biden, 76, repeatedly clashed with the two black candidates in the race, as well as the only candidate of Mexican heritage, all of whom are more than two decades his junior. Biden emphasized his work as vice president to help the auto industry and the city repair its bankrupt finances.

For Democrats, the internal fight, while common to almost every primary cycle, is one many would rather avoid, favoring instead a focus on defeating Trump. Several candidates said they thought Trump should be impeached and others called him a racist.

"The first thing I am going to do is Clorox the Oval Office," New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said.

Biden's struggling 2020 competitors see no better way to undermine his candidacy than raising questions about his commitment to black voters and women.

Anticipating a rough night, Biden greeted Harris onstage by quipping, "Go easy on me, kid."

She did not — and he often responded in kind.

Biden charged that Harris' health care plan would cost taxpayers $3 trillion even after two terms in office and would force middle-class taxes to go up, not down. He said that would put Democrats at a disadvantage against Trump.

"You can't beat President Trump with double talk on this plan," he said.

Harris slapped back that Biden was inaccurate.

"The cost of doing nothing is far too expensive," Harris said. She added: "Your plan does not cover everyone in America."

For the first time in the months-old Democratic contest, Harris faced pointed attacks on her plan to provide universal health care. Harris faced criticism from all sides this week after releasing a competing plan that envisions a role for private insurance with strict government rules, but she wants to transition to a single-payer government-backed system within 10 years.

And she was also challenged for her record as a prosecutor and California's attorney general, notably by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

"Sen. Harris says she's proud of her record as a prosecutor and that she'll be a prosecutor president, but I'm deeply concerned about this record," Gabbard said. "Too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana."

There were also tense exchanges on immigration that pitted Biden against former Obama housing secretary Julián Castro, the only Latino candidate in the race.

Biden suggested that some of his rivals favor immigration laws that are far too forgiving. Castro, for example, would decriminalize illegal border crossings.

"People should have to get in line. That's the problem," Biden said.

Castro shot back: "It looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one has not."

Biden did have a defender of sorts in Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, who derided the cost and impact of "Medicare for All" on middle-class families and those with private health insurance.

While the first primary votes won't come for six more months, there is a sense of urgency for the lower-tier candidates to break out. More than half the field could be blocked from the next round of debates altogether — and possibly pushed out of the race — if they fail to reach new polling and fundraising thresholds implemented by the Democratic National Committee.

The dire stakes have forced many Democrats to turn against one another in recent weeks. But their common focus was how they characterized Trump's impact on American life.

One of them, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, was particularly blunt.

"We can no longer allow a white nationalist to be in the White House," he said.

———

Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Detroit and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.


State-and-regional
Trafficking case to be dropped against hemp security officers though DA maintains truck contained marijuana

PAWHUSKA — Two hemp security officers charged with marijuana trafficking are expected to have their cases dismissed next week as the case’s investigators said the defendants were “duped” into shipping illegal cannabis.

Defense attorney Matt Lyons on Wednesday said he has received an email confirmation from prosecutors that they will dismiss the charges against his clients Aug. 7 during a court appearance in Osage County District Court.

District Attorney Mike Fisher dropped the same drug-trafficking charges against the truck shipment’s two drivers in March because both men were unaware of the cargo’s contents. The situation began when a Pawhuska police officer pulled over the truck for allegedly not stopping at a traffic light.

But Andrew Ross and David Dirksen, veterans who co-founded Patriot Shield Security to provide protection for hemp transports, remained in hot water.

“We knew we were innocent from the beginning,” Ross said. “As stressful as it was with that sort of sentence over our heads, there weren’t too many points where I was that worried or thought that anyone would convict me or send me to life in prison for what we were doing.”

A statement from Fisher’s office says investigators believe the seller of the contents in the truck “was involved in the illegal transport of marijuana under the guise of an industrial hemp shipment.” It states that belief formed after a probe by local authorities, including Pawhuska police, as well as defense attorneys Lyons, Scott Goode and Frank Robison.

“Additional evidence has come to light to indicate that (Ross and Dirksen) were duped by the seller into participating in the illegal shipment of 4,326 pounds of marijuana,” the statement reads. “As a result, the State will be dismissing the charges against both security guards in the interests of justice.”

According to the statement — signed off on by Fisher and the defense attorneys — a federal lawsuit has been brought by the Colorado buyer of the shipment against the Kentucky seller.

The seven-month saga exposed how unprepared Oklahoma — and likely other states — were for legal industrial hemp after President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill into law Dec. 20.

Patriot Shield Security had existed for only a few months before the hemp seizure and their Jan. 9 arrests, which Ross said landed them in a “pretty bad financial situation.” But he believes the business is “much farther ahead” now than it otherwise would be given the media attention and has expanded into four states.

He said they now hold licenses in Oklahoma for armed security, marijuana processing and hemp cultivation. The latter two are because the state doesn’t have transportation licenses, he said.

“Now we know firsthand how to deal with it and the worst-case scenario, which is product being seized as noncompliant hemp,” Ross said.

Lyons said he doesn’t blame prosecutors or law enforcement. But the protracted ordeal must be a learning experience for authorities moving forward on how to deal with hemp, he said.

“Making the assumption that everyone is doing it illegally will not suffice for constitutional law,” he said.

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 — better known as the 2018 Farm Bill — removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. It protects the interstate commerce of hemp, not allowing prohibition of its transport or shipment.

The measure states that a hemp producer who negligently violates a state or tribal plan “shall not as a result of that violation be subject to any criminal enforcement action” by federal, tribal, state or local governments.

Lyons noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture in late May released a legal opinion that emphasized hemp no longer is a controlled substance and that its transport or shipment can’t be banned.

“I think that’s a direct result of this case,” Lyons said.