A small-town Oklahoma police officer is accused of killing his chief in what authorities described as an alcohol-fueled brawl in a Florida Panhandle hotel room.
Local leaders described the death of Mannford’s police chief and the arrest of one of his own officers in the slaying as particularly confounding because the two were more than professional colleagues.
“Lucky was a great man, but I’ll be honest, so was Officer Nealey. Those two were the best of friends. Where one was, the other one was. They were always together,” said Mannford Mayor Tyler Buttram.
Michael Nealey, a Mannford detective, was booked into a Florida jail Monday morning on a homicide complaint about 10 hours after Escambia County, Florida, deputies found his police chief, Lucky Miller, 44, dead at the Hilton Pensacola Beach hotel.
The two men were there for a law enforcement conference that was to run Monday to Wednesday at the hotel, said Escambia County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Amber Southard.
She told the Tulsa World that Miller likely died from injuries he suffered in a physical altercation with Nealey, but she said the investigation into Miller’s death is ongoing.
At some point early Sunday evening, hotel security was called because the two men were being disruptive, Southard said. Later that evening, hotel staff called the Sheriff’s Office because the men were fighting.
“An actual physical altercation,” she said.
When deputies arrived, they found Miller dead, she said, and there was no weapon. She added that alcohol was involved and that an autopsy was underway.
Mannford officials were at work Monday despite the Veterans Day holiday, trying to deal with the loss of not one but two of only eight police officers in the town, located 23 miles west of Tulsa in northern Creek County.
“We ask that everybody pray for both families because two families have been devastated by this horrible tragedy. They do not understand what’s going on. None of this makes sense,” Buttram said. “Not one single person can fathom the thought of any of this. It’s so confusing.”
Town Administrator Gerald Haury named Jerry Ridley, a longtime police officer, as interim police chief.
Ridley choked on his words as he recalled Miller as a devoted family man and a natural-born leader who could never give up day-to-day police work despite the administrative demands of being chief.
“He just liked getting his hands dirty. That’s what made him happy,” Ridley said. “He hated being stuck in his office.
“He was notorious for making traffic stops and not calling it in. He would use a code called 10-15, which means you’ve arrested someone, and you didn’t even know he was out on a stop. I’ve got on him more than once — here you are getting on the chief of police — but the world we live in today, it’s a dangerous world. He just laughed at me and told me, ‘Oh, you’re just getting old.’ ”
Ridley, who described himself as “older than dirt,” worked for Miller since Miller was hired as Mannford’s police chief in 2007.
“I’ve had two chiefs in my career that was really outstanding chiefs of police, and he was one of the two,” he said. “He had an open-door policy. If you were having a problem, you could go in and talk to him, and he’d try to help fix it. And he was a leader that led by example and not by telling you what to do.”
According to Buttram, Miller came to Mannford from his hometown of Stroud, where he had worked many years previously. He credited Miller for having a knack for sniffing out illicit drugs, drug paraphernalia and abusive situations, and had a willingness to confront difficult problems in the Mannford community that had lingered before he joined the department.
“Lucky was an absolute amazing man and an absolute incredible chief,” Buttram said. “The guy had a nose for drugs like no one we’ve ever seen. He sat on a tri-county task force, which was a special thing. I know it was dangerous — he messed with a lot of bad people.”
Ridley said Miller and Nealey were in Florida for special training in distinguishing between homicides, suicides and natural deaths in death scene investigations.
“Mike Nealey was our detective. Lucky was a hands-on guy, so he always wanted to be there to learn things like that,” Ridley said.
He said he will always remember Miller for his desire to help others and especially for his devotion to his wife, Amber Miller, and their three children.
“He loved to have fun, and he loved fixing things. I was having trouble with the deck on my riding lawnmower. If you mentioned something like that to him, he’d say, ‘Let’s go look at it,’ ” Ridley said.
“I can’t understand it. Lucky was a friend, a mentor, a leader, a police officer and a family man. He loved his family to death. He liked to go take his kids and go ride dirt bikes. He had two boys and a girl. She could ride a dirt bike better than all of the others.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Tulsans have a choice Tuesday — continue to invest in the city, or let it slide back to those not-so-distant days when the streets were in even worse condition than they are today.
The days when funding for basic infrastructure like fire trucks, police cars and snow plows just wasn’t at the level it should be. And parks, long neglected, were happy to get what they got.
Such was the pitch from city leaders in advance of Tuesday’s vote on the $639 million Improve Our Tulsa renewal package.
Now the public gets to decide. Polls will be open citywide from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The Improve Our Tulsa renewal includes $427 million for streets and transportation projects, $193 million for capital projects and $19 million for the city’s Rainy Day Fund.
The program would run from early next year and to the end of 2025. About two-thirds of the funding would come from bond sales, financed with property taxes, and the other third from sales tax.
Voters will receive two ballots with a total of three propositions. Propositions 1 and 2, related to capital projects and the Rainy Day Fund, respectively, will be on one ballot. The streets and transportation proposition will be on a separate ballot.
The proposal does not call for an increase in the city’s overall tax rate. If one or more propositions fail, the tax rate would decrease accordingly.
The Rainy Day Fund proposition would be funded through a permanent 0.05% sales tax.
Tulsans have approved more than $1 billion in spending on city streets since the $452 Fix Our Streets package was approved overwhelmingly in 2008. A majority of the original $917.8 million Improve Our Tulsa package passed in 2013 also went to maintain, rehabilitate and reconstruct streets.
The IOT renewal package allocates more than $300 million to repair and maintain city streets and bridges. It also would provide $50 million for snow plows, police vehicles and other heavy equipment.
Other major recipients of funding would include the park system ($30 million), Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority ($18 million), Tulsa Zoo ($6 million), Greenwood Cultural Center ($5.34 million), and bicycle-pedestrian infrastructure ($5 million).
Tulsa-area residents experienced bitter wind chill and low temperatures Tuesday morning that tied the record set in 1911, forecasters said.
Joe Sellers, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Tulsa, said low temperatures reached 15 degrees, right on par for the date in 1911.
The forecast was for temperatures to dip to 14 degrees, but Sellers said it could still be close.
"It's possible it could dip another degree," he said.
Wind chill fell overnight to at least 8 degrees by 7 a.m., following Monday's low windchill of 12 degrees in Tulsa.
The city received 0.1 inches of sleet Monday at the National Weather Service’s measuring station at Tulsa International Airport.
At least one person was critically injured when the vehicle she was driving slid on an icy Interstate 44 near 11th Street on Monday morning and struck another vehicle that was stopped on the shoulder, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported.
The wind was gusting at over 40 mph in many locations, including Tulsa, Bixby and Talala, according to the Oklahoma Mesonet — dropping wind chill values into the single digits to lower teens.
Temperatures on Monday afternoon in the 20s were nearly 50 degrees colder than Sunday’s high of 74, due to a strong cold front that swept through the region early Monday.
“It’s going to be moving east of us ... then really no precipitation chances for the next several days,” Darby said. “But it is going to be significantly below normal through the work week.”
Tuesday should be sunny with a high of 34, forecasters said. Lows Tuesday night will dip into the mid-20s.
A gradual warming trend with sunny skies will continue into the weekend, with highs in the upper 40s on Wednesday and Thursday, and mid-50s on Friday and Saturday.
Robert Darby, a meteorologist with the weather service in Tulsa, said it is not unusual for Tulsa to see wintry weather this time of year.
“This time a year we can have these strong systems go through,” he said.
Despite Monday’s bitterly cold conditions, according to the Climate Prediction Center, eastern Oklahoma has a 40% to 50% chance of being warmer than normal for November, December and January.
There are equal chances for above- or below-normal precipitation during that three-month period, according to the center.
Dedicated spectators endured freezing rain and icy wind Monday at the Tulsa Veterans Day Parade.
Handfuls of people dotted the downtown route, waving to walkers, who thanked them for showing up before shoving their hands back into their pockets.
Megan Williams came from Sapulpa to set up her five little ones on a corner, and they quickly attracted attention as some of the only children there.
“Children!” walkers called out upon sight of them, and those with goody bags rushed to shower them with candy — more than they got at Halloween, one remarked.
The sight of their tiny waving hands and cheerful eyes peeking out from underneath their wraps brought smiles to the faces of veterans who were marching.
Williams said she tries to get the kids out every year to reinforce the importance of celebrating veterans. She knew the weather was going to be miserable, but she said she had a talking-to about attitudes with the kiddos, ranging in age from 3 to 10, before they arrived.
“I told them we’re going to be uncomfortable for a little while, but we’re not going to complain about it,” she said, explaining that the veterans’ sacrifices were much more substantial.
Chase Matlock, 10, had a similar attitude as he stood along the sidewalk down the route with his parents and waved his American flag.
“I’d come in the snow if I had to,” he said.
Benjamin and Jan Dunn, who had their two kids near the front of the parade route, wanted to instill the same values in their children. Benjamin Dunn, an Army veteran, served two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq from 2004 to 2008.
Their little girl, 3, waved her pink mittens to passersby.
“We have to support the veterans,” Jan Dunn said. “There’s a reason why we can live the way we live.”
Weydan Flax, a retired Marine Corps colonel and quartermaster of Tulsa VFW Post 577, said the event marks 100 years of remembering those who served and welcomes those who may some day step up.
“There’s a term: Lest we forget,” Flax said. “We make sure people remember that someone answered the call.”
Max Tankersley, the post surgeon, said he wasn’t surprised attendees showed up despite the cold; it’s just what they do.
“It’s a special kind of brotherhood,” Tankersley said. “We respect one another.”
Flax said the brotherhood spans all ages, ranks and tours of duty.
“Whether you served for four years and never saw any kind of deployment … or you served for 30 years, you stepped up; you got prepared; and you answered the call.”
The annual parade celebrated the 101st anniversary of the nation’s first Veterans Day, marking the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. Last year’s parade was cancelled because of wintery conditions.
More than 4,000 participants in 130 entries were registered for this year’s parade. High school marching bands kept spectators’ blood flowing with bouncing beats, and junior ROTC groups called out marching orders. Veterans cruised in classic cars, jeeps, military and law enforcement vehicles and fire trucks, and Shriners buzzed around in clown cars.
Some spectators walked throughout the route, dodging bus stop signs that blew over in the wind, but others camped out in chairs bundled under layers.
Dennis and Sharon Olsen sat together under their son’s military blanket, and she proudly lifted her pant leg to show off the military-grade long underwear she was wearing as they waited for him to walk by in a corporate group.
They said he served in the Army for 20 years right out of high school and has been retired for the past three years.
“We’re glad to have him home,” she said.