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Police detain a man on the south end of the Gathering Place on Sept. 8. The man, who had a gun holstered on his right hip, was escorted from the park because guns are prohibited. The man was holding a video camera and asked officers for their names and badge numbers as he recorded the interaction. MIKE STRAIN/Tulsa World file

The Tulsa Police Department will not be required to enforce a Gathering Place policy that bans open and concealed carry of firearms on its premises, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

An attorney representing the city expressed concern over possible litigation against the city if officers actively participated in removing patrons who violated the park’s rule.

Gerry Bender, the city’s Litigation Division manager, told the Tulsa World on Thursday that the city “became uncomfortable” with officers being placed in a role to enforce a Gathering Place trespassing requirement for park-goers caught with a firearm.

The apprehension surfaced, said Bender, after multiple individuals representing the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association were turned away from the Gathering Place during the park’s opening Sept. 8.

Tulsa police officers on the grounds that day assisted park security in escorting the armed men from the property.

In response to the incident, a meeting was arranged by the city’s attorneys with Gathering Place legal representatives. The purpose of the meeting was declaring that Tulsa police officers would not make arrests for those in violation of the park rule, according to Bender.

He said that city attorneys reviewed documents related to whether the Gathering Place was a River Parks Authority property.

They also reviewed “whether in fact the Mingo Valley Trail and River Parks Trail were actually places the Gathering Place could even attempt to enforce their rule about firearms,” said Bender. “We explained to them that the city would be uncomfortable with it. We cannot tell our police officers, who would be individually liable, to make an arrest for trespass in this instance.”

Title 21, Section 1277, of Oklahoma Statutes has an exception allowing for the carry of legally licensed concealed or unconcealed handguns on “any property designated by a city, town, county or state governmental authority as a park, recreational area or fairgrounds.”

In response to a rally held by gun rights supporters Saturday, the Gathering Place issued a statement explaining that “parks routinely prohibit firearms and the courts have routinely upheld such prohibitions.”

Bender said the only roles Tulsa police would perform at the park involved the enforcement of city ordinances and state law and responding to Gathering Place private security or citizens’ requests for help.

Tulsa Police Department spokeswoman Jeanne MacKenzie said officers have maintained a daily presence at Gathering Place since its opening, patrolling the park and assisting with various incidents that occur.

“We maintain the legal authority to enforce all ordinances and state laws applicable to private spaces open to the public,” MacKenzie said in a prepared statement.

The department, however, does not enforce park rules, she said.

“Gathering Place has its own private security that officers assist on several matters, but (police) do not have anything to do with their rules,” she said.

The city attorney said Gathering Place officials acknowledged that “a court case” would ultimately be required to determine whether the firearm ban could legally be enforced. Attempts to contact Gathering Place officials for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

Bender cited Oklahoma Second Amendment Association member Tim Harper’s entering the park freely carrying a gun on Saturday, following the gun-rights rally near Gathering Place. He was not asked to leave, Bender said.

“We don’t anticipate the Gathering Place is going to ask anyone to leave the park and when that individual refuses, then try to involve our officers in a trespass situation,” said Bender, who mentioned the city acted in response to uncertainty over whether the park is a private or public entity. “I don’t believe the Gathering Place will try to trespass individuals that are open carrying firearms.”

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Kendrick Marshall

918-581-8378

kendrick.marshall@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @KD_Marshall

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