A 2018 Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate said three times in less than 45 seconds that a process server would be dead if he did not leave his property, and he then shot the man after he made a comment from the front lawn, newly released evidence shows.
The Tulsa County District Court Administrator on Tuesday released records in two cases against Christopher Jonathan Barnett, who is accused in the shooting case of assault and battery with a deadly weapon and in the other case of threatening an act of violence against the University of Tulsa.
Barnett, 36, ran for governor in the 2018 Republican primary, placing eighth out of 10 candidates with 5,223 votes, or 1.16% of all votes cast.
After watching video and listening to an audio recording of the incident, which occurred around 9 p.m. July 24, Special Judge April Seibert ruled July 29 that Barnett should remain jailed without bail. Prosecutors filed the assault charge on July 30, five days after filing the threat-related charge.
Barnett entered not-guilty pleas Thursday morning, and defense attorney Brendan McHugh asked Special Judge James Keeley to hold a bond reduction hearing. But Keeley on Monday canceled the planned hearing and said in an order that the issue of bond has already been decided, noting that Seibert released findings of fact explaining her decision.
The process server, who court records show has been licensed since 2018, kept an audio recording of the encounter that is 1 minute 45 seconds long. The court administrator released that recording along with six additional video clips Tuesday.
The man says 33 seconds into the recording, while standing outside, “Hi, I’m looking for Christopher.”
Barnett responds, “I’m sorry, you have the wrong house. Get off my property, or you’re gonna be dead.” The man leans in and asks the person to repeat himself, to which Barnett says in a louder voice, “Get off my property, or you’re gonna be dead.”
Tulsa County Assessor’s Office records indicate that Chris Barnett and his husband, Trey Barnett, have owned their home since September 2015.
“OK, I’m just here trying to deliver documents to Christopher,” the man says. “That’s all I’m trying to do.” One of the video clips shows the process server putting his hand in his pocket, apparently prompting Barnett to say, “Show your hands,” and repeat, “Get off the property.”
“OK, I’m leaving, but no necessary threats of acts of violence. It’s all being recorded, OK?” the process server says. Barnett, in response, tells the man, “Get off the property, or you’ll be dead.”
Tulsa police allege in an affidavit that Barnett’s Google search history includes the inquiry “Can you legally shoot a process server?” and reported that he has said before that the only good process server is a dead one. Trey Barnett testified July 29 that the search took place after he had his own dispute with a different process server.
“I can’t hear you unless you open the door. I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you,” the process server says in the recording.
The video clips show him beginning to walk away but turning around while on the front lawn to face the front door. He says, “I’ll wait for you out here. OK?” and points to the lawn with his left hand. He then is shot in the left elbow, one minute and 15 seconds into the recording. Police have said the injury was not life-threatening.
McHugh released two videos of the altercation on Thursday and told reporters he thinks his client should be immune from prosecution because the shooting was within the rules of Oklahoma’s Stand Your Ground law. The assault charge carries a punishment of up to life in prison.
Although the Barnetts told Seibert they believed that the video she saw last week was altered, the clips McHugh provided match two of the video clips the court administrator released. A World reporter showed Assistant District Attorney Mark Collier the clips McHugh released, which Collier also said were the same as those shown in court on July 29.
Chris Barnett said in a July 25 Facebook post that “The person I shot last night pulled a gun on me, on my own property. They were told four times to leave the property, they were told they were trespassing. They then pulled a gun and I fired my gun and shot them.” However, none of the video clips show the process server pointing a firearm either at the front door or on the lawn. The Facebook profile is no longer publicly visible.
Court documents indicate the process server turned over his weapon to police, who returned it to him after realizing no shots had been fired from it. McHugh has challenged officers’ decision to give back the gun, saying it is evidence because the Barnetts assert they knew the man was armed before the shooting occurred.
Chris and Trey Barnett also have longstanding civil litigation against the University of Tulsa, which suspended Trey Barnett after allegations surfaced of targeted online harassment against a classmate and a faculty member. Trey Barnett has denied wrongdoing, and Chris Barnett has publicly taken ownership of the social media posts at issue.
Chris Barnett’s blog, which he maintains as part of his organization “Transparency for Oklahomans,” has a page called “How would Chris Barnett take down TU?” It details what Barnett calls a “hypothetical” plan for a mass shooting while people exited TU football games at halftime.
The post formed at least part of the basis for the charge of threatening an act of violence, though the Barnetts and McHugh contend the posts on the website are legally protected speech under the First Amendment. They said in court filings that other judges in Tulsa County and in federal court reviewed Barnett’s posts and determined they were not illegal, and have filed a motion to disqualify the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office for filing a “retaliatory” and “vindictive” case.
Chris Barnett will next appear in court Aug. 26 for a preliminary hearing.