“The safety and protection of Oklahoma’s citizenry is of paramount priority and should always be a core function of government,” proclaimed Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb in an August 28 op-ed column berating opponents of a proposed salary increase for Oklahoma State Troopers.
State troopers “are present day in and day out, at tremendous sacrifice, in all corners of Oklahoma,” Lamb continued, scolding the ingrates who do not support additional funding to train additional troopers and enrich the salaries of those already on the force. Refusing to spend more money on the OHP “will further place the public’s personal safety in jeopardy,” he warns.
Lamb, a former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service, offered only a passing allusion to the fact that in 2015 the Oklahoma legislature approved a 22.8 percent across-the-board salary increase for OHP troopers. In making his case for additional tax-plundered wealth to be channeled into the OHP, Lamb counted on public ignorance of an August 18 incident that demonstrated beyond dispute that troopers are trained to treat “officer safety,” not “the public’s personal safety,” as “paramount” in any encounter with the citizenry they purportedly serve – even a helpless driver suffering a critical medical emergency.
At about 3:00 am on August 18, a construction worker saw a car swerve off the Turner Turnpike near Mile Market 146. After the vehicle embedded itself in a ditch, the construction worker – who was the actual first responder to the emergency – sprinted over to the scene. He found the driver slumped over the wheel and sweating profusely, but exhibiting no signs of intoxication.
Acting as the public has been trained to, the Good Samaritan called 911. Within five minutes, two of the intrepid heroes from the OHP who, according to Lt. Gov. Lamb, were serving the public “at tremendous sacrifice,” arrived at the crash site. As is generally the case when police respond to an emergency, matters became immediately and dramatically worse.
One trooper tried to get the driver’s attention and demanded that the driver put his car in park. The dazed and obviously ailing driver could not comply. A few seconds later the trooper used a nightstick to shatter the driver’s side window, and instructed his comrade to do the same on the passenger side.
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It had taken the construction worker just a few seconds to recognize that the driver needed medical attention. This realization came very tardily to the troopers, who are supposedly trained observers but whose training actually emphasizes the use and justification of aggressive violence.
After breaching the window, one trooper beat the incapacitated victim while barking orders at him.
“To me, it seemed aggressive,” the shocked witness later recounted to Oklahoma City’s Fox affiliate, explaining why he captured the incident on a cell phone video. Not surprisingly, given the assault that unfolded in front of him, the witness asked not to be named.
Roughly thirty seconds after the beating began, the driver was roughly extracted from the vehicle, thrown to the ground and handcuffed. Only at that point did the uniformed assailants recognize that their victim had suffered a medical episode.
To the uninitiated public that has not been tutored regarding the protocols of state-sanctified violence, the behavior of the troopers looked like a patent case of excessive force – if not an outright gang assault. Performing the familiar ritual of institutional self-absolution, Captain Paul Timmons, an official spokesman for the OHP, insisted that the troopers handled the situation “by the book,” because “officer safety is paramount in a situation like that…. You have to take control of the situation and make sure it’s done in a safe way for everyone involved.”
Captain Timmons didn’t explain how the victim’s “personal safety” – to borrow Lt. Gov. Lamb’s phrase -- was enhanced by the actions of the troopers who beat and shackled him without cause. As a former law enforcement officer, Lamb surely agrees with Timmons that in any situation where officer safety conflicts with that of an innocent member of the public, the needs of the former far outweigh those of the latter.
Oklahoma tax victims under pressure to redirect more of their income into the budget of the OHP should view that incident as representative of the variety of “safety” being purchased with their plundered wealth.