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District Attorney Rejects TPD Request For Charges In Black Lives Matter Painting Incidents

Chris Polansky
The "BLACK LIVES MATTER" mural on North Greenwood Avenue on Juneteenth, shortly after it was painted without city permit or authorization. The city of Tulsa removed the message earlier this month.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said Wednesday that his office has declined requests from the Tulsa Police Department to bring charges against individuals alleged to have painted "Black Lives Matter" messages on city streets.

"After reviewing the facts and the law associated with the submitted reports, our office declined to file state charges - which involved the potential for both misdemeanor and felony crimes," Kunzweiler said in a statement about his decision, which was first reported by the Tulsa World.

Reached by phone Wednesday morning, Kunzweiler said he exercised discretion in his decision. 

"I have to be mindful of the circumstances surrounding this incident," Kunzweiler said. "I look at it as a matter that the municipal courts, certainly if they choose to review it, can make a decision on whether they want to file prosecution charges."

"I have limited resources, so I'm trying to dedicate my time and my efforts for the major crimes that are occurring within Tulsa County: murders, rapes and robberies," Kunzweiler said. "So I just decided they have a very similar statute that they can handle the prosecution of this case if they choose to do that."

Tulsa's ordinance against defacement of streets is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $100 fine.

“Oftentimes citizens encounter circumstances in which their property is injured, damaged or defaced by another,” Kunzweiler said in his statement. “Not every occurrence necessitates the filing of state criminal charges. There are many other remedies available to address grievances, including civil actions for the recovery of damages."

TPD public information officer Jeanne Pierce said Wednesday that the department had recommended state charges in connection with both this month's painting of "BLM" on the roadway in front of City Hall, as well as the June painting of "BLACK LIVES MATTER" on North Greenwood Avenue. Pierce said Tulsa's city prosecutor was currently reviewing the cases.

City Hall spokesperson Michelle Brooks denied Wednesday that anything connected to this month's incident had been referred to the city prosecutor. Brooks did not comment on whether the city prosecutor was reviewing charges in the Greenwood case.

Following the incident on Oct. 10 at City Hall, Mayor G.T. Bynum said in a statement that “Vandalism of public property is not a peaceful protest. It is a criminal act. We will pursue legal action against those who damaged this city street and City Hall, with the expectation that they pay for repairs rather than the citizens of Tulsa.”

Brooks said the estimated removal and repair costs from the Oct. 10th incident totaled about $1,500. Oklahoma's statute regarding "malicious injury to property," the charge TPD has said they are seeking to bring, considers the crime a felony if damage exceeds $1,000. 

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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