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Oklahoma County DA dismisses criminal charges of 7 police officers who shot and killed three people

Oklahoma County DA Vicki Behenna speaks at a YMCA conference in March 2023.
Oklahoma County District Attorney's Office
Facebook Photo
Oklahoma County DA Vicki Behenna speaks at a YMCA conference in March 2023.

Oklahoma County District Attorney Vicki Behenna is dismissing an array of criminal charges against seven police officers who shot and killed three people, she announced on Friday.

The cases were all brought by her predecessor and fellow Democrat David Prater.

Behenna dismissed the charges following months of meetings and hundreds of hours reviewing body cam footage and asking questions about the case.

“This is not just a quick spur of the moment decision,” she told reporters at a Friday afternoon press conference. “This was a very difficult, very fact intensive decision and review based upon all of that information.”

The cases

The cases include the manslaughter charges for five OKC police officers who shot 15-year-old Stavian Rodriguez 13 times at a gas station in November 2020.

Rodriguez was a suspect in a robbery. When officers approached him and gave him different commands, Rodriguez lifted his shirt to show his waistline, dropped his gun on the ground and then lowered his hands to his waist. That’s when police shot him.

Officers Bethany Sears, Jared Barton, Corey Adams, John Skuta and Brad Pemberton were charged with first-degree manslaughter. A sixth officer — Sarah Carli — fired less lethal rounds and isn’t facing charges.

Another case was the death of Bennie Edwards, a Black man with a history of mental illness, in December 2020.

Police said Edwards was armed with a knife and they were unable to subdue him. A bystander video of the shooting was posted to social media and sparked a loud public outcry denouncing the officers’ actions.

It showed Edwards running away, and he was shot in the back.

Sgt. Clifford Holman was charged with first degree manslaughter after he fired three shots at Edwards, including one that hit him in the upper back.

The final case involves the July 2020 shooting of Christopher Poor by a police officer from The Village. Corporal Chance Avery said Poor came at him with a baseball bat when he responded to a call at his home, and Avery shot him.

Avery was charged with first degree manslaughter.

“These families are grieving,” Behenna said of the relatives of the people who were killed by police officers. “This decision that has been made is difficult. And no matter what this office does or says, these families are forever changed.”

Rodriguez’s mother Cameo Holland released a statement to KOCO Friday afternoon.

"No police officer should feel threatened by a child. Armed or not," she said in the statement. "If a trained adult police officer feels threatened by a child they need to find a new line of work."

Why Behenna says she made the decision to drop charges

Behenna described the conversations she had with involved families as “awful.”

But it was necessary to drop the charges, she said, because of Oklahoma law.

She cited an Oklahoma statute that allows officers to use deadly force if a suspect is trying to escape or evade arrest and is believed to have committed a crime involving serious bodily harm or the threat of serious bodily harm.

“(The) law basically says that if a suspect is trying to escape or evade arrest and the suspect is believed to have committed a crime involving serious bodily harm or the threat of serious bodily harm, force, even deadly force, can be justifiable,” she said. “The statute also says that if an officer reasonably believes the force is necessary to protect him or herself from serious bodily injury or to protect somebody else from serious bodily injury. Then deadly force can be justified.”

She also pointed toward a recent Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruling that cleared a Blackwell police officer who fatally shot a suspect.

That stemmed from charges for a 2019 shooting by officer John Mitchell of Micheal Ann Godsey, who had fired at another driver during a road rage incident.

That case gave prosecutors “guidance,” in the Oklahoma County cases.

Police reaction

The Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police praised the decision, according to a statement from president Mark Nelson.

“As we have maintained since this incident, our officers followed their training and did what was necessary to protect themselves and other Oklahoma City residents,” he said in the statement. “We are thankful District Attorney Behenna dropped these charges.”

Oklahoma City Police Chief Wade Gourley said his department has learned from the incidents. The department has been trained in de-escalation strategies, equipped with less-lethal equipment and crisis intervention.

“We are committed to continual improvement to ensure the people of Oklahoma City receive the professional and compassionate service everyone deserves,” he said in a written statement.

Robby Korth joined StateImpact Oklahoma in October 2019, focusing on education reporting.
Hannah France started her work in public radio at KBIA while studying journalism at the University of Missouri. While there, she helped develop and produce a weekly community call-in show, for which she and her colleagues won a Gracie Award. Hannah takes interest in a wide variety of news topics, which serves her well as a reporter and producer for KGOU.