One of the best parts of my job serving you in the Oklahoma Senate is the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life as I seek input from constituents and stakeholders in a variety of issues that we’re working to address in a positive way at the Capitol. That’s especially true of the times I’ve had the privilege of working with members of our state’s law enforcement community on various bills. One in particular will stay with me the rest of my life, and inspired me to file legislation in his honor.
Back in 2019, I was working on a measure to help us address the growing problem of scrap metal theft in our state, and among those working on the language with me was Sgt. Craig Johnson of the Tulsa Police Department. He came all the way to Perry to meet with me, and offered incredible insight as we worked to craft legislation.
Most of you know the rest of the story. In 2020, Sgt. Johnson died after being shot during a traffic stop, and his partner was seriously injured. Even though there were people who had known Sgt. Johnson far longer and better than I did, the news of his senseless death was just devastating. When I filed my bill late that fall, I named it for Sgt. Johnson. I was also principal Senate author on the mirror bill filed in the House, and was grateful when it was signed into law, honoring Craig’s life and service.
This session, I was proud to support two more measures that were filed as a direct result of the Sgt. Johnson case and have been signed into law. Senate Bill 968 would prohibit the release of a recording showing an officer dying in the line of duty unless the court rules the material should be released in specific cases. The defense and prosecuting attorneys would still have access to the recordings, and family members of the deceased officer would also be able to view them.
The problem is, once a video like this is released, it’s out there on the internet forever. It’s shown on TV and can pop up on social media, retraumatizing the family and members of law enforcement over and over. Having that video out there can also interfere with jury selection. I agree with the authors that this bill is about protecting the dignity of our fallen heroes, their fellow officers and their families. This new law was supported by law enforcement and the Oklahoma Press Association.
SB 6 strengthens Oklahoma’s accessory to murder statute. Because of the way the law was worded, the getaway driver in Sgt. Johnson’s shooting could not be prosecuted for accessory to murder because they fled before Johnson died. Instead, the driver was prosecuted for accessory to a felony, which carries a lesser punishment. Under SB 6, a suspect can be charged with accessory to murder if the person knew or reasonably should have known that the act committed upon the victim could foreseeably result in their death.
Also signed into law this session is a bill creating the Oklahoma Red Heart award for municipal firefighters, and the Oklahoma Blue Heart award for law enforcement and public safety members who are seriously injured in the line of duty. The men and women in law enforcement and in our local fire departments courageously perform their duties, even in situations that result in tremendous risks to their own safety. Those who are injured in the line of duty deserve special recognition for their selfless service.
Please feel free to contact my Capitol office with any questions or concerns you may have about legislation or other issues impacting our state at 405-521-5628 or at Chuck.Hall@oksenate.gov.