An attorney representing the family of a man who died three days after being tased by Tulsa police says the department’s policy appears to have been violated by the officers’ actions.
The Tulsa Police Department on Sept. 1 released body-cam footage of Joshua Harvey’s interaction with officers Aug. 24 at a downtown bank. After Harvey apparently broke a glass door and entered the building, the video shows officers use multiple rounds of electricity on him. Harvey can be heard screaming, often incoherently, throughout the encounter. He eventually lost consciousness and died Aug. 27 at St. John Medical Center.
Police have said they are waiting for the state Medical Examiner’s Office’s report on the cause and manner of Harvey’s death. A spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office said the case still was pending Monday.
Damario Solomon-Simmons, who represents Harvey’s family, spoke along with his parents at a news conference Monday. He said the video released by police shows an unarmed Harvey tased simultaneously by two officers, which Solomon-Simmons said violates police policy. The attorney said Harvey was tased at least six times and that that appeared to be excessive.
Tulsa police use-of-force guidelines state that officers “shall not simultaneously deploy (conducted electrical weapons) on one individual.”
Each additional Taser application must be evaluated in the same manner as the first application. The guidelines note that additional applications may be appropriate if additional officers aren’t present and approaching the individual “may cause a greater threat” to the officer or citizens.
The footage appears to show one officer deploy his taser a few seconds before another officer does the same.
Sgt. Shane Tuell, speaking broadly about all incidents involving Tasers, said a second Taser may be deployed if an officer believes the first deployment was ineffective.
“If you’re not getting the desired response then it would (be) fairly obvious to the Taser operator that it is not a good deployment,” Tuell said.
In the body-cam video released by the department, an officer says he believed one of his Taser leads did not enter Harvey’s body.
Solomon-Simmons described Harvey as a son and brother who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He said he had been taking medication, though he didn’t know whether he was on the medication on the day of the encounter.
“Most importantly, he was an individual that deserved dignity and respect in his dealings with TPD,” the attorney said. “And based on our investigation to this point, we question if Joshua received the respect he deserved.”
Roma Snowball-Presley and Tony Presley, who live in Haskell, said they didn’t hear from police until more than two days after Harvey’s encounter with police on Aug. 24.
“No one contacted us until my son laid in intensive care dying for two days,” Tony Presley said. “We made it to the hospital to see my son during his last eight hours. We want to know what happened.”
Tuell said the department does not notify someone’s next of kin when a Taser is used, though officers are required to notify EMSA. He said the timeline of events, including when Harvey’s family was notified, would likely be part of the ongoing investigation.
Solomon-Simmons called a lack of transparency the biggest question mark surrounding the case. He said he can’t figure out why police didn’t discuss the issue with the public until more than a week after the bank encounter.
No media reports or police comments were made about it in that initial week. The agency first publicly acknowledged the incident on Sept. 1, a day after Solomon-Simmons released a statement addressing what happened.
He believes that Tulsa Police Department violated protocol by not immediately contacting Harvey’s family members. He also said they were later told that no police reports about the incident were available “because none had been done.”
On Sept. 5, Solomon-Simmons submitted a records request to TPD requesting police reports concerning Harvey’s arrest and tasering, related use-of-force reports and Taser data, and all audio and video of the incident, including 911 calls.
He said he is now considering filing an open records lawsuit to obtain that information “because this family deserves to know exactly what happened to Joshua.”
“We must have a police department that follows its own policies and procedures,” Solomon-Simmons said. “We must have a police department that is transparent. What are they hiding? What are they hiding when they do not allow this family to know what exactly happened to Joshua?”
Snowball-Presley said the actions of police have been “completely unacceptable.” She questioned why nobody came to her house and gave her information about her son. In tears, she demanded justice for Harvey.
“I just don’t understand why they won’t cooperate and let us know what happened to him,” Snowball-Presley said. “That’s my child. If they look at their child and see he’s that dead and have no answers, how do they sleep at night?”
The Tulsa World reached out to police for comment about the accusations but did not receive a response Monday night.
Following the news conference, the Presleys joined more than 20 people in a prayer vigil for Harvey near the Bartlett Square fountain at Fifth and Main streets.