In 2009, a Broken Arrow man heard a woman at the home next door cry out for help. He went outside, saw his neighbor choking a woman, and called 911, telling a dispatcher, “There’s a guy beating up a woman.”
“I’m afraid she’s going to get hurt,” he told the dispatcher.
Broken Arrow Police Department Capt. Stephen Garrett was technically assigned as a backing officer, but he was close to the home and was the first officer to arrive at the scene.
When Garrett got out of his car, he said Ruth Samuel approached him and said that everything was “OK, we don’t need you here.”
But Nathan Samuel then began walking from inside the house toward the front door. He was carrying a knife.
Garrett shot Nathan Samuel, who a Broken Arrow Police Department investigator testified was 27 feet away, killing him.
Garrett was placed on administrative leave while the shooting was investigated. The shooting was eventually ruled justified by the district attorney, and Garrett returned to work. A federal judge later ruled in Garrett’s favor in a civil lawsuit.
A decade later, Garrett is now training other officers. A flyer posted on Facebook by Scott Wood, an Oklahoma attorney who handled the civil case against Garrett and often represents police officers following officer-involved shootings, advertises Garrett’s class, called “Officer Involved Shooting: The Aftermath.”
The training boasts “Never before seen perspective … from Captain Garrett including his experience that night and the aftermath of his experience with the civil trial.”
At the bottom of the flyer, in red font, it notifies officers that if they attend the class, they will satisfy their mandated two hours of yearly mental health training. It’s one of dozens of options Oklahoma law enforcers have to receive the mental health training state law requires them to obtain each year.
But the training options offered through CLEET run the gamut from the useful sounding to the head-scratching. And while the state-funded agency is in charge of making sure every certified peace officer in the state has received their required training, CLEET cautions on its website that it does not necessarily approve of the training it promotes to Oklahoma officers. There is an “accreditation officer” at CLEET, but agency officials told The Frontier their job is less about conducting quality checks on continuing education options for law enforcement, and more about cataloging various options for officers to take.
Shannon Butler, CLEET’s operations manager, said “there’s not really a lot of direction on what (officers) have to take.”
Garrett did not respond to requests for comment on the training, but Wood said the presentation deals with how Garrett handled the fallout of the shooting and the trial, as well as the long-term effect both events had on his life.
“I sat through Garrett’s training before, when he gave it a couple months back. It’s really good,” Wood told The Frontier. “He talks about how the lady who was being choked, he had stopped her I think three times since the shooting for traffic stops. The first couple times, when he realized it was her, he just let her go. But the third time, he said they actually stopped and talked. It was really insightful, from an officer’s perspective.”
The flyer advertising Garrett’s training features two smiling images of Garrett and a meme where an officer is pointing a handgun directly at a camera. The words “Sheep hate the sheepdog until the wolf is at the gate” appear on the image.
In 2008, Oklahoma lawmakers mandated that in order for a full-time peace officer to remain certified, the officer had to take 25 hours of CLEET (Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training) accredited training, two hours of which had to pertain to mental health.
“It’s inevitable that every day a law enforcement officer will come in contact with someone in a mental health crisis or in mental distress,” Mental Health Oklahoma Director Michael Brose told The Frontier. “They need the best training you can get.”
Under “accreditation” on CLEET’s website, there’s a note: “There is no intent, expressed or implied that accreditation/catalog indicates or in any way conveys CLEET approval of concepts, practices, handouts, reference sources, methods, techniques, products, or devices, presented in CLEET accredited/catalogued courses.”
CLEET’s website states, “Accredited/cataloged lesson plans or curriculum are not reviewed to determine if they are current with respect to ordinances, law, statutes, or court decisions. It is the responsibility of any individual or agency … to conduct an appropriate review to determine that material is current, legally correct, and not in conflict with agency or department policy, procedures, rules or regulations.”
Under “Current Mental Health Training Options” on CLEET’s website, there are offerings that seem appropriate, such as classes on “Understanding Hostage Incidents,” “Understanding Anxiety Disorders,” or “Understanding Depression and Bipolar Disorder.”
Another section of CLEET’s website offers other ways to earn mental health credit, classes like “The Look and Feel of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” or “Suicide Prevention, Intervention, and postvention.”
But many offerings don’t appear to center around mental health. “Report Writing and Documentation for Oklahoma Detention Facilities” satisfies one hour of continuing mental health training, as does “Conducting Strip Searches.”
“There are very few requirements,” Butler said. “Every officer has to have 25 hours of annual training, and two of those have to be in mental health … the Legislature has basically left that up to the officers as far as what they have to take.”
But CLEET has the final say as to what is and isn’t acceptable. Butler said in mid-August that curriculum is presented to CLEET from various outside agencies, and Tami Burnett, whose title is “curriculum specialist/training course accreditation,” reviews courses for the agency.
But, Butler cautioned, “it’s not an accreditation in the truest sense of the word.”
“We take it on good faith,” he said of submissions to CLEET. “There is a statute that says that giving fraudulent information to a state agency is a crime, so we rely on that. If we found that something was not appropriate, we could discontinue it at the very least.”
Butler said the outside companies who submit coursework to CLEET “have to certify that these documents are checked and retained by that department and tell us who is taking which courses.
The Frontier is a nonprofit focusing on investigative and watchdog journalism. For more information or to donate, go to www.readfrontier.org.