OKLAHOMA CITY — Supporters of former Oklahoma City Police Department officer and Enid native Daniel Holtzclaw gathered Thursday at the state Capitol for the inaugural Rally for Justice.
The event, held throughout most of the day on the first floor of the Capitol, was a chance for supporters of the wrongfully convicted and those who support criminal justice reform to reach out to lawmakers and decision makers.
Holtzclaw was sentenced to 263 years in prison after being convicted of preying on black women he encountered while patrolling Oklahoma City neighborhoods in 2013 and 2014. He was convicted in December 2015 on 18 of 36 counts of sexual crimes, including four counts of first-degree rape. Holtzclaw maintains his innocence and is challenging the conviction and the DNA evidence used to convict him.
Erica Fuchs, biologist and board member of Uncuff the Innocent , spoke in support of Holtzclaw during the rally.
"If people don’t recognize Daniel was wrongfully convicted, it will happen to more people. It’s important for everyone to be concerned about everyone’s wrongful convictions," she said. "You could find yourself being accused and ending up in prison."
Fuchs said she got involved in efforts to free Holtzclaw after learning the state made forensic science errors that led to his conviction. She said detectives believed the DNA meant Holtzclaw was guilty and kept them from focusing on anyone else.
"Despite the innocent explanation for the female DNA profile found on the fly of Daniel’s uniform pants, detectives believed the DNA meant he was guilty," Fuchs said. She said OCPD began a massive and biased hunt for the unknown female by using Hotlzclaw's own police records to contact and solicit allegations from African-American women with criminal histories and warrants Holtzclaw stopped on patrol in previous months.
"They crafted a case to match the prosecution's narrative and not the evidence," Fuchs said.
She said there were studies done prior to Holtzclaw's trial that proved DNA could be "transferred innocently."
Fuchs said she was pleased to see no one protested those speaking at the rally, something she did not believe would have happened a few years earlier.
"I know Daniel worked not very far from the Capitol building," she said. "When he was first convicted not many people believed it. It was so horrible to believe Daniel could be innocent."
Uncuff the Innocent's mission is to free the innocent and increase public safety by preventing and overturning the wrongful conviction of police officers and other innocent individuals.
The group is raising money for Holtzclaw's legal defense fund. For further information, visit www.uncufftheinnocent.org.
Tulsa Police Department Officer Jason Angel also spoke Thursday on behalf of Holtzclaw.
He said he learned of Holtzclaw's case while watching YouTube, and a Michelle Malkin video about Holtzclaw was suggested as a next video to watch. Angel said at the time there was a lot of negative views about police across the country and he thought Malkin was just trying to gain attention by disagreeing with those views.
"I was watching 'Daniel in the Den' and thinking, 'My goodness, I am going to debunk all she says,'" Angel recalled. "I ended up watching it and after a while going, 'Holy cow, what's going on?'"
He said he began looking at other materials and information about the case, coming to the conclusion it was an "incompetent investigation."
Angel said the crowd at the rally wasn't as large as he would have liked, but he did get to speak with some on a one-on-one basis about Holtzclaw's case.
"I think the topic of Daniel Holtzclaw was very interesting to those who in passing stopped and hung around to hear more information about his case," he said. "There were definitely people who had heard about the case but did not know the details about it. I think it was pretty eye opening for them."
Angel said seeing what's happened to Holtzclaw has caused some concern for him.
"This could happen to anyone. Like many other officers, I've been accused of a number of things, thankfully nothing sexual in nature, but people will make accusations," he said. "It definitely does scare me that the bar is set so low in an instance like this. For someone to be convicted of a crime there doesn't have to be any evidence. The bar is set so low."
Rains writes for the Enid News & Eagle, a CNHI News Service publication.