Article 26: June 2022
OSBI investigating sheriff’s department
By Chris Willingham
One of several shooting incidents by the sheriff’s department is under investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the sheriff’s department’s attorney Justin Ashlock told this newspaper.
Following a chase June 1, deputies fired multiple shots at Larry Townsend, 70, of Idabel, after he allegedly tried to run over a deputy. Townsend fled from officers and reportedly drove his vehicle off a cliff, plunging 35 feet into Red River.
He was injured and hospitalized for weeks after the incident.
After the incident, this newspaper made an Open Records Act request of all records concerning the incident and never received a reply from the sheriff’s department until Friday of this week, when Ashlock emailed reporter Chris Willingham.
Idabel police were the first agency to respond June 1 in what was reported as a traffic accident in city limits.
A woman called police and said she had been struck by another vehicle. When Idabel police officer Blake Provence responded he saw the accident occurred in county jurisdiction, but Townsend sped away and Provence pursued him.
Idabel police abandoned the pursuit when it turned onto a county road and Townsend was going 90 miles-per-hour.
Due the high speed and the chase only being a misdemeanor pursuit, Idabel police stopped the pursuit.
Deputies later spotted Townsend and resumed the chase around the Red Lake Dairy Road area.
Ashlock said the shooting and incident is under investigation by the OSBI and due to the pending investigation, the newspaper could not access reports concerning Townsend.
However, the newspaper made its Open Records Act days after the chase when the sheriff’s department presumably was not yet under investigation and therefore should have turned over a report, in accordance with state law.
The newspaper also requested officers’ body cam footage and radio logs associated with the incident in its ORA request. Ashlock said the body cam footage was part of the OSBI’s investigation and could not be turned over, but he did give the paper radio logs of the incident.
Radio logs showed deputies examining vehicle tracking on Peregrine Road at 11:46 p.m. June 1.
At 11:56 p.m. deputies radioed that they could see “headlights coming out towards us” in the area.
At 11:57 p.m. deputies radioed that they had began shooting as Townsend allegedly tried to run over deputy Michael Kelly.
Radio logs also showed the pursuit also beginning at 11:57 p.m.
Officers fired more shots toward Townsend at 12:01 a.m., the logs show.
At 12:09 a.m. the radio logs indicate Townsend drove into Red River, rolled his vehicle and was upside down and injured.
“EMS notified, will need to be extricated,” the log says.
It continues, “Suspect doesn’t appear to be shot. Truck upside down, front toward river bank bed. Suspect is talking only, complaining of leg injury. Suspect possible broken leg, no obvious deformity.”
In its initial investigation of the incident and after receiving no information at all from the sheriff’s department, the newspaper began talking to people associated with the incident.
One person who saw deputy Dustin Gibbs’ body cam footage said the footage showed Townsend not trying to run over a deputy, but instead fleeing and driving away from officers when sheriff Kevin Clardy yelled, “Shoot that mother(expletive)!” and officers began firing into Townsend’s vehicle.
Townsend initially faced complaints of leaving the scene of an accident involving damage, eluding an officer and aggravated assault and battery on a police officer.
The district attorney’s office has yet to file any charges on Townsend, however.
Townsend was hospitalized for weeks following the incident.
Sheriff’s department attorney Ashlock said no documents can be turned over to the newspaper until the OSBI investigation into the incident is complete.
The Townsend shooting incident is but one of multiple incidents of deputies shooting at people this year.