Posted: Saturday, October 3, 2015 12:00 am | Updated: 8:04 am, Wed Dec 9, 2015.
A suspended Owasso police officer was charged with assault Friday in connection with actions he took against a man following a high-speed pursuit in Nowata County in June.
Nowata County prosecutors charged Owasso Police Lt. Michael Dwain Denton, 49, with assault and battery with a deadly weapon, a felony, and reckless conduct with a firearm, a misdemeanor, stemming from the arrest of Cody Mathews of Glenpool on June 14.
Denton used a shotgun to beat Mathews with “unlawful and felonious intent,” prosecutors claim in the charges. He demonstrated a “conscious disregard” for the safety of other law enforcement officers and created a “situation of unreasonable risk” by striking a uniformed Nowata police officer and Mathews with the end of a shotgun, according to the charges.
In considering the criminal counts, Kevin Buchanan, district attorney for Nowata and Washington counties, said he reviewed the Owasso Police Department’s use-of-force policy. He also said the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, which conducted the investigation, spoke to Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training instructors who teach use of force at CLEET headquarters in Ada.
“Essentially, striking anybody in the head with a hard object is considered deadly force,” Buchanan said Friday in a telephone interview. “And you can only use deadly force in a circumstance where it’s justified.”
Video released by law enforcement indicates that after Mathews was stopped, an officer broke the driver’s side window of the flatbed pickup Mathews was driving. Denton then thrust the barrel of a shotgun through that window about nine times, video indicates.
After the driver was removed from the vehicle, Denton slams the butt end of the weapon about half a dozen times toward a target that is obstructed from view on the ground, the video shows.
“There are two things that cause me concern, and one is the shotgun barrel through the window,” Buchanan said. “He was striking the person that had been stopped with what I’ll call the business end of the shotgun, as well as one of police officers who was trying to take that man into custody.”
When Mathews is pulled from the vehicle and “it is clear that his hands are empty and he is putting them over his head in a defensive manner, and while another officer has got him on the ground on his stomach and one arm under control, (Denton) begins striking him over the head with the gun butt,” Buchanan said.
Denton is expected to surrender to authorities Monday morning, the prosecutor said.
Denton’s attorney, Patrick Hunt, said he spoke to his client Friday and that “he didn’t commit a crime.”
“We will respond to the charges. I’m pretty confident that a jury will acquit him,” Hunt said.
In connection with Denton’s actions after the pursuit, the Owasso Police Department suspended Denton with pay in June to investigate allegations that he violated the department’s use-of-force policy.
Deputy Chief Jason Woodruff said Friday that the charges would be taken into account in the Police Department’s internal investigation, which could lead to Denton’s firing.
Denton was fired in 2011 for violating the department’s use-of-force policy in actions that also were recorded on police video, but he later was reinstated by an arbitrator, and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld that reinstatement.
In the past year, the city of Owasso has paid Denton more than $366,000 related to that firing.
In February, the City Council OK’d a budget supplement to extend $283,420 in back payments to Denton. Three months later, he received $47,177 in overtime pay, and in July, he received a $35,772 interest award.
RHETT MORGAN, “Owasso police officer charged with felony, misdemeanor in Nowata County”, October 3, 2015, Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com/homepagelatest/owasso-police-officer-charged-with-felony-misdemeanor-in-nowata-county/article_c19822b0-7606-55cc-ab28-15f8d8450c72.html