Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty agreed Tuesday his officers made mistakes Saturday when they rounded up about 20 teenagers on curfew violations in front of the Harkins Bricktown Cinema and hauled them away in what one parent described as a “paddy wagon.”
Several parents complained about the curfew sweep at Tuesday's Oklahoma City Council meeting. Parents said officers arrested the teens at least 20 minutes before the 11 p.m. curfew began.
Some of the children arrested were waiting for rides after attending a movie, which is allowed under the city's curfew statute. Others were accompanied to the theater by adults but arrested anyway while their parents retrieved their vehicles.
Peggy Hammons' daughter, Kelsea, and her friend, Brittney Campbell, both 15, attended an 8:20 p.m. showing of “Transformers” at Harkins with Brittney's mother. The movie let out just before 11, and the two teens waited in front of the theater while Brittney's mom got the car.
“A female police officer approached them, instructed them to hand over their cellphones and get over and get in that paddy wagon,” Peggy Hammons said. “My daughter and her friend were never once asked, ‘Were you there to see the movie and do you have a ticket?' They tried to explain to the police officers, and they were told to shut up and be quiet.”
Valenthia Doolin, of Oklahoma City, said she arrived to pick up her kids at 10:40 p.m. and found a line of police cars and vans. Her children were not answering their cellphones. Panicked, she parked and walked to the theater but could not find her kids.
She eventually received a text message from her son saying they had been picked up on a curfew
Doolin said officers refused to listen when they pointed out their mom's car and said their ride was there minutes before the curfew began.
“We felt violated, harassed and frightened at the hands of Oklahoma City law enforcement,” Doolin said. “Something has to be done to ensure that it never happens again.”
Citty said officers conducted the sweep because of an increase in assaults and other complaints involving juveniles in Bricktown after hours. He said at least two of the citations issued Saturday have been dismissed because they shouldn't have been issued to begin with. Others could also be thrown out.
Citty said police are investigating their handling of the situation to see what went wrong.
“The ordinance does provide for legitimate reasons for someone who is underage to be out past 11 p.m.,” Citty said. “If they can show they were attending the theater and are waiting for a ride to be picked up, the arrest of that juvenile would not be appropriate.”
The kids were taken to the Crisis Intervention Center, a holding facility for juveniles picked up on minor complaints. It is run by Youth Services for Oklahoma County Inc., a nonprofit organization that contracts with the city and the state.
‘Called kids liars'
Parents complained they were treated unprofessionally by staff at the center and had to wait six hours or more to get their kids back.
“The C.I.C. staff used profanity, harsh language and called kids liars when they weren't given the information they wanted to hear,” Peggy Hammons said. “My husband and I arrived at the C.I.C. before midnight. I could hear my daughter and her friend just in the other room bawling.”
Kelsea Hammons said she and Brittney held hands in a holding cell because they were scared but were told by staff to separate because they were publicly displaying
Peggy Hammons said staff members were curt with her and made her wait until 6 a.m. to take her daughter home while they completed
Debby Forshee, president and chief executive of Youth Services, said she is working with police on their investigation and is also looking into the incident. She said the center has to follow procedures and complete paperwork as a matter of its contracts with the city and state.
“When you have such a large number of kids all at one time, you can imagine it takes longer than if it was one or two people,” Forshee said. “We are looking at a couple of our processes on how we handle large groups.”
Peggy Hammons said even if the citations are thrown out, it won't erase the experience the kids went through after they were arrested and booked like common criminals even though they did nothing wrong.
“You tell your daughter the police are there to protect her,” Hammons said. “What do I tell her now when it is the police doing the harm?”