Neighbors of an Oklahoma City police officer who fired gunshots in his neighborhood and caused an elementary school to be locked down said they are worried police are covering up the incident to protect a fellow officer.
Police Chief Bill Citty released some details about the incident Friday, and he denied there is any effort by police to keep information from the public about what happened Sept. 27 at the officer's house in far south Oklahoma City.
“We want the community to be safe, and we aren't going to put an officer out there who is a threat,” Citty said. “We have taken his guns away, and he is on administrative leave while this is under investigation.”
Police have refused to release the name of the officer involved, and a heavily redacted report released after an open records request mentions nothing about gunshots.
“We can handle the truth a lot better than we can handle lies,” neighbor Elvis Humphrey said. “I just want everybody to be safe.”
Police spokesman Capt. Dexter Nelson said the incident occurred in the 12000 block of S Robinson Avenue and is under investigation by the department's internal affairs division. Several people in the neighborhood identified the address as 12916 S Robinson, the home of Sgt. Chris Suriano, a 22-year veteran of the force who works in the department's patrol division. Attempts to reach Suriano by phone were unsuccessful.
Nelson said an officer's wife called a friend who is a Norman police officer to report her husband was acting strangely. The Norman officer contacted Oklahoma City police, who responded and took the officer to a hospital for a mental health evaluation.
Police were told the officer fired a shot inside his house, but investigators still are looking into how many shots were fired and where, Citty said.
Neighbors and staff at nearby Santa Fe Elementary reported hearing gunshots about 2:45 p.m., prompting the school to go on lockdown, along with Highland West Junior High School. Backyard fences of homes on S Robinson border the elementary school's grounds.
Both schools are in the Moore School District. Vicky Brickman, clerk of the Moore School Board, said the shots were fired outside, not inside the home.
“There was a report of a man in a neighborhood that is just west of Santa Fe who had gone out on his front porch and shot off his gun a few times,” Brickman said. “Then he went back in his house, and a little later he did it again. They were probably locked down for about 30 minutes.”
Police didn't arrive at the officer's home until after 4 p.m., neighbors said. Citty said someone at the elementary school called at 2:45 p.m. and reported hearing shots about 1:45 p.m. and a few minutes before the call. The school official said someone was outside a house with a gun.
Officers were sent to check the area and found nothing, prompting the school to cancel the lockdown. Police weren't notified about the officer's mental health crisis until 3:45 p.m. and didn't immediately make a connection between the officer's issues and the earlier call from the school, Citty said.
“They responded as quickly as they got the information,” Citty said.
Records obtained by The Oklahoman indicate a robot sent into the house by police was damaged when it was kicked by the officer.
At the time of the incident, Nelson said it isn't necessarily a crime if someone shoots a gun inside a house unless other people are endangered. It is a crime to discharge a firearm within city limits, according to a city ordinance.
Regarding the redacted report, city attorneys cited three laws allowing them to block the information. All three of the laws cite cover medical records, but not law enforcement records.
Joey Senat, an open government expert and journalism professor at Oklahoma State University, said the city is breaking the law by not releasing the full report as required under the state's Open Records Act.
“The lack of detail is disturbing,” Senat said. “They don't want anybody to know which one of their officers did something. I think we should expect if someone is firing off a gun in a neighborhood to know what happened. The public is entitled to that.”
Sheryl and Elvis Humphrey live a couple of blocks away and have children who attend Santa Fe Elementary. They said the suggestion by police that no one was endangered by the officer's behavior is insulting to those with children at the elementary school.
“The police are acting like it's no big deal,” Sheryl Humphrey said. “He was endangering a whole school full of elementary kids. It just makes it look like they are covering this up. If this was us, our address would have been put out there. Our names would have been released.”