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PHILLIPS & ASSOCIATES Oklahoma Criminal Defense Attorneys

Man Kills Neighbor in Self Defense; Drives Body to Lawyer’s Office

March 5th, 2015

Never, ever talk to police without your attorney. It is advice that every defense lawyer and constitutional rights advocate wants everyone to know and follow. But one Florida man might have taken things a little too far when he killed a neighbor in self defense, and then drove the body to his lawyer’s office to confess to the killing.

Reports say John Marshall had contacted his attorneys days before the incident, saying that he and a neighbor were in dispute over property work, and that he feared for his safety. His lawyer advised him to file a protective order against the other man.

However, on Wednesday of this week, things took a turn for the worse. Marshall and the other man became involved in a physical altercation. Marshall says the man pulled a gun on him, but he was able to wrestle it away, firing in self defense and killing the man.

Marshall suffered a swollen lip, broken and missing teeth, and two apparently broken thumbs in the incident.

After Marshall shot the other man, he placed the body in the bed of his pickup and drove to his lawyer’s office, saying he “didn’t know who else to trust.” The attorney called 9-1-1 to report the killing.

It is good that the man can trust his attorney. It is wise to understand not to talk to police without his lawyer present. However, it is unnecessary–and unwise–to actually load the body into the truck and deliver it to the attorney’s office. Instead, the appropriate response would likely have been to call the lawyer and 9-1-1.

Marshall’s attorney calls the incident a clear-cut case of self defense and says his client is in shock. He says that the man will not be arrested, but the local sheriff’s office says it is investigating.

In Oklahoma, it is permissible to use lethal force in protecting oneself or one’s family from the threat of imminent harm. Killing an assailant in self defense is considered justifiable homicide, defined by state law in 21 O.S. § 733:

A. Homicide is also justifiable when committed by any person in any of the following cases:

1. When resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to commit any felony upon him, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is;

2. When committed in the lawful defense of such person or of another, when the person using force reasonably believes such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to terminate or prevent the commission of a forcible felony; or

3. When necessarily committed in attempting, by lawful ways and means, to apprehend any person for any felony committed; or in lawfully suppressing any riot; or in lawfully keeping and preserving the peace.

B. As used in this section, “forcible felony” means any felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any person.

In considering whether or not an act of homicide is justifiable self defense, police and prosecutors will determine whether the use of lethal force is commensurate with the violent threat. Shooting a fleeing suspect, killing to protect property rather than a person, or killing a person after the threat is neutralized would not be considered “justifiable homicide.”

Learn more about Oklahoma self defense laws.

Oklahoma Stalking Laws and Violating a Protective Order

March 2nd, 2015

An Oklahoma City woman is accused of stalking and violating a protective order filed against her by her ex-boyfriend in December. Court records show an emergency order of protection was served to Lisa Lynn Harris, 51, on December 10, and two days later, an Oklahoma County judge granted a Victim Protective Order (VPO) barring the woman from contact with the petitioner and his family until December 12, 2019.

However, Harris’s ex-boyfriend says that since the order was issued, the woman has continued to harass him and his family, sending at least 920 text messages, calling him at work, threatening him, and even leaving a Molotov cocktail in his yard.

A misdemeanor charge of stalking was filed against the woman earlier this month for acts dating back to the issuance of the VPO. However, as the acts of alleged stalking have escalated, the district attorney has dismissed the misdemeanor charge and refiled it as a felony.

Since the protective order was granted in December, the overwhelming majority of Harris’s Facebook updates involve her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend. In fact, in the last 21 hours prior to the writing of this article, the woman made no fewer than 22 posts directly referencing the man or his new girlfriend.

While some people use Facebook as the place to air their dirty laundry, it is important to remember that prosecutors can and will use a defendant’s social media posts against him or her. If a district attorney wants to make the case that you are obsessed with someone and is seeking a stalking conviction, filling your social media feed with comments about the person is not a good way to disprove the point.

State statutes define the Oklahoma stalking law in 21 O.S.§ 1173. Stalking is defined as willful, malicious, and repeated following or acts of harassment that place a person in fear of harm or that would cause a reasonable person to feel “terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested.”

In general, stalking is a misdemeanor, but if stalking occurs in violation of a protective order or the terms of probation or parole, it becomes a felony punishable by a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

A second conviction for stalking within 10 years of the first carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison.  A third conviction of stalking in general, or a second conviction of stalking in violation of a protective order carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

If you have been named in a protective order, it is imperative that you comply with the terms of the order and stay away from the petitioner(s). If a VPO is wrongfully filed against you, contact an attorney who can work to dismiss the VPO. Do not try to speak with the petitioner to explain the situation, and do not try to reason with a person who is angry enough to take out a protective order against you. This can only be construed as violation of the protective order and evidence of its need. Call a lawyer as quickly as possible.

Death Penalty Trial Begins in Bus Stop Stabbing Case

February 27th, 2015

Isaiah G. Tryon is accused of brutally stabbing to death his 19-year-old girlfriend in front of horrified onlookers at an Oklahoma City bus stop. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against the 25-year-old man, calling the 2012 murder of Tia Bloomer particularly “heinous, atrocious, or cruel.” They say Tryon is a known gang-member with a violent criminal past that includes convictions for domestic violence, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. He was also charged with shooting with intent to kill, but that charge was dismissed in return for a guilty plea to domestic assault and battery. In that case, he was accused of firing a gun at Bloomer while she held their child.

Reports say that Bloomer was trying to leave an abusive relationship with Tryon. Family  members say that, on the morning of her death, she was on her way to the courthouse to get a protective order against Tryon.

She never made it.

Tryon is accused of walking up to her at the bus station and stabbing her multiple times. One witness told reports that Tryon stabbed the young woman “15 or 20 times,” but that no one could get to her to help.

People often wonder why women stay in abusive relationships. They question a woman’s motives for staying with her abuser, arguing that a woman can leave at any time. That she does not have to stay in such a relationship.

This argument, however, is somewhat flawed. What many people fail to realize is that, for most women, leaving the abusive relationship is the most dangerous time. In fact, according to the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, women are 70 times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner in the two weeks after leaving than at any other time during the relationship.

In Oklahoma, intimate partner violence is a significant problem. According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health Injury Prevention Service, Oklahoma ranked 11th in the nation in the number of women killed by men in 2009. In the decade preceding, 442 people died as a result of intimate partner violence in Oklahoma. This included victims of domestic violence, bystanders, and perpetrators of domestic violence who killed themselves in acts of murder-suicide:

  • 326 intimate partner victims
  • 31 bystanders
  • 85 perpetrators who committed suicide

While domestic violence is committed against both women and men, the overwhelming majority of victims in fatal intimate partner violence are women. In the aforementioned report, 186 males were killed in intimate partner violence and 256 females were killed. Of those numbers, 80 men were perpetrators of homicide who then killed themselves, while only 5 women were perpetrators of murder-suicide.

There is no doubt that leaving an abusive relationship can escalate violence, and it is typically the most dangerous time for anyone who has been involved with an abusive partner. For help, contact the Oklahoma domestic violence hotline at (800) 522-7233 (SAFE). If you are in imminent danger, call 9-1-1 for emergency assistance.

Where Mental Health and Criminal Justice Collide: Part Four

February 20th, 2015

In our series “Where Mental Health and Criminal Justice Collide,” we have explored several aspects of the intersection of law enforcement and mental health issues. Part one dealt with violent altercations between police and the mentally ill. Part two discussed the often co-linked issues of mental illness and substance abuse. Part three involved the heavy burden often placed on law enforcement in dealing with a problem would be better handled by mental health professionals.

In our fourth and final article about the relationship between the mental health system and the criminal justice system, we will look at the problem if mental health issues in prison.

Image credit:

Image credit:

Before we look at the prevalence of mental illness in American prisons, let us notice how our local jails are being utilized not as facilities to incarcerate dangerous criminals pending trial, but are used to warehouse the mentally ill and those too poor to post bond.

A Vera Institute of Justice report issued earlier this month found some startling discoveries about incarceration in county and city jails. In “Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America,” researchers writes that there are approximately 731,000 people in some 3,000 jails across the country on any given day.

Up to 75 percent of those incarcerated in American jails are being held for genonviolent crimes, including traffic offenses, public order offenses (disturbing the peace, public intoxication), property crimes, and drug offenses.

Three out of five are not serving a jail sentence for conviction, but rather are in jail awaiting trial. While some of these are considered to be dangerous or flight risks and held without bond, most simply do not have the resources to bail out of jail.

A 2004 SAMHSA report entitled “Working with People with Mental Illness Involved in the Criminal Justice System” gives some statistics that provide insight into the findings of the Vera Institute:

  • Individuals exhibiting symptoms of mental disorder are more likely to be arrested than suspects who do not display symptoms of mental illness.
  • Many of those with mental illness do not have the resources or support system necessary to post bail, and because of their illnesses, they are often denied personal recognizance bond.
  • Individuals with mental illness are often charged with more serious crimes than people without mental health issues arrested for similar acts or behaviors.
  • People with mental illness spend two to five times longer in jail that those without mental illness.

In 2000, SAMHSA Director Bernard S. Arons testified that about 700,000 people with “active serious mental illness” are admitted to U.S. jails each year. He cites Bureau of Justice Statistics’ findings that 16 percent of the prison population has active serious mental illness–a rate three times greater than the general population.

Since then, rates of incarceration have increased dramatically. A 2007 report by the Council of State Governments Justice Center estimated that more than 2 million bookings of people with serious mental illness occur every year.

So what can be done about this? How do we keep those with mental illness from being warehoused in correctional facilities and instead provide them with mental health treatment that allows them to remain in the community, becoming active and productive members of society?

SAMHSA suggests pre-booking jail diversion programs, which allow mental health assessment prior to booking a person into jail. This could prevent a person with mental illness from being jailed in the first place, and could allow appropriate mental health treatment.

Most mental health diversion programs are post-booking, in which a person is already arrested and jailed for a crime. They have already become a part of the criminal justice system, which may not be appropriate. Mental health treatment at this point is often court-ordered, which can cause a person to feel as if treatment is punishment, rather than an opportunity for help.

Until significant changes are made in mental health care funding, law enforcement training, and criminal justice provisions for those with mental illness charged or convicted of crimes, families of those with mental illness must have an understanding of the criminal justice system. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides resources and insight for Dealing with the Criminal Justice System.

It is important to find a defense attorney who understands the role mental health issues may have played in an “offense,” and who can work for treatment over punishment in conviction or deferred sentencing.

Where Mental Health and Criminal Justice Collide: Part Three

February 16th, 2015

In part one of our series about the intersection of criminal justice and mental health, we looked at violent, often deadly altercations between police and the mentally ill.

Part two considered the connection between mental illness and substance abuse and how statistically unlikely it is for a person with a dual-disorder to get help for either the mental health issue or the substance abuse issue, and how much less likely it is to receive treatment for both. We examined how the dual nature of mental illness and substance abuse may lead to the high incarceration rates for non-violent drug crimes in Oklahoma.

In this segment, we will look at some of the costs associated with relying on police to fill in the gaps for those with mental health issues who cannot or do not receive the treatment they need.

Image Credit: Quinn Hue via

Image Credit: Quinn Hue via

Often, law enforcement is called to assist a situation involving a mentally ill person after a family has exhausted all other resources, or if a person who is unable to get the help he or she needs begins to exhibit behavior that is dangerous to either himself or others. Law enforcement was never intended to be given the task of assessing or evaluating those with mental illness, and jails and prisons are penal institutions, designed to punish those convicted of crimes, not offer rehabilitation and treatment to those whose “crimes” result from untreated mental illness.

According to a USA Today series, “The Cost of Not Caring,” utilizing law enforcement as de facto mental health professionals not only does a disservice to those with mental illness, but it also diverts resources from the public safety roles these officers are intended to hold.

The series cites Chicago’s Cook County Sheriff as saying that 30% of the 12,000 inmates in the Cook County Jail have some degree of mental illness. One of those inmates, he describes as a “‘chronic self-mutilator’ who has been arrested more than 100 times, ringing up more than $1 million in repeated arrest- and detention-related costs.”

Locally, the issue plays out in the requirement of law enforcement officers to transport mentally ill patients across the state in search of beds at facilities equipped to handle them. “The Cost of Not Caring” cites an Oklahoma law that requires police to transport mentally ill patients to mental health treatment facilities around the state–a transportation requirement whose costs include significant man-hours and funds:

“In 2013, Oklahoma police agencies traveled nearly 1 million miles with mentally ill patients, according to records maintained by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

The state reimbursed the agencies $519,333 for the mileage, but Lewis and other officials said other related costs, including tens of thousands of dollars in necessary overtime and the loss of police coverage from neighborhoods, are difficult to reconcile.”

Major Tracie Lewis, transportation manager for the Tulsa Police Department, told USA Today, “It is simply overwhelming. Police should not be involved in this process at all, but nobody else can or wants to do it.” Lewis said that while the state reimbursed police agencies $519,333 for nearly one million miles traveled transporting mentally ill individuals in 2013, the mileage reimbursement does not offset other expenses associated with the transportation, “including tens of thousands of dollars in necessary overtime and the loss of police coverage from neighborhoods.”

Aside from the financial toll for police departments transporting people to mental health facilities is the emotional toll on individuals already suffering from various degrees of mental duress. Oklahoma Department of Mental Health Commissioner Terri White says, “They are put in handcuffs and transported hundreds of miles at a time. It is unconscionable; no other disease gets transported this way.”

Handcuffs are used to prevent the transported people from harming themselves or police officers en route to a facility or from attempting to jump from the police vehicle. However, no one seems to be willing to foot the bill to transport individuals via ambulance or other appropriate medical transport. But saving the money by saddling police departments with the job comes at a high cost to the departments, the general public, and those suffering from mental illness.

Institutionalization of those with mental illness is not always the appropriate response; often, it is the worst response. However, in seeking to de-institutionalize the mentally ill, the government closed state mental health facilities without providing mental health resources that could adequately address the needs of each community. Now, rather than institutionalization in mental health facilities, many of those battling mental health issues are instead warehoused in jails and prisons across the nation.

In our fourth and final segment of this series, we will look at the problem of mental illness in the nation’s prisons.

Where Mental Health and Criminal Justice Collide: Part Two

February 12th, 2015

In part one of our series on mental health and criminal justice, we looked at violent altercations between police and the mentally ill. While these instances are dramatic, they do not tell the whole story about the treatment of those with mental health issues in the criminal justice system. In fact, a large portion of the prison population dealing with mental health issues in not comprised of violent offenders, but rather nonviolent drug offenders.

The Sentencing Project reports that half of Oklahoma’s prison inmates are incarcerated for nonviolent property crimes and drug crimes. The state’s prison population has a higher proportion of inmates incarcerated for drug offenses than the national average, with 27 percent of the state’s inmates behind bars for drug crimes.

Image Credit: Erin via

Image Credit: Erin via

What does that have to do with mental health? Let’s look at some statistics related to mental health and substance abuse:

  • The National Bureau of Economic Research finds that those who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder at some point in their lives are responsible for 84 percent of cocaine use.
  • The United States Department of Health and Human Services reports that more than 1 in 4 adults with serious mental health issues also has substance abuse problems.
  • The Coalition Against Drug Abuse says that 8.9 million people in the United States have both a substance abuse problem and mental health disorder.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says that, of these nearly 9 million people with both a mental health issue and a substance abuse problem (dual-disorder), 55.8 percent receive no treatment for either issue. Only 7.4 percent receive treatment for both conditions.

There are approximately 27,134 inmates in Oklahoma prisons. If 27 percent of those are in for drug crimes, that means more than 7,300 people are in prison for drug offenses. If more than 25 percent of those with mental health disorders have substance abuse problems, it could mean that nearly 2,000 people in Oklahoma prisons are behind bars because they could not get the mental health treatment they needed, and are instead “self-medicating” with illegal drugs or illegally obtained prescription drugs.

There are no easy answers in balancing criminal justice and mental health care, but the statistics are startling. We like to think we are long past the “bedlam” days when our mentally ill were chained in asylums, but in fact, we are still punishing those with mental health disorders.

In our next article, we will be looking at some more research regarding the mentally ill and their involvement in the criminal justice system.

Where Mental Health and Criminal Justice Collide: Part One

February 10th, 2015
Image Credit: Victor via

Image Credit: Victor via

The struggle between caring for those with mental health issues and preserving law and order can often leave families and law enforcement treading a fine line. While this difficult dilemma has long been an issue for those involved in the mental health care, criminal justice, and law enforcement fields, it wasn’t until 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, walked into a Connecticut elementary school and killed 20 schoolchildren and 6 adult school employees that the greater public became aware of just how difficult it can be for family members to get appropriate mental health care for their loved ones–and just how deadly the consequences may be.

But the stakes are high not only for innocent bystanders, but also for those who suffer from mental health issues and who are crying out for help.

Last month, a 17-year-old girl walked into a police station armed with a knife in her pocket and the words, “I have a gun,” written on her hand. The resulting altercation ended when police shot and killed the teenager.

The girl’s aunt called her niece’s actions a cry for help. She said the girl had been diagnosed with both depression and bipolar disorder and was seeking treatment and taking medication for her illnesses. She questions why grown men–law enforcement officers–were unable to de-escalate the situation without resulting to lethal force.

A Yahoo! News story calls the death of Kristiana Coignard “as tragic as it is tragically unexceptional.”

A year ago, police were called to help with an 18-year-old teen diagnosed with depression and schizophrenia. Keith Vidal was holding a screwdriver and refused to put it down. His family says he never threatened anyone with it, but because of his mental health issues, they were afraid he might harm himself. Vidal’s family says that the first officer to arrive on the scene had dealt with Keith before, and was patient and calm in speaking with the teen. Then a sheriff’s deputy showed up, and the teen’s family said she also was patient with their son. As the first two law enforcement officers spoke with the boy, he began to calm down. However, a third officer showed up and tased the 90-pound teen when he refused to drop the screwdriver. Family members say that two officers and the boy’s mother were holding the tased teen on the ground when the third officer walked up, said, “We don’t have time for this,” and fatally shot the teen.

And right here in Oklahoma, police were called to help with Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, an 18-year-old who had been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder and other mental health issues. The teen went into a rage and became destructive when he thought his girlfriend was breaking up with him. Custer County Sheriff’s deputies entered the home, shooting and killing Goodblanket. Family members say deputies were in the home for mere seconds before Goodblanket was shot and killed. They say deputies didn’t even attempt to reason with the teen before killing him.

Clearly, law enforcement officers put their lives on the line when dealing with violent people, including those with mental health issues who have become enraged or unreasonable. Still, in some situations law enforcement seems too quick to react with lethal force. Clearly, there is a need for sufficient  mental health resources in order to reduce the frequency of police encounters with mentally ill people, and there is a need for adequate training to allow law enforcement to interact appropriately with the mentally ill.

These violent episodes highlight the rift between mental health care and law enforcement, but the need goes far beyond police encounters. Every day, the clash between mental health and criminal justice plays out in courtrooms and jails across the nation.

In our next article in this series, we’ll look at the link between mental health and substance abuse to see the implications for criminal justice in Oklahoma.

OBN Suspends Registration for OKC Doctor Accused of Overprescribing

February 5th, 2015

Late last month, agents with the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office served a search warrant at the office of Dr. Harvey Jenkins of Aria Orthopedics in Oklahoma City. Attorney General Scott Pruitt called Dr. Jenkins’s business practices “questionable” and accused the physician of prescribing narcotic painkillers without valid medical cause:

“Our office has evidence that shows Jenkins may be using his position as a physician to operate as a ‘pill mill.’ The fact Jenkins abused his title and position as doctor for his own benefit is troubling and undermines those doctors who work each day to protect the health and safety of Oklahomans.”

Dr. Jenkins denies the allegations and issued a statement saying he was surprised by the accusations against him, saying his primary concern is for his patients who suffer from chronic, debilitating pain, and who will have difficulty in getting their prescriptions filled while his clinic is closed for the investigation.

Although the physician denies any wrongdoing and he has not been criminally charged, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (OBN) has indefinitely suspended his ability to prescribe drugs.

The OBN filed an Imminent Danger Order yesterday, which suspends the doctor’s OBN registration number, effectively removing his ability to legally prescribe drugs.

OBN spokesman Mark Woodward said the agency made its decision based on “evidence [that] shows there is an imminent danger to his patients and the public if he were allowed to continue prescribing.” He continued, “In other words, it is an immediate action rather than waiting until a hearing at some future date to suspend his license to prescribe.”

Jenkins defends his practice, saying that the physicians who prescribe narcotic painkillers are closely scrutinized by the OBN. The Attorney General’s Office, however, says the doctor is one of the state’s top prescribers of prescription painkillers including oxycodone and hydrocodone.

They further say their investigation revealed significant violations of the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act and anti-drug diversion policies, including pre-signed prescriptions and “more than seven-hundred loose pills that were unsecured and accessible to the public.”

The OBN says that Dr. Jenkins has been under investigation since 2012, and disciplinary measures against the doctor date back to 2011, including allegations of prescribing medication to himself, Medicare fraud, controlled substances violations, and allowing unlicensed practitioners to practice on patients without his presence.

The allegations against Jenkins are reminiscent of those against Dr. William Valuck, who was called “the number one prescriber in the state” by a DEA agent who testified as a witness at his murder trial.

Valuck pleaded guilty to eight counts of second degree murder stemming from the overdose deaths of several of his patients. He accepted the plea deal in exchange for the dismissal of several drug charges against him.

The 71-year-old doctor was sentenced to 8 years in prison.

Infographic: Biggest Drug Busts in History

February 3rd, 2015

Late last month, Canadian County Sheriff’s deputies noticed a “suspicious” Chrysler Pacifica on a vehicle transport trailer at a TA Travel Center along I-40 near Mustang Road in El Reno. When they asked the trailer driver for permission to search the vehicles, they discovered 77 pounds of cocaine in the suspicious vehicle, with a value of nearly $5 million.

Undersheriff Chris West told reporters that the drugs were not just passing through the state, but were intended for Oklahoma City. He called the discovery the “largest seizure of cocaine in the metro area in recent years, if not ever.”

A $5 million drug bust near Oklahoma City is pretty significant. However, it is small potatoes when compared to the largest drug busts in history. Our infographic shows how the top drug busts are not just a few million dollars, but include literally tons of drugs valued at billions.

Drug Busts InfographicThe United States government spends more than $50 billion dollars in the “war on drugs”–a number which seems almost unfathomable. Even more unfathomable, however is the amount of illicit drugs being trafficked through the nation.

Look at the second largest drug bust. In 1989, a drug bust near Los Angeles seized $13 million worth of cocaine owned by cartel boss Raphael Munoz. The 21 tons of cocaine discovered in the raid was enough to provide every single American with 5 lines of coke.

Some of the largest drug busts in history took place in other countries: Mexico and Columbia, obviously, but also Afghanistan. In fact, drugs trafficked from the Middle East are often used to fund the Taliban and terrorist groups. In 2008, $350 million worth of hashish–some 260 tons–was destroyed by airstrike in Afghanistan.

Last year, Afghanistan had a record year for opium production. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), “the total area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan was estimated at 224,000 hectares in 2014, a 7% increase from the previous year.” Furthermore, the average opium yield was 9% greater than in 2014. UNODC’s  World Drug Report 2014 reports that Afghanistan has the world’s largest opium poppy cultivation, accounting for 80 percent of the global opium production.

While $5 million in cocaine is nothing to sneeze at, it certainly pales in comparison to the quantity of drugs being trafficked throughout the nation and around the globe.

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PHILLIPS & ASSOCIATES Oklahoma Criminal Defense Attorneys