By Mindy Ragan Wood
OKARCHE – A letter sent to town officials regarding a high-speed chase that left a man dead calls into question the Okarche Police Department’s response to the incident.
Yukon Progress obtained the letter last week and it is signed by Kingfisher County Sherriff Dennis Banther. It details apparent gross negligence by the Okarche police department and its reported failure to adhere to professional response standards.
The incident in question occurred in October when 24-year-old Alexander Lindahl led Canadian County sheriff’s deputies on a chase through Okarche. Lindahl had a 9mm handgun and was shot dead after brandishing the weapon and turning it on himself. The scene was in Kingfisher County, but in Okarche city limits.
Banther’s letter states that at the time of the chase school children were walking toward Main Street when the suspect was entering Okarche.
“Officers were informed that the suspect was potentially armed with a 9mm handgun,” the letter reads. “With this information, schools should have been placed on lockdown as well as the Center of Family Love. At the time of the pursuit Okarche Public Schools had students walking towards Main Street for lunch and Holy Trinity School had students on the playground. This could have been a deadly situation by either hitting a child, or if the suspect had opened fire by hitting a child with a bullet.”
Banther took exception to various procedures that were not followed which, he wrote, left the city open to a lawsuit. After sheriff’s deputies shot out the man’s tires and he was shot, Okarche police did not attempt to perform first aid.
“Failure to do so can result in a lawsuit to your department. Neither the Okarche Chief nor officer on scene approached the suspect or offered first aid. The chief remained at his vehicle preferring to text on his phone instead.”
Banther wrote that Okarche Police Chief Forrest Smith attempted to shut down a US Highway, even though only the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation are the only agencies with that authority. The letter also claims Smith re-routed traffic east and west on county roads.
“As you may recall, we received several inches of rain prior to this incident and more rain a few hours after it as well. This led to vehicles not only destroying the county roads, but vehicles sliding off into the ditches and requiring wrecker services to pull them out. This includes tractor trailers,” the letter reads.
The sheriff was running a “skeleton crew” due to the holiday and requested that Smith provide an officer to take calls. Okarche officer Holguin offered to help before signing off and heading back to town. Thirty minutes later, when Banther requested that assistance, he was told no one was available. Banther contacted Town Administrator Richard Raupe.
“Mr. Raupe responded that both Smith and Cruz are working traffic as well as two public work employees trying to keep people away from the south. I was aware of Chief Smith being at the intersection of 81 and Memorial Rd as I saw him sitting in his patrol vehicle behind Grant Kuehn. Mr. Kuehn was actually standing in the rain directing traffic while Chief Smith sat dry in his vehicle. From my vantage point, I did not see any other vehicles from Okarche. They may have been farther north, but I am unaware. Mr. Raupe suggested we contact Sheriff West with Canadian County and have him provide the traffic control since this was his scene. However, the scene is in Kingfisher County, Okarche limits,” the letter reads.
Banther accused Smith of failing to take control at the scene and failing to request an OBSI investigation. Banther contacted OSBI and eventually was forced to take control of the scene around 9 p.m., “long after many curse words were shouted at my staff (by citizens), I had deputies take control of the scene and contact OHP and ODOT to start the re-routing of traffic through the proper channels.”
Kingfisher County sheriff’s deputies also corrected the traffic issue, the letter reads.
“Shortly after 9 pm, and approximately 30-45 minutes later we had signage and the route set up to use from the Okarche stoplight west to Krittenbrink Blacktop, then north to Park Community Road, then east back to Highway 81. This allowed for all paved roads and the shortest detour possible without the worry of getting vehicles stuck.”
Town officials admitted to receiving the letter, but Ward 3 board member Linda Miller and Ward 2’s Jeff Sadler said they had no comment. Mayor Mike Mendel said he had no issues with the concerns raised by Banther.
“After speaking with him, the chief,” Mendel said, “From what he told me he did and what happened, I was satisfied with that.”
Raupe said he submitted the letter for review to the city’s insurance provider, Oklahoma Municipal Assurance Group, and said they had “no problems with it.”
OMAG Claims Director Matt Love said he did not recall having a conversation with Raupe or Bryce but did confirm he saw the letter.
“I’d be shocked if we didn’t have a conversation,” Love said. “It would have been a phone call and not an email. If I had had issues with it, I’m pretty good about sending those in writing. I don’t see an email to (Town Attorney) Bryce (Kennedy) here so if I had had a concern, I would have emailed it to him. I can’t tell you what we specifically talked about because I don’t have a note about it here. I talk to Bryce every week or every other week so I would be shocked if we didn’t go over this.”