Tahlequah Daily Press

February 19, 2014

SWAT training front and center for local police

By JOSH NEWTON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Former Tahlequah police officer Jonathan Wells found himself on the other side of the law Tuesday morning – at least for a few hours – when area SWAT team members trained at the Indian Capital Technology Center.

Wells has been building a curriculum for ICTC’s new criminal justice program, scheduled to debut next fall for high school juniors and seniors.

Tuesday, he took a break from book work when members of Tahlequah Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactics team, along with a few members of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, staged a negotiation scenario on ICTC’s local campus.

“One of the things we really want and are working toward is some really good partnerships with local agencies,” said Wells. “We’ll be bringing in administrators from other agencies to speak, and I think this will be beneficial to the class and useful for agencies.”

Wells opted to portray a disturbed suspect, donning a foam sword and an electronic AirSoft assault rifle after barricading himself into a vacant house on ICTC’s campus. The same house will be used in the future when ICTC students and area police departments need a place to train.

“We’ll be able to get a lot of use out of this house,” Wells said as he waited for the scenario to kick off.

When authorities arrived outside, Cherokee County Undersheriff Jason Chennault, a participant in the mock scenario, took a microphone and encouraged the “suspect” to come out and talk.

Wells, playing the suspect, refused officers’ requests and threatened to harm the hostages he initially claimed to have.

During the scenario, Wells spoke by phone with negotiators Cory Keele and Thomas Donnell, whose skills were put to the test by Wells’ acting. Negotiators pushed Wells to reveal information about himself, the situation inside the house, and the details of what led to the officers’ response.

After a few hours of negotiations, SWAT team members were given the command to enter the home and arrest their suspect. Officers approached, split into two teams and entered the building.

Wells later surrendered, and participants discussed how to improve their response during real-life scenarios.

According to Wells, ICTC’s criminal justice program is in the final stages of enrollment for next fall. The two-year program will “touch on a little bit of everything.”

Wells said participants could eventually feed into another school, or even seek an unarmed security license.

“We will help make students marketable to work as a corrections officer,” said Wells.

As part of the criminal justice program, ICTC is allowing local agencies to take advantage of the campus facilities and the high-tech equipment they’ve ordered, including a shooting simulator. Local agencies will give back to the program by providing guest speakers and other needs.

TPD recently donated a surplus cruiser to the program.

jnewton@tahlequahdailypress.com