Nick Chute

Cherokee County Sheriff’s Deputy Nick Chute holds up his AR-15. The assault rifle isn’t fully-automatic, meaning he’d have to pull the trigger each time he shot it.

More people are calling for more restrictions and police reform after several separate deadly encounters between Black men and White police officers.

Breonna Taylor was a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Department officers on March 13. Taylor, an unarmed Black woman, was asleep in her apartment when LMPD officers knocked down her door. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said he thought the officers were intruders and fired in self-defense.

Incidents involving Black men and White police officers seem to be the norm in some parts of the country, and calls for defunding and reforming the police are escalating.

On Sept. 12, a gunman shot two sheriff’s deputies sitting in a patrol car in Compton, California. The 31-year-old mother and her 24-year-old partner managed to take cover behind a pillar and call for help.

Cherokee County Sheriff Jason Chennault said he supports the use of Tasers and military weapons in a time when law enforcement officers are being targeted due to current events.

“Each of our deputies is issued an assault rifle, and they are not fully automatic, so you have to pull the trigger each time you shoot a bullet,” said Chennault. “They’re all trained with them and they have to be certified with them before we issue them.”

Chennault said the AR-15 is another tool, and deputies have the choice of drawing their pistol, or the rifle.

“We have helmets and military grade bullet-resistant vests, and that’s being prepared in case something were to happen. It’s not something we use every day,” Chennault said.

Deputies are required to be trained annually with the assault rifle.

“We’re required to requalify once a year, and we try to train more often than just that one time. We have have our own firing range they can use anytime they want,” Chennault said.

During a Sept. 5 TDP Saturday Forum on Facebook, readers were asked if reform is needed in police departments, and whether “private militias” should be interfering with police operations, or if officers are capable of handling volatile situations themselves.

Ryan Cannonie said private militias shouldn’t be tolerated.

“I believe most officers are doing this for the right reasons,” Cannonie said. “That said, every little town doesn’t need military hardware and officers need more accountability.”

While Cannonie said Tahlequah does have more transparency than agencies in other areas around the country, he would like to see more officers involved downtown, as opposed to driving around all day in their patrol vehicles.

“The bike program was a good start, but one solution to the national problem is to give officers ownership in the communities, and help communities have connections with their law enforcement,” he said.

Susan Feller believes reform is needed and that officers who are racist need to be removed from the force.

“I believe racist cops are in the minority, but they are hurting the mission of law enforcement to protect and serve,” Feller said. “The militarization of law enforcement has made some think the public — especially those of color — are enemy combatants.”

Chennault said the death of George Floyd, who was killed after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, is a legitimate cause for outrage.

“[Chauvin’s] actions went against what I know to be a police officer’s training, and I know that is something the CCSO does not condone,” Chennault said. “I do have a hard time wanting to retrain every single officer in the U.S. because of what he did. I’m sure there is reform that’s needed, but no one has explained to me what that reform is.”

As for private militias, Chennault said he’s never been in a situation where that “help” has been offered or sought by authorities.

“I could see where they may be overwhelmed and they just allowed the guys to help. I doubt it was a scenario where they called on them to help,” he said. “I don’t know of any situations here that we have had to ask for a group to come in and help us, outside of law enforcement officers.”

Thunderbird Wilson believes the “so-called militias” are unregulated and have individuals who hold personal bias. Wilson said a well-regulated militia would be recognized by the state, just as the National Guard is, and wouldn’t be used to suppress state citizens' rights.

“Only way to know if a militia is up to constitutionally required par is when a state is being subverted, or under any threat by the federal government, under any administration,” Wilson said.

For the year 2020, the sheriff's office has logged eight Taser usages by seven different deputies, and one deputy deployed a Taser twice.

“It broke down to two Native American men, five White men, and one dog. Of those Tased, six were felony arrests, one occurred when we were assisting the Tahlequah Police Department, and one was a misdemeanor arrest," Chennault said.

What you said

The Daily Press asked readers on its website if area law enforcement offices should be reformed so that lethal force — like guns or chokeholds — are only used as last resorts, or not at all. Fifty-eight percent of respondents "strongly agreed" that reform is needed. Twenty-five percent "strongly disagreed" that reform is needed. Another 14 percent "somewhat agreed" reform is needed, and 2 percent "somewhat agreed" that reform is needed.

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