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Law enforcement voices concern over self defense bill

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma law enforcement officials are voicing concern over legislation they say could impede their ability to investigate deadly shootings in which the shooter claims he acted in self-defense.

Officials at the Oklahoma Chiefs of Police Association, the state District Attorneys Council and the Department of Public Safety say the measure, which was passed in the House and is pending in the Senate, needs more work before it becomes law.

``While it's a well-intentioned law, I think it can be abused,'' said Richard Smothermon, district attorney for Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties and vice chairman of the DA's council.

Officials said the immunity against prosecution the law grants to gun owners who use deadly force might be invoked by gang members who claim they acted in self-defense after killing members of a rival gang.

``It causes law enforcement some concern,'' Smothermon said.

The measure, entitled ``Stand Your Ground,'' is similar to a law in Florida that provides greater legal protections to people who shoot or use other deadly force when threatened or attacked.

The measure clarifies existing law on self-defense and expands the right to protect yourself against attack in your own home to other places, including someone else's home, a vehicle or a street corner.

Supported by the National Rifle Association, the measure is opposed by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington.

Jim Cox, executive director of Oklahoma Chiefs of Police Association, said the group's board of directors is concerned the bill's self-defense language could place in jeopardy police officers engaged in the lawful performance of their duties.

``It needs to be very clear that there is an exception for law enforcement,'' Cox said.

In 1999, Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper David ``Rocky'' Eales was shot to death in an unmarked vehicle that led a caravan of police cars to a rural Sequoyah County home to serve a ``no-knock'' search warrant for drugs.

The homeowner, Kenneth Eugene Barrett, said he did not know he was shooting at police. Defense attorneys argued Barrett was defending his home from unknown attackers whom he could not see in the dark of night.

``We don't want this to lend itself to the furtherance of that kind of confusion,'' Cox said of the self-defense measure.

At his 2002 state murder trial, Barrett's jury deadlocked on a murder charge that could carry the death penalty. In a subsequent state trial in 2004, Barrett was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Last year, a federal jury convicted Barrett of intentionally killing a law enforcement officer engaged in his duty and sentenced him to death.

Law enforcement authorities also said the bill will prevent investigators from arresting, detaining and prosecuting someone who uses deadly force unless they find there is probable cause that the force used was unlawful.

``Obviously, we can't investigate adequately if we can't detain people to investigate,'' Cox said. ``We can't determine whether it was lawfully done if we don't have the capability to detain him.''

``You've had a shooting. You need to detain people for safety reasons basically,'' said Van Guillotte, legislative liaison for DPS.

The bill's author, Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Del City, said he will work with law enforcement on the bill.

``No one has ever raised concern about anything like that,'' said Calvey, a candidate for Congress.
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