Officials to speak with city councilor who breached protocol on bookstore complaint

Tuesday, October 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- A Tulsa city councilor did not follow the chain of command when he took a complaint about bookstores having what he called sexually explicit books accessible to children directly to police detectives, officials said Monday.

Mayor Susan Savage and Police Chief Ron Palmer said they believe Councilor Todd Huston, who is relatively new, was trying to respond to his constituents and may not have been aware of the protocol.

Responding to questions from Huston, police detectives went to bookstores about three weeks ago and made "suggestions" to store managers to shrink-wrap and move certain books, described as sexual how-to and gay and lesbian titles. At least one store was asked to place such books on higher shelves.

The city charter restricts city councilors from directing city employees to perform actions. Huston has said that he did not direct the officers to take the actions they did, but he did ask questions about the law. He also met police at a Borders bookstore for one search.

"It would be certainly not be the norm," Palmer said. "We would prefer the councilor go through a department head or the mayor. We deal with citizen complaints all the time, but normally we would get the requests from the council office, or staff or directed to me.

Palmer said the officers and the councilor should be advised about going through the proper channels.

Savage said the charter provision was intended to create order in the way that complaints and issues are handled.

"I always start from premise that the councilor is trying to solve a problem or get some information," Savage said. "But there is a potential for it to be disruptive. It can be intimidating to have an elective official call an employee."

Savage said she knew that Huston was trying to be constructive by handling the complaint, but said she will talk to him and suggest ways to get results by going through her office or Palmer's office.

"In the larger sense, the real issue is that bookstores want to do the right thing, too," Savage said. "What becomes offensive to some people who complain to police may not be to others, and we need to look into how we deal with that gray area."

The gray area is the community's varied expectation of what responsibility police have regarding sexually explicit or pornographic materials, Savage and Palmer said.

"There is this continuing community debate, and it is very fluid, about what constituents find to be acceptable materials and how they should be accessible to people in bookstores," Savage said.

Palmer said officers would go back to some of the bookstores within the next few weeks, this time with Tulsa County prosecutors who can better define what actions can and cannot be taken.

The question now, Palmer said, is whether community standards as defined by federal law have changed with the verdict of a trial two years ago.

Tulsa police arrested two store clerks for selling the November 1998 issue of Penthouse magazine, which showed pictures of sexual penetration. The issue was pulled from store shelves. One clerk was acquitted of selling and delivering obscene material. After that verdict, the case against the second clerk was dropped.

The arrests were based on a state statute that defines "obscene material" as any representation, depiction or description of sexual conduct in any form, including pictures, video or computer disks.

Police gave the bookstore managers a copy of the state statute which governs the display and sale of materials and performances that are considered harmful to minors.

"We are certainly concerned in the way state statute is written regarding access to minors. With some of these books in these bookstores, they are probably violating the letter of the law,"

Palmer said.

"We also found with the Penthouse magazine case that we did not obtain prosecution on these cases."