Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton personally ejected a medical marijuana advocate from the Claremore Conference Center early Monday evening during a State Question 788 forum.
In the back of a large conference room, Walton grabbed Owasso resident Chip Paul by the nape of his neck and escorted the Oklahomans For Health chairman out of the building, pushing him through two sets of doors and up against a wall before telling him to “get in your car and go.”
“I did nothing wrong,” Paul said in a phone interview Monday night. “I was physically assaulted, and that’s what happened. I feel violated.”
Reached Tuesday morning, Walton also said he did nothing wrong, noting that his department co-hosted the event with Light of Hope, a Catoosa non-profit focused on addiction recovery. Walton said it was the second such forum the groups had hosted opposed to SQ 788, and he said Monday night’s meeting featured what he believed to be “an organized effort by the ‘Vote Yes’ people to be disruptive in the whole deal.”
“We announced more than once that there would be time for discussion at the end of it, but that had to be re-announced a couple times,” Walton said. “(We asked that they) please be respectful of those making the presentation, and certainly that was ignored. They would raise their hands, try to interrupt, try to turn it into a debate.”
Paul: ‘He grabbed me by the throat’
Paul said he and his wife, Cynthia, arrived at the forum after it had already begun, sitting in the back of the sizable crowd.
“Immediately when we sat in the back of the room, we had two sheriff’s deputies behind us. I did shake one of the young sheriff’s deputies hands. I thanked him for being there,” Paul said. “I raised my hand several times during the presentation by [Dr. Mark Paul Bishop.]”
Bishop — seen preaching “the power of belief” in this 2011 video — is a Claremore family physician who operates Focused Faith Heals, a “Christ-centered Word Based 7-Step Mind Renewal Program Integrating the Foundational Truths of Word based Faith and Belief with the Sciences of Life and Medicine for Personal Recovery, Healing and Transformation.”
Monday, Paul said he was frustrated by statements Bishop was making about the endocannabinoid system, which Paul said he spends a great deal of time researching.
“So I had my hand up. I leaned to my right, and a sheriff’s deputy was behind me, and I said, ‘Oh, this is very frustrating.’ Immediately, behind me to the left, I had someone in my face, and it was the Rogers County sheriff,” Paul said. “I don’t even know his name. Whatever the fuck his name is. I apologize, but whatever his name is. And he was in my face, and he said, ‘If you have something to say, you can get out.’ And I said, ‘OK, I’ll be quiet.’ He grabbed me by the throat, he kicked my chair out from under me. My wife began to video at that point. He and another sheriff deputy escorted me physically out of the premises.”
Two videos posted by other forum attendees appear to support Paul’s claim that he was not vocally disruptive, although they do not capture his interactions prior to the video taken by Cynthia Paul, which is embedded above.
“Oh man, you banged my head,” Paul can be heard saying in that video as he is pushed through the first set of doors.
Walton: ‘I put my hand on one side of his head’
Walton confirmed Tuesday that Paul “didn’t stand up or scream or anything,” but the sheriff did say Paul was being disruptive and non-responsive when confronted.
“This guy, Chip somebody, several times he laughs, makes comments when one of the people who were talking made a point. And he motions for one of the deputies there that was standing right behind him. I was over there 10 or 12 feet away, I couldn’t hear,” Walton said. “I don’t know what he even said to Deputy Bill Helton. It wasn’t argumentative or violent or anything, and Bill acknowledged it and made a motion kind of like, ‘turn around and be quiet.’ That’s the only reason I went over there to where he was at to see what the conversation was about.”
Walton said he told Paul to “turn around and be quiet” but that Paul “looked at me kind of weird and turned around, continued to talk, laughed a little bit.”
“I said, ‘Hey, I need to talk to you,’ and motioned for him to come this way. He looked at me weird and didn’t make any replies. I said, ‘We need to visit.’ And my intention was not to kick him out the door or anything else. It was to walk down the hallway and say, ‘Look, all I’m asking is for you to be respectful of the people who were talking,'” Walton said. “At that point we’re talking, the chair is turned around (…) He ignores me or whatever. I turned his chair like a quarter turn to where his back wasn’t to me, and I said, ‘We’re going to talk.’ He puts his hands in his lap, which is just passive resistance. There’s nothing there to get ahold of. I didn’t want to make a scene. I knew I was being recorded when I walked into the building. If anybody thinks this was an opportunity for Walton to thump on somebody, that’s absurd.”
Walton said he performed “a little compliance deal” on Paul.
“I put my hand on one side of his head. It’s not a big deal at all, and he stood up. We’re walking out. It comes to the door part. Once again, I know I’m being recorded by everybody who is not a fan of law enforcement there that night. And he makes this little balk. I’ve got no intentions of slamming his head through a door or causing him any pain or anything else. He makes the balk, his left hand is free, Walton said. “We go through the door. I don’t know how that looked. I looked at the video. When you’re there and hands-on, it looks a little different.
“I’m certainly not regretful for anything that I did in an effort to take control of a meeting that had an organized effort to be disruptive.”
Paul expressed disbelief that Walton would treat him that way in a public setting during a democratic discussion.
“I’m a Claremore Chamber member. I have as much right to that building as that fella has. He has no right to put his hands physically on me,” Paul said, his voice cracking with emotion. “I’m a 57-year-old nerdy scientist, and I’m not a politician. I’m just trying to help people. I’m a Republican. I’m the first person to support law enforcement. This is the first time in my life that I’ve had someone physically lay hands on me. Ever. I can’t tell you what that feels like.”
The confrontation between Paul and Walton came basically one week before Oklahomans will vote whether to pass State Question 788 and legalize medical marijuana. Opponents of the state question — such as Walton — say its language is too broad to be considered “medical” marijuana, though Walton emphasized a list of other concerns Tuesday.
“I think it’s the largest quality of life state question that we’ll have to vote on in my lifetime. I’ve studied what it’s done to the state of Colorado,” he said, adding that traffic fatalities, pedestrian fatalities and increased use of marijuana by children could all be problematic. “It just starts a whole other option that people have to destroy their life. We’ve got a problem right now with weed, especially the Colorado weed that is genetically engineered knock-you-on-your-butt weed.”
Paul, who was integral in getting the question on the ballot but is currently less associated with other advocates seeking its passage, said Walton’s actions Monday night were “desperate.”
“It shows how desperate they are and just how extreme that they are,” Paul said. “What kind of idiocy is that for a sheriff?”
Bud Scott, executive director of New Health Solutions of Oklahoma, said Tuesday morning that the altercation in Claremore was unnecessary.
“Throughout this effort, the Yes On 788 campaign and New Health Solutions Oklahoma have been committed to an honest and civil discussion of the issues,” Scott said. “Ultimately, SQ 788 is about community and providing relief to our friends and neighbors in need, so we encourage all sides involved to remain civil and recognize that we’re all in this together.
“That being said, there is no place for excessive use of force.”
Frank Grove, chairman of the Vote Yes On 788 political action committee, said Monday evening that he intentionally did not attend the Rogers County forum.
“I just thought it was a honeypot to pull out cannabis activists to try to rile them up and do something because I know that Sheriff is, let’s just say, a contrarian,” Grove said. “I definitely do not agree with the police force physically removing someone that readily.”