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Rep. Mauree Turner censure
Rep. Mauree Turner (D-OKC) speaks with Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville) on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. (Michael Duncan)

The Oklahoma House of Representatives today censured Rep. Mauree Turner (D-OKC), saying Turner impeded a law enforcement investigation into an alleged assault on a fellow member and a state trooper that took place last week at the State Capitol.

Turner was censured for harboring a fugitive wanted for questioning in connection with the alleged assault inside of their House office and rejecting multiple requests by law enforcement to question the individual.

The censure, which serves as a formal reprimand, included Turner being removed from all House committees. Turner had been on the House Criminal Justice and Correction Committee as well as the chamber’s Rules Committee and two appropriations subcommittees.

House Democrats said Republican lawmakers wrongfully accused Turner of harboring a fugitive during a protest of HB 2177 on Feb. 28 at the Capitol. The bill proposes banning surgeries and treatments related to sex transition for people under age 18, with certain exceptions. Opponents of the legislation chanted outside the House chamber during the bill’s consideration, with an altercation ensuing after one protestor tossed water on Rep. Bob Ed Culver (R-Tahlequah) and another physical interaction occurred with a state trooper.

Troopers ultimately arrested both Savanna Mitchell and Austin Ross of Ponca City for the incident, but it was the search for Ross that lead law enforcement to Turner’s office, which they said was locked.

In a press release after Tuesday’s censure vote, House Minority Leader Cyndi Munson (D-OKC) said Turner did not impede the investigation or prevent law officers from performing their duties. Turner, the¬†first nonbinary person elected to the Oklahoma Legislature, cooperated fully and completely with the investigation, Munson said.

“This is a historic display of inhumanity by House Republicans to silence anyone who is different from them,” she said. “It is a manifestation of ignorance and hate.”

Turner denied the allegations.

“I just provide my office as space of grace and love for all the folks in all communities that seek refuge from the hate in this building,” Turner said. “Trans people don’t feel safe here. I receive death threats. I am a target daily in this building, yet I am silenced.”

House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) said in a press release that Culver and a state trooper were assaulted after an otherwise peaceful protest turned violent.

“Following this assault, one individual was apprehended by law enforcement while another involved in the incident fled the scene,” he said. “It came to the attention of law enforcement that the individual who fled was hiding in the official office of a member of the House.

“This member knowingly, and willfully, impeded a law enforcement investigation, harboring a fugitive and repeatedly lying to officers, and used their official office and position to thwart attempts by law enforcement to make contact with a suspect of the investigation.”

McCall said he will not allow House members to use their House-assigned offices and official positions to impede law officers from carrying out investigations or making arrests in the State Capitol.

“The House stands by our law enforcement and will not allow what is an already dangerous and unpredictable job to become more dangerous due to the actions of a member of our body,” he said. “The inappropriate, and potentially criminal, actions exhibited by this member of the House were deserving of censure, and the actions taken by the House today were both measured and just.”

The House voted 81-19 along party lines in favor of censuring Turner.

Prior reprimands of Oklahoma legislators

Censures and reprimands occur rarely in Oklahoma’s Legislature.

In March 2011, the House reprimanded then-Rep. Randy Terrill, a Republican from Moore, for threatening remarks he made in the Capitol that were directed at then-Speaker Kris Steele, a Republican from Shawnee.

On the same day, the House reprimanded then-Rep. Mike Reynolds, a Republican from Oklahoma City, after he interrupted the remarks of the chaplain by calling for a point of order as the chaplain discussed health care issues before leading the House in prayer.

In May 2011, the Republican-controlled House publicly reprimanded then-Rep. Sally Kern, a Republican from Oklahoma City, for disparaging comments she made against Black people and women during a debate on affirmative action.

In March 2017, the GOP-controlled Senate formally censured Sen. Ralph Shortey, a south Oklahoma City Republican, shortly before he resigned. Shortey ultimately pleaded guilty to child sex trafficking and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

In February 2021, then-Senate Floor Leader Kim David, a Republican from Porter, was reprimanded because of comments she made at a press conference on Medicaid, which had offended some senators. She was temporarily relieved of her floor leader duties for one week.

In April 2021, Senate leadership revoked access to the chamber’s communications department from Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) following sexual comments he made about Vice President Kamala Harris. Dahm’s access to communications staff members has since been restored.

(Update: This article was updated at 4:20 p.m. Tuesday, March 7, to include information about the censure of former Sen. Ralph Shortey.)

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Michael McNutt became NonDoc's managing editor in January 2023. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years, working at The Oklahoman for 30 years, heading up its Enid bureau and serving as night city editor, assistant news editor and State Capitol reporter. He is an inductee of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame. Most recently, he served as communications director for former Gov. Mary Fallin and then for the Office of Juvenile Affairs. Send tips and story ideas to mcnutt@nondoc.com