(Update: Less than one month after being arrested, Rep. Dean Davis pleaded no contest to his public drunkenness charge and paid a $178 fine to the Oklahoma City Municipal Court on April 11, 2023. The following article remains in its original form.)
The Oklahoma House of Representatives voted 81-9 to censure Rep. Dean Davis “for conduct unbecoming” this afternoon following his arrest for alleged public intoxication around 2:15 a.m. March 23. It was Davis’ second alcohol-related arrest since taking office in late 2018.
“He has a multitude of friends that will surround him, will support him and will be behind him — myself included,” said Rep. Anthony Moore (R-Clinton), who made the motion to censure Davis. “But actions have consequences.”
The consequences for Davis (R-Broken Arrow) include his removal from all committees, an action that will be rescinded if Davis issues a formal apology that is released to the public and sent to the Oklahoma City Police Department. Davis was not present for the day’s proceedings. On Thursday, hours after being released from the Oklahoma County Jail, Davis made a brief statement on the House floor apologizing for “creating this unnecessary distraction” but disputing “any wrongdoing.”
At the time, body camera footage of Davis’ arrest had not been released, and some lawmakers took issue with Davis’ initial statement after watching him argue with police officers that, as a legislator during session, he was immune from detention or arrest.
“I rise debating in favor of this censure because, at the end of the day, we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard,” said House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols (R-OKC). “What I do know is, in this body, we are showing a firm conviction: If you use your office to abuse others, if you use your office to say you are above the law, and if you use your office to try to impede police officers, and if you do it inside this building, there are going to be even-handed consequences.”
Republican House members caucused multiple times Monday, discussing Senate amendments to their education proposals and the punishment options for Davis, who was captured on video arguing with Oklahoma City police officers and attempting to assert some sort of legislative privilege to avoid arrest. At one point, Davis defended his argument with officers by calling it “debate.”
Some Republican House members believed the actions of Davis deserved stronger consequences.
“We should have gone further with it,” said Rep. Ross Ford (R-Broken Arrow). “As soon as he apologizes, he gets his committees back.”
A former police officer, Ford said he did not want to discuss the details of Davis’ interaction with police officers last week, but he said he found them frustrating, just as he did in 2019. That year, Davis was arrested on a DUI complaint and used his phone calls from the Broken Arrow Municipal Jail to call Ford and others in an effort to avoid criminal penalty.
Thursday’s arrest came just more than six months after Davis pleaded no contest to the three charges he faced then. Davis’ probation on that plea deal had ended merely 20 days prior to his arrest in Bricktown.
Although he was with Davis the night of his Bricktown arrest, Rep. T.J. Marti (R-Broken Arrow) walked out of the House chamber shortly before Monday’s censure vote. Marti, who serves as chairman of the House Alcohol, Tobacco and Controlled Substances, claimed on Friday that Davis had not been intoxicated.
“It wasn’t what it is being reported. Anyone that can watch that video can see that he’s clearly not intoxicated. Anyone that knows Dean knows he carries eyedrops with him. He uses eyedrops all the time. He has allergic conjunctivitis. His eyes are already red. You meet him at the Capitol, look at his eyes,” Marti said. “To arrest somebody for red eyes, it seems like maybe the burden of proof should be higher than that, especially in a state where allergies are probably our No. 1 complaint for the three months starting about a couple of weeks ago, and the grass is turning green.”
Turner: ‘Getting the help you need is not the priority of this body’
Davis becomes the second House member censured this year. Although Moore used the same language that he did in the formal reprimand of Rep. Mauree Turner (D-OKC), Democrats have emphasized that Turner did not receive a criminal charge for their behavior. Republicans alleged that Turner prevented state troopers from entering their office to find an individual who was ultimately arrested for actions while protesting a bill.
Turner, however, debated against the Davis censure and voted against it as well. Eight of their fellow Democratic members also voted against the Davis censure.
“We were all elected here, and the people who elected us will either make sure that we stay or make sure that we go,” Turner said. “Continuing to censure people in this body won’t push the representative towards the help that he needs. It sends a message to people who are battling substance abuse issues that getting the help you need is not the priority to this body.”
Turner said lawmakers should be focused on improving Oklahoma and making sure services for substance treatment and other matters are available to communities.
“Even though he voted to censure me, I think censuring the representative is probably not an act we should do,” Turner said. “And I think my censure should be overturned.”
Both Turner and Davis can have their censures revoked and their committee memberships restored if they submit written apologies as prescribed in the House motions, a point that Echols emphasized while debating in favor of the Davis reprimand.
“They have the opportunity to simply say they are sorry,” Echols said. “We are not above the people, and we are no different than any other person. And if anything, the law applies more to us.”
Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) expressed frustration with the fact that nearly half of the House Democratic Caucus voted against censuring Davis.
“Serving in the Oklahoma House of Representatives is an awesome privilege that comes with an added responsibility. It is for that reason I’m pleased the House voted to reprimand a member who attempted to exploit the privileges of his office,” Nichols said. “I was shocked to see so many of my caucus members vote against the motion given the facts as we know them. While today was an important statement about accountability, until Rep. Mauree Turner, who was never even accused of a crime by law enforcement, is reinstated to their committees, the integrity of the House will remain irreparably compromised.”
Asked about his own absence from the afternoon’s vote, Nichols said he was in Tulsa for previously scheduled meetings.
Martinez votes in favor of Davis censure, O’Donnell absent
Davis is the third GOP House member facing a criminal charge. In October, House Appropriations and Budget Vice Chairman Ryan Martinez (R-Edmond) was arrested for DUI in Edmond.
Martinez made a similar claim that referencing Article 5, Section 22 of the Oklahoma Constitution prohibited lawmakers from being arrested during a legislative session, but the constitutional provision is widely understood to prevent a legislator from being impeded while they are on their way to or from the State Capitol to take action during a legislative session. The provision does not grant legislators the equivalent of diplomatic immunity.
Martinez’s case is pending, with a status conference set for June 1.
Along with his wife, current House Majority Whip Terry O’Donnell (R-Catoosa) has been facing a multi-count felony grand jury indictment since December 2021. The complex case involves a bill O’Donnell ran to legalize his wife’s ability to be appointed as a state tag agent in succession of her mother. In February, as lawmakers began their annual regular session, Attorney General Gentner Drummond assumed control of the O’Donnells’ prosecution, speaking briefly with O’Donnell on the House floor Feb. 6 before Gov. Kevin Stitt’s State of the State address.
Martinez voted in favor of censuring Davis. O’Donnell was not present Monday.