WARNING: This post contains content, including video of a shooting, that may be disturbing to viewers.
This month, as anti-racism protests erupted across America, a former jail sergeant and motel security guard in Tulsa, Oklahoma, attacked an unarmed Black man with pepper spray, then shot him to death in a parking lot. Now newly-released footage of the disturbing incident reveals the guard sprayed the victim when he wasn’t looking, sparking an altercation that ended with the guard taking the man’s life.
Christopher Straight, 53, is charged with first-degree manslaughter in connection to the death of Carlos Carson, who was gunned down June 6 outside the Knights Inn. A probable cause affidavit reveals that officers responding to the scene found Carson, a 36-year-old father of three children, had been shot in the head in broad daylight.
Straight was arrested following the deadly encounter and released two hours later from the Tulsa County jail on a $50,000 bond. On Thursday, Straight hung up on a Daily Beast reporter seeking comment.
According to his family, Carson was struggling with mental health issues and had been staying at the motel for a few days. His brother, Ananias Carson, an officer at the Tulsa Police Department, said Carlos had PTSD from a stint in prison. “We’re not trying to paint him out to be an angel or saint,” Ananias said. “But no one needs to be assaulted, then shot, because they defended themselves.”
“My brother didn't deserve what he got, especially in the manner that it happened. He didn’t deserve that,” Ananias said.
Straight, who in 2018 resigned as a Tulsa County detention officer, has a history of troubling allegations against him, The Daily Beast has learned. Shelley Free, a former deputy who worked under him, said she submitted memos on Straight’s behavior toward women and people of color to then-chief deputy Michelle Robinette. (The sheriff’s office didn’t respond to questions about Free’s claims.)
And, on two other occasions, Tulsa police took reports of Straight pepper-spraying people trespassing on motel property. In May of this year, “Straight was issued a citation for assault and battery, however, the victim then decided she did not want to cooperate and the officers had to void the citation,” Tulsa Police Department Lt. Brandon Watkins said in an email.
Around noon on June 6, the motel’s manager allegedly called Straight to respond to an agitated guest. The manager told police that Carson stayed the night before and had become upset that his vehicle had been vandalized. The manager asked “Carson to leave the premises due to Carson’s agitated state,” then called for security, the affidavit says.
Security footage shows Carson and Straight speaking as Carson leaves the property, the court filing states. But about five minutes later, Carson returns to the area, close to Straight’s truck, and the guard exits his vehicle.
“As Carson is standing near the wall,” the affidavit notes, “Straight sprays Carson with a burst of OC Spray. It did not appear that Carson was physically aggressive at that moment to provoke Straight to spray Carson.”
Surveillance footage reviewed by The Daily Beast shows Carson walking toward the motel, as Straight exchanges words with another person from inside his vehicle. As Carson passes Straight’s truck, Straight steps out and deploys his pepper spray when Carson isn’t looking. In reaction to the ambush, Carson hurls his coffee at Straight’s truck and charges at the guard as he remains inside the pickup.
Carson appears to thrust his arms through the driver’s side window and seconds later, the car door opens. The fight lasts about 20 seconds before Straight fatally shoots Carson, who falls to the pavement. Later in the video, as first responders swarm the scene, Straight removes his shirt and wanders around the parking lot.
In an interview with cops, Straight admitted that Carson returned to the motel property after being ordered to leave but that “Carson did not actually make an aggressive move towards him…” Indeed, Straight claimed he used the chemical weapon first to “deter” Carson from acting aggressively, the affidavit alleges. The guard “planned on detaining Carson for trespassing until police arrived,” the document adds.
Smolen & Roytman, the Tulsa law firm representing Carson’s estate, said Carson was shot twice—the second shot fired as he fell away from Straight’s pickup.
“Suddenly, and utterly unprovoked, Straight, while sitting in his vehicle, aimed a dispenser directly at Carlos and drenched his head and face with pepper spray,” the statement says. “This attack was completely unwarranted, excessive and unreasonable. At the time that Straight pepper-sprayed Carlos, he posed no threat to Straight or anyone else. It was nothing more than a cowardly ‘sneak attack.’ Blinded, in obvious pain and enraged, Carlos understandably attempted to fight his attacker. Straight responded with deadly force, lifting his firearm and shooting Carlos twice. The second shot was fired after Carlos was incapacitated and on the ground, or going to the ground.”
The day before the incident, Straight shared a Facebook image with the words: “How about all lives matter. Not black lives, not white lives. Get over yourself no one’s life is more important than the next. Put your race card away and grow up.”
On May 31, Straight shared another meme that read, “If you are anti-police: I’m blue family, unfriend me,” along with the hashtag #Bluelivesmatter. Three days earlier, he shared an image that declared, “I support Trump and I will not apologize for it.” Some Facebook photos show Straight wearing a red “Make America Great Again” cap.
Tulsa County assistant district attorney Mark Collier is handling Straight’s case, The Daily Beast has learned. (In 2017, we reported on the wrongful convictions of Malcolm Scott and De’Marchoe Carpenter, who spent nearly 20 years in prison for a murder they didn’t commit. Collier was the prosecutor who put them behind bars.)
A GoFundMe page was set up for Carson’s funeral expenses.
One childhood friend, Shanise Harris, told The Daily Beast that Carson “had a really big heart” and once fended off some vicious dogs who chased her and a friend when they were in the 6th grade. “Anytime I’d see him, I’d think about how he protected us from those dogs,” Harris said. “That showed me what type of person he was.”
“It’s a sad and devastating situation,” added Harris, 34. “He didn’t deserve it. It was provoked. You attacked him and when he defended himself, you killed him.”
Records show Carson had a criminal history, including convictions for burglary, false personation and entering with intent to steal copper. But his brother told The Daily Beast he was trying to turn his life around, and went to an appointment on June 1 to be evaluated for medication to help his PTSD. Straight has destroyed Carson’s shot at redemption and “taken away his chance to do anything with his children,” Ananias told The Daily Beast.
Carson left behind two sons, ages 11 and 14, and a 12-year-old daughter.
Straight was hired by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office in July 2005 and worked as a jail sergeant when he resigned in August 2018, amid an internal probe. He was facing a demotion as a result of the investigation by the sheriff’s office.
The ex-sergeant shared his frustrations in a resignation letter reviewed by The Daily Beast. “I have really tried to set a good example for the troops and to go above and beyond in boosting moral [sic] on my shift,” Straight wrote, “but it has become an uphill battle this last year to where I seem to stay on the chopping block for one thing or another and have been placed in a no win situation with the administration running the jail.” He concluded, “Again thank you and I am sorry I couldn’t live up to the expectations of this management.”
In August 2005, Straight was placed on administrative leave with pay. One month later, he was reassigned and demoted to detention officer, though his alleged misconduct is unclear. A memo warned, “Any further violations of this nature may result in more severe punishment including termination.”
Straight was again put on leave in February 2011, pending an internal investigation into violations of TCSO policies and procedures. Within a month, he was back on the job, sheriff’s office memos reveal.
In September 2013, Straight received five days’ suspension without pay and mandatory supervisory training. “Your behavior as an officer has compromised the professionalism of the Sheriff’s Office and will not be tolerated again for any reason,” former Undersheriff Tim Albin said in a memo. (The sheriff’s office did not comment on why Straight faced disciplinary action over the years. Lawyers for the Carson estate said in a statement that Straight “was previously under investigation for assaulting people of color and has a documented history of racist conduct.” And one former employee, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Daily Beast that Straight, “should have been fired a long time ago. He treated employees and inmates of color like shit. Same goes for women.”)
Ananias Carson told The Daily Beast that Straight got away with bad behavior for too long. “They kicked the can down the road so he’d be somebody else’s problem,” he said of Straight. “Unfortunately the can stopped with my family and Carlos. It was my family member whose life was cut short.”
When Straight criticized a jail administrator in a December 2018 Facebook post for wearing a uniform jacket over civil clothing in public, he may have hinted at one of his alleged violations in a comment: “Kinda like getting me for a taser policy violation and the taser was presented, not deployed. IDIOT.”
A commenter suggested the jail employee was putting himself in danger by wearing his peace officer jacket, and Straight replied, “Where are the thugs when you need them?”
The shooting of Carlos Carson marks one of multiple killings of unarmed Black men in Tulsa in recent years, and it’s one of many racist encounters between people of color and police—or, in this case, former law enforcement—to make national news. (This month, video showed Tulsa cops aggressively arresting two Black teenagers for “jaywalking,” and a white Tulsa police major told a talk-radio podcast that systemic racism in policing doesn’t exist: “All of the research says we’re shooting African-Americans about 24 percent less than we probably ought to be, based on the crimes being committed.”)
In April 2015, The Daily Beast reported on the fatal shooting of Eric Harris, 44, who was killed during a sting operation when a wealthy volunteer deputy inexplicably fired his gun at Harris, who was being handcuffed by sheriff’s deputies. The reserve deputy, Bob Bates, claimed he meant to grab his Taser and shot Harris by mistake.
An insurance executive in his 70s, Bates had supplied the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) with equipment and was a close friend of former Sheriff Stanley Glanz. Treating Glanz to cruises in the Bahamas apparently didn’t hurt Bates’ insider access to the police force. He was ultimately charged with second-degree manslaughter and served about 1.5 years of his four-year sentence for Harris’ death.
After his release from prison, Bates told a local news outlet, “They tried to make it into a racial issue, I am not the least bit racial.”
But, according to civil suits against the sheriff, racist attitudes had pervaded the office, and perhaps its volunteer cop program.
Bates himself was accused of racist statements, according to one pleading in the Harris estate’s excessive force lawsuit, which settled for $6 million in 2018. A footnote in the document alleged, “Bates has stated that he wanted to get a ‘black buck’ to hang on his wall” during his volunteer stint. (The footnote also claimed Bates would haunt a local watering hole while wearing a Drug Task Force hat and “brag to the bar staff about his exploits with TCSO and state that he was going on a ‘mission’ when he left the bar.” TCSO’s former Drug Task Force supervisor, Tom Huckeby, allegedly joined Bates for drinks.)
Tulsa made headlines again in September 2016, after police officer Betty Jo Shelby shot and killed an unarmed Black man named Terence Crutcher. The 40-year-old father stood at his stalled vehicle with his hands up when Shelby fired the fatal bullet. In footage from a police chopper hovering above the scene, an officer says, “Time for a Taser, I think,” and “That looks like a bad dude, too. Probably on something.” Shelby would be acquitted of manslaughter a year later.
Accusations of discrimination plagued Tulsa County’s detention center, too.
The Daily Beast investigated the death of Elliott Williams, a Black veteran who died in 2011 after spending days on his cell floor, paralyzed and out of reach of food or water. Jailers allegedly taunted him and accused him of “faking” his illness, and the horrors of his final days were captured on surveillance footage. (In November of last year, a lawsuit filed by Williams’ family settled for $10 million.)
Williams, 37, had no criminal record and was arrested after having a mental breakdown at an Owasso hotel in October 2011. At a wrongful death trial in 2017, Sheriff Glanz said he didn’t watch footage of Williams’ demise until a year-and-a-half later—before a 2013 deposition in the case—despite being in charge of the detention center.
Courtroom testimony also revealed Glanz’s jail had been marking employees with the letter “N,” which stood for “n*gronoid,” if they were Black. Dan Smolen, an attorney for Williams’ family, learned of the racially-offensive term after obtaining a 2006 memo, which also listed “M” or “F” to indicate the gender of certain staffers.
Glanz testified the term “n*gronoid” was used in the 1960s and ’70s by the FBI, so he didn’t take issue with its usage inside his detention center. Still, this was one of many accusations of racism under Glanz’s tenure. The sheriff’s office paid more than $1 million to settle seven racial discrimination suits filed by employees in 2009 and 2010. Former detention officer Rolanda Harvey claimed, according to one affidavit, that a supervisor told her “African Americans had nappy heads,” and that coworkers used the n-word, along with the terms “n**ger-knocking,” and “black b*tch.” Harvey also stated that “a Caucasian officer wrote the letter ‘N’ next to the race of an African-American inmate” and when she confronted the coworker, “he scratched it out.”
Months after the Williams trial, Tulsa cops fatally shot Joshua Barre, a 29-year-old Black man struggling with mental illness, after trailing him for 15 minutes while he carried two large knives and entered a convenience store. Barre’s family said he was killed days after authorities were supposed to transport him to a court-ordered evaluation.
As protests raged over the death of George Floyd, who died at the hands of Minneapolis police, Barre's family held their own demonstration to push for better police training when dealing with citizens who have mental illness. Their Black Lives Matter protest also touched on what they described as Mental Health Matters. Joshua’s mother, Etta Lowe-Barre, told the Tulsa World, “We have to speak out to help the public understand.”
Meanwhile, Straight was named as a defendant in three different pro se lawsuits filed by prisoners since 2007, federal court records show. Two complaints alleged violations of due process—including one which was tossed after an inmate failed to respond to a motion to dismiss. The suit claimed the prisoner’s personal property was discarded and that his visitation and commissary was restricted without any hearings.
A second lawsuit claimed Straight and another sergeant falsely accused a prisoner of stealing another inmate’s phone calls and housed him in segregation without evidence. The prisoner claimed the false accusations ultimately led to him being assaulted by two other detainees. (A judge dismissed the complaint, in part, because the allegations “do not support that his placement in segregation imposed an atypical significant hardship.”)
The third complaint accused Straight and two other officers of failing to protect a prisoner who warned he was being threatened by another inmate. The prisoner alleges he was beaten unconscious and suffered a “fractured cheekbone and irreparable tissue damage to his face.” The court ruled in favor of Straight on the basis of “qualified immunity,” a legal doctrine that protects police from federal lawsuits.
Straight was also mentioned in the deposition of Godwin Ehiremen, a Nigerian detention officer who claimed he was terminated because of his race and national origin. (A judge dismissed Ehiremen’s 2014 lawsuit against the sheriff’s office after the agency argued Ehiremen “made sexual advances towards multiple inmates.”)
According to Ehiremen, when one Tulsa detainee was deported to Nigeria for not having a green card, Straight warned him he could be next. “Straight said to me, one of your buddy’s was just ship home today because he don’t have—have no green card. We might have to check you out with this man to see if you have a green card ‘cause we don’t know what you’re doing here,” Ehiremen testified.
Earlier this year, Straight had been working for the security firm Response Protection, which corporation records show is owned by Cory Johnson and was formed in November 2019. On social media, Straight said the business was “veteran owned and operated” and listed one open job as $16 per hour, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
In January, Straight wrote on Facebook, “Alright folks Response Protection is growing, needing more good folks. Must be Armed certified. Pay will depend on experience.”
Johnson could not be reached for comment.
“With everything being shut down, let me know if your business or one you know of needs security,” Straight wrote in March, adding in a comment, “Bars, restaurants, whatever it is, we can protect it…” (That month, he also shared a sad post: “I use to not trust people and pushed everyone away, well the old Chris is coming back.”)
“Response Protection is needing an armed guard for a graveyard shift in a pretty rough area. HMU,” Straight posted in April.
Straight twice more put out a call for licensed armed security guards in the days before he shot Carson. “Probably gonna need at least one more Armed Security guard for a post position,” he wrote. “Must have current license.”