A medical marijuana activist in Oklahoma says the county sheriff forcibly escorted him out of a forum, but the sheriff says he thinks the scuffle was an "orchestrated" deal with an attempt to rattle law enforcement.
Chip Paul, co-founder of Oklahomans for Health, said he was attending a forum about the proposed legislation for legalizing medical marijuana when he was forced out by Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton. The organization is the official proponent of legalizing medical cannabis in Oklahoma through State Question 788.
Paul told the Tulsa World that he was sitting in the back of the meeting with two deputies behind him. At one point, he said he turned around and said he was frustrated with the information being presented. The sheriff's office had posted to Facebook that the Monday forum would help attendees "become familiar with the absolute facts."
“He grabbed me and was in my face, saying, ‘If this is frustrating, you can get out,’” Paul told the Tulsa World. He then said he'd be quiet.
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“That’s when (Walton) grabbed me by the neck and proceeded to escort me from the building," he told the newspaper. "He rammed my head into a door — I don’t know if that was purposeful or not.”
A video of the incident was posted to Facebook and shows Paul being escorted out by deputies. Another video uploaded by NonDoc Media, and recorded by Paul's wife, shows Paul is being escorted with a hand around the back of his neck. Paul's head hits the first set of double doors, but it is not clear whether he was pushed into the door or he did it himself.
Walton told The Claremore Daily Progress that he had been standing at the back of the room because "there were people talking and laughing, raising their hands, interrupting.”
But when Paul continued to talk after being asked to wait for the discussion period, Walton said he asked him to go in the hallway, the Daily Progress Reported. Walton told the newspaper that Paul ignored his request.
"He turned around and started talking again. I got a hold of his chair and turned him around, just a quarter of a turn, where he didn’t have his back to me," Walton told the Daily Progress. "I said ‘we need to talk.’ He folded his hands and put them in his lap ... I get a hold of him, not in a choke hold or anything, but by the head and neck to escort him out.”
That's when Paul says his head was rammed into the door.
“I know there are cameras all over the place, I’m not going to put his head through the door,” Walton told the Daily Progress. “I wasn’t going to take him outside and beat him up. But he balks at the door…. I honestly think, and no one will believe me on this, but I think he pushed his head forward on purpose ... I think they orchestrated this whole deal to get us as rattled as they could.”
Walton told KJRH that he has no regrets about what happened and that he knew he was being recorded. He said Paul had to be removed because he was being disruptive.
Paul says that isn't true.
“I feel like, in my mind, he assaulted me,” Paul told the Tulsa World. “I was doing nothing. I have as much right to be there as he does.”
Now, he said he plans to consider his legal options, according to the Daily Progress.
"I still feel his hands on my throat, to be honest with you," Paul told KJRH. "It's not leaving marks clearly but I still feel his hands on my throat. I certainly still feel the bump on my head where they ran me through the door."
Walton told the TV station he grabbed Paul by this throat because of the way he was sitting.
"It was effective. It worked," Walton told KJRK. "I had a lot of other options on ways to remove him from there. All would have been a lot more forceful than what was utilized there."
ACLU of Oklahoma said in a statement to KFOR that "the violent actions of the Rogers County Sheriff signal a disturbing reliance on government force to silence political speech."
The organization said "with the unwarranted, violent removal of Mr. Paul from a public forum, the Sheriff’s actions have become criminal."