A Tulsa police sergeant who pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor related to a physical altercation with another officer said Monday that he wants to return to work because he still believes he can contribute positively to the department.
Dedlorn Sanders Jr., 51, was charged July 10 with a felony count of assault and battery against a police officer, but he entered a plea Monday to an amended charge of outraging public decency. Special Judge James Keeley deferred sentencing for 90 days and ordered that he pay a fine and court costs.
Sanders has been on administrative leave with pay since being charged but told the Tulsa World in an interview that he hopes he can rejoin the Tulsa Police Department because he has received assistance with his physical and mental health.
“We as police officers, just like regular citizens, need to take responsibility for our actions, and that’s what I’m doing,” he said of the plea agreement.
Sanders, who was off-duty at the time, is accused of punching Tulsa Police Officer Heath Brownell in the face on June 30. Sanders was not arrested that day following a decision by police command staff, according to court records.
The Tulsa World’s police salaries database shows that Sanders has been with the TPD since Jan. 16, 1996. Brownell joined the department in 2016.
Sanders’ attorney, Thomas Mortensen, said his client has a “stellar” record with the department and had never been in trouble before his arrest. He said he appreciated the decision by the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office to amend the charge to a misdemeanor, as it was clear that the state believed there was “great value” in having Sanders remain eligible for duty.
“I believe that proves even more that this was an isolated event,” Mortensen said, calling the altercation the culmination of a “perfect storm” of negative events in Sanders’ life.
Dash cam videos of the incident show other officers crowding around Sanders to physically restrain him after he hit Brownell. Sgt. Dave Walker said in an affidavit that Sanders went to the scene — a child’s birthday party near Fourth Street and Sheridan Road— after receiving a call from his daughter, who wanted help mediating a disagreement between her and other relatives of her baby at the party.
While there, Walker reported, Sanders got into a fight with Brownell after being told he could not legally leave with the child. Brownell drew his Taser at one point and grabbed Sanders’ arm when he tried to get in his vehicle.
At that point, Sanders hit Brownell with his right hand, the dash cam recording shows. He told the World he could not fully recall what led up to the punch and needed to watch the video, which prompted him to request medical leave so he could improve his health.
However, he maintained that he didn’t believe he committed a felony, saying he and Brownell were able to speak calmly with each other soon afterward. Sanders said he was upset that day because he thought his granddaughter’s safety was at risk and he wanted to protect her.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that this was going to end up in the courthouse,” Sanders said. “I thought this was gonna be handled within the department. I ain’t never in my wildest dreams thought this was gonna end up being a charge against me. A felony. I never thought that would happen.”
TPD spokeswoman Jeanne MacKenzie said now that Sanders has agreed to the plea deal, the department will start an internal investigation into the matter.
Keeley told Sanders to return to court Jan. 8, at which time his case will be expunged if he pays his fine and costs, maintains his medication regimen and does not pick up a new criminal case.
“Now I’m able to recognize that type of feeling, and I’m able to calm myself down,” Sanders said.