By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Six years ago, a Noble family lost their 5-year-old son, Austin Haley, to a former police officer’s stray bullet. They recently found out the same officer has since had his record expunged, and the family is now on a mission to change the law allowing that to happen.
In 2007, former police officer Paul Bradley Rogers and his former supervising officer, Robert Shawn Richardson, responded to a neighbor’s call about removing a snake from a birdhouse. The snake was believed to be poisonous, so Richardson told Rogers to shoot the snake, but Austin was struck in the process.
Rogers was later found guilty of second-degree manslaughter, and he and Richardson received deferred sentences.
Manslaughter is a violent crime that one would typically not receive a deferred sentence for, Austin’s mother, Renee Haley, said, but since the two received deferred sentences, one was able to get his record expunged through a loophole and, from her understanding, the supervision officer is trying to as well.
Haley said that the law was changed in November allowing a loophole that basically says if the person received a deferred sentence, their record can be expunged.
“Normally deferred sentences would be for much lesser crimes,” she said. “(This loophole) wasn’t meant for people who killed a little 5-year-old boy. It was meant for lesser crimes.”
Haley said they are only asking for fairness.
“If the roles were reversed and I had shot the gun, it would be much different. I would’ve been sent to jail and the sentence would have been done more harshly,” she said.
As it is, the two never served any jail time and were asked by the court to do some community service with animals, Haley said, adding that the only form of punishment they were really given was that this violent crime was going to stay on their record forever.
“We really feel like we’ve had no advocate from the get-go. No attorney. No one to speak for us,” she said. “They did talk to us every once in a while, but there was always a lesser thing done. There was no jail time and very little community service.
“The DA promised this will never be taken off their record, and here we are in this situation now.”
Haley said the only person they really had to turn to was the district attorney, and she felt he was always asking them to do a lesser thing, asking if they were really sure they wanted the officers to have jail time.
“It was just hard on us and they haven’t received anything, in my opinion,” she said. “Now it’s even off the record.”
Local attorney Dave Stockwell said the expungement happened as a matter of law, but it is not something that will truly ever be off the officer’s record. The case will no longer be available on a court record or available on the online court database, but it will show up on any background check, whether it’s through Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation or the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Stockwell said the officers also will still show up in any Internet search you do.
“He can’t run and hide from this thing,” he said.
Stockwell said the former officer may have done the required community service, and then the courts recognized it and ruled to “expunge” the incident from his record.
Stockwell said he handles about four to five expungements per week and misdemeanor expungements are different than felony expungements, especially when dealing with a violent crime.
Haley said even with the crime showing up on background checks, she feels as though it is still being deleted from the public eye.
“You can no longer see Brad Rogers’ file,” she said.
Haley said she and her husband, Jack, have already started the process of trying to get the law off the books. She said they’ve talked to senators, representatives and are on their way to talk to the governor, hoping to get with everyone by September to get the law changed.
“We can’t let this go on,” she said. “It just isn’t right.”
The day their 5-year-old boy was shot dead was not an accident, she said. “It was negligence.”
On the day of the incident, she said the officers never asked anybody that day if anyone was behind the birdhouse Rogers’ was shooting toward. The officers didn’t know that Austin was down at the Haley’s family owned pond with his grandfather and younger brother.
“The first shot went between my dad’s legs while he stood there on the dock,” Haley said, adding that her dad felt the bullet move his pants and saw it land in the pond in front of him. “He started screaming, ‘Stop don’t shoot there’s someone down here.’”
About six seconds later, there was a second bullet fired, which again missed the snake but traveled through the back of Austin’s head, killing him.
Haley said they are still missing Austin and have since forgiven the officers, but what they’re trying to do is more for the public. She said while they understand the officer didn’t point his gun at their son, they still don’t see it as an accident.
“They can become police officers again,” she said. “No one in the city of Noble would want that.”