When Washington County Deputy Sheriff Kyle Davis was killed in the line of duty in March, it was a loss that couldn’t be measured.
It wasn’t just that Davis was young, charismatic, and well-loved amongst his peers and colleagues, or even that his death left behind a wife and two young children. It was the randomness of the event itself, a routine arrest that led to an altercation in the courthouse. You could call it a fluke—it isn’t, very simply, supposed to happen like that. More than a fluke, it was a tragedy, and it left a hole in the Bartlesville law enforcement community that will take a long time to heal.
For students studying in OKWU’s Criminal Justice program, the event served as something else: a reminder of the stakes, a practical example of the risks that those in law enforcement take every day. And according to Professor Eric Peterson, it made a deep impact on the entire department.
“I spoke about it at length in class,” Peterson said. “Tragedies such as this are a reality in law enforcement, which is the career path that many of my students are pursuing.”
“We’re so small, and we’re a real tight-knit family. To me, it’s like losing my son.”
In the Line of Duty
March 25 was, according to Washington County Sheriff Scott Owen, a Thursday just like any other day. After a long-term investigation was completed, certain warrants were pursued, arrests were made, and processing was taking place in the Washington County Detention Center. An altercation broke out, and Kyle Davis suffered a blow to the chest, leading to a cardiac event. He was transported to the hospital, where resuscitation efforts failed.
Both Owen and Undersheriff Jon Copeland emphasized just how unusual something like this is for the Bartlesville community, with Owen noting that it had been over fifty years since a death in the line of duty occurred.
“We’ve never experienced something that was in the line of duty,” Copeland said.
The period of time following Davis’ death was a difficult one for the entire department, as a vital member of a small department was suddenly gone. Owen pointed out that the WCSO consists of only about 30 people. The loss, to put it bluntly, was tremendous. “We’re so small, and we’re a real tight-knit family. To me, it’s like losing my son,” he said. “It just shakes you and the entire department to your core.”
And while nothing could turn back the clock on what had happened, both men in the Sherriff’s office were surprised by the overwhelming outpouring of support from the law enforcement community—both locally and from around the country. On April 2, the day of Davis’ memorial service, flags were flown at half-mast across the state by order of Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt. Over 400 law enforcement officers from across the country came to pay respects, from as far away as Connecticut.
“It was amazing to see the amount of respect. People, who have no idea who any of us are, stopped along the highway, actually got out of their car,” Copeland, who spoke at the funeral service, said. “It was one of those things that you see and hear about in the news that happens in other places, but it didn’t happen here... it was very humbling and just overwhelming.”
“God’s grace, His mercy, and His support shone through all of those people—from different walks of life, different races, different religious backgrounds—coming together for the sole purpose of basically supporting one another.”
It’s here that the Oklahoma Wesleyan community intersects with the story, as Professor Peterson had brought a few students with him to the funeral service. One of those students was Zane Davis, who graduated in May with a degree in Criminal Justice after completing an internship with the Bartlesville Police Department. The service made quite an impact on him.
“I realized it more as we were at the funeral and the burial service, just the brotherhood and the camaraderie,” he said. “People have family and people they can turn to, but with law enforcement, it’s like an extended family… all these people from all over the state that don’t even know who they are but are always there and ready to help with whatever they need.”
The story of Davis’ death began to affect the entire department during the spring semester, as Peterson often brought it up during class, gauging his students’ reaction to the news rocking their own community.
“His lectures got really personal,” Kylie McLemore, a sophomore, said. “[And] I think it just opened everyone’s eyes. This is reality and this can happen in the line of duty… this is what you’re risking.”
Drake Gilbert was a freshman in the spring and describes the semester as a kind of turning point. “Personally, it became real,” he said. “That was the reality check where it was like—okay, are you sure you want to do this?”
But rather than shrink from their paths, the students decided to do something, and the idea was hatched to honor Davis in some way. They created a memorial plaque, with the names of students from the department engraved on the back. A delegation from the department presented it to Owen and Copeland on April 19. Zane Davis, who was impacted so deeply by the funeral, made the actual presentation.
The gesture came at the perfect time, as the Sheriff’s office was still mourning and struggling to heal. “Every time we’d turn around, somebody would say something or there would be a sound or something that would draw a reminder to Kyle,” Copeland said, speaking of the days after Kyle’s death. They had taken their own steps to memorialize their fallen brother, including retiring his badge, so the plaque presented them by the students carried special significance.
“To me, that that’s just a very unselfish gesture, showing the care and compassion those students have,” Owen said. “I think that outreach was just outstanding—it was a Godsend.”
For Copeland, the moment signified a sort of entry into the law-enforcement family for the students. “While they may not have a badge on their chest or a commission in their pocket, they’re just as much a part of this family as Kyle’s family, even my own personal family,” he said.
And that, more than anything, is the take-away that both students and officers repeatedly mention. They focus not on the tragedy, but on the outpouring of support, love, and understanding that was constant through the mourning process.
“There are a lot of people that still realize that, at the end of the day, we’re all human beings,” Copeland said. “God’s grace, His mercy, and His support shone through all of those people—from different walks of life, different races, different religious backgrounds—coming together for the sole purpose of basically supporting one another.”
It’s that aspect—the community, the coming together, the support—that will ultimately last.
For more information on OKWU’s Criminal Justice program, click here.
Click here to watch a video of Kyle Davis’ memorial service.