Carlos Carson was crossing the parking lot of the Tulsa motel where he had stayed the night when a shower of pepper spray hit him in the face, seemingly out of nowhere.

Overnight, the 36-year-old’s car had been vandalized, and he had exchanged words over the damage with the motel’s manager and later its armed private security guard, Christopher Straight. Carson was in the process of booking another night on June 6.

But as Carson walked outside the motel, a cup of coffee in his hand, Straight instigated an incident that police would later call an unprovoked attack, one that places the role of armed security guards — especially those with a checkered past in law enforcement — in the middle of the nation’s current conversation over police reform.

Surveillance footage obtained by The Washington Post shows Straight, who is white, fire a thick stream of pepper spray at Carson, who is black, from inside his pickup truck. Carson then throws his coffee at Straight and charges at him. Seconds later, Straight pulls a gun and shoots Carson in the head. The father of three, recently working to get back on his feet after time in prison and struggles with mental health, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Tulsa Police Department took Straight in for questioning and arrested him on a complaint of first-degree manslaughter the same day. Tulsa County prosecutors filed charges of first-degree manslaughter on June 10 against Straight, who did not respond to a request for comment from The Post.

Straight told detectives he was using the pepper spray to “deter” Carson from being aggressive so he could detain him for trespassing. But in the arrest affidavit, authorities said Straight’s behavior appeared unprovoked.

“You don’t get to pick a fight and then claim self-defense,” Lt. Brandon Watkins, who leads the Tulsa Police Department’s homicide unit, said in an interview with The Post.

To Carson’s family, including a brother who is in law enforcement, the shooting was the inevitable result of a system in Oklahoma that empowered Straight to use lethal force as an armed security guard despite allegations of misconduct stretching back to his years as a detention sergeant with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.

The private security industry across the country is granted authority similar to that of law enforcement but faces little oversight. In some states, including Oklahoma, armed guards are not mandated to report the use of force unless it involves a firearm, are not scrutinized for their past work in law enforcement and are allowed to remain on the job after being charged with serious crimes.

“Law enforcement does have a tendency to kick the can down the road," said Ananias Carson, Carlos’s older brother and a veteran Tulsa police officer.

Before Straight became a private security guard, he spent 16 years working at the Tulsa County Jail, where he faced multiple accusations of misconduct including racial discrimination, was the subject of four internal-affairs investigations and was facing a demotion when he retired early in 2018, according to federal lawsuits against Straight and his personnel file from the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.

After he retired from law enforcement, Straight began working as an armed security guard, records show. He was fired from one private security company and investigated by the Tulsa Police Department while working for another for allegedly spraying a woman with pepper spray, just weeks before Carlos Carson was killed. Records indicate the woman was black and that the attack was also unprovoked.

“It was going to happen. We just didn’t know when,” Ananias Carson said. “And unfortunately, it was my brother.”

Private security left out of police discussion

The killing of Carlos Carson comes amid a national reckoning over the deaths of black men and women at the hands of law enforcement and as President Trump heads to Tulsa for a Saturday rally initially scheduled for Friday — June 19, or Juneteenth, a commemoration of the day enslaved African Americans in Texas learned they were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation.

Trump’s campaign rescheduled the event after an outcry over the symbolism: Tulsa was the site of one of the most egregious acts of racial violence in the nation’s history, the 1921 attack by a white mob on what was then one of the wealthiest black communities in the United States.

Even with the new date, some Tulsa residents have said that the rally will inflame racial tensions as the country grapples with its past and pushes for reform.

As Americans press for overhauls of police departments across the country, the discussion has largely left out the lightly regulated private security industry, which employs more than a million people in the United States — nearly double the number of police officers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Our society is expecting more of people in security, and so they need to be trained in order to provide their services to those expectations,” said Robert D. McCrie, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who has studied the private security industry. “The stakes run a gamut from inappropriate behavior to lethality. Somewhere in the middle is use of excessive force. More to the lighter side is the use of inappropriate language. So there are these vast array of offenses that an improperly selected trained and supervised security officer might participate in.”

Armed guards are governed by a patchwork of regulations, with 14 states having no requirements at all, according to a 2017 study in the International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice.

In Oklahoma, licenses for armed security guards are issued by the state’s Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training. More than 5,000 people in the state hold such licenses, according to CLEET. Straight obtained his in 2018.

Preston Draper, the general counsel at CLEET, said he was not able to answer specific questions about Straight’s application process to become an armed security guard. Broadly speaking, Draper said those who seek a license in Oklahoma are required to undergo a criminal-background check and receive training. Those with previous law enforcement experience are eligible for exemption from the training.

Nothing in state statutes authorizes CLEET to include in its background-check process a search for internal-affairs investigations or civil lawsuits against a former member of law enforcement, Draper said.

In criminal cases involving private security, it can be difficult to know what an applicant’s background is and whether someone gave the person “a can of pepper spray and gun and just said, ‘Go for it,’” Watkins said.

“They don’t get a lot of training, they don’t get a lot of backup, and, unfortunately, a security guard probably should just keep his place safe and call police to do anything,” he said. “He shouldn’t be doing any kind of force.”

The results can be tragic. In one Tulsa case, a security guard named Ricky Stone shot Monroe “Trey” Bird III, 21, after approaching him in the parking lot of a Tulsa apartment complex. Bird was paralyzed and died months later of complications from the shooting, according to the Frontier, an Oklahoma investigative-news site. Stone was not charged in connection with the incident.

When armed security guards in Oklahoma discharge a firearm, they are required by state statute to report the incident to CLEET. But the statute does not include explicit language about chemical weapons such as pepper spray, Draper said.

And CLEET is explicitly notified about guards’ misconduct only once they are convicted of a crime — meaning Straight, who was released on $50,000 bond, could continue to work as an armed security guard up until his trial.

Straight waived his Miranda rights in the aftermath of the shooting and spoke openly with Tulsa police officers about what happened between him and Carson, according to the affidavit. He said “that Carson did not actually make an aggressive move towards him to provoke him,” according to the arrest affidavit, and argued that he used the pepper spray to “deter him from being aggressive.” His plan was to detain him for trespassing.

Straight had been warned in the past after he had pepper-sprayed people without reason, Watkins said. Officers who responded to the shooting said that they had previously “tried to explain to him, you just can’t spray someone,” he added.

On May 22, Watkins said, officers issued Straight a criminal citation alleging misdemeanor assault after he pepper-sprayed a woman and she called police. But she decided against signing the citation and it was voided on the spot, Watkins said.

Part of the problem, Watkins said, is that Straight’s targets often seemed to be homeless or vulnerable and unwilling to cooperate with police or appear in court.

“You would assume that Mr. Straight would have learned his lesson the first time he’s written a citation for spraying somebody,” he said. “But unfortunately, that just didn’t happen the whole way around.”

‘I seem to stay on the chopping block’

Straight’s career in law enforcement began at the Tulsa County Jail in the early 2000s, records show. At the time, the jail was privately managed by Corrections Corp. of America, which employed Straight.

When the sheriff’s office resumed jail operations in 2005, Straight was kept on as a detention corporal. Two months later, he was briefly placed on administrative leave with pay for an internal-affairs investigation of unspecified origin, records show. Straight was demoted to detention officer.

Over the next 13 years, Straight was promoted to the rank of sergeant while also facing three additional internal-affairs investigations. He was placed on administrative leave with pay during an investigation “for violations of the TCSO Policy and Procedures.” He was later suspended for five days without pay and mandated to undergo supervisory training after his “behavior as an officer … compromised the professionalism of the Sheriff’s Office,” according to records.

In his final years with the sheriff’s office, Straight was accused in three civil lawsuits and in a sworn deposition of mistreating inmates and discriminating against a black co-worker.

Godwin Ehiremen, a former guard, alleged in a 2015 deposition that when a Nigerian inmate was deported, Straight, his supervisor, questioned whether Ehiremen was also in the country illegally. Ehiremen said in the deposition that he is of Nigerian descent.

“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 recalled Straight saying. “If you don’t have a green card and you’ve been here for so long, you might not even have one, so I’m going to pressure to see that.”

In federal court complaints filed without the help of attorneys between 2017 and 2018, three inmates alleged that Straight mistreated them while on duty. One claimed Straight took away his commissary items, while another said he wrongly accused him of stealing another inmate’s phone calls, which resulted in him being placed in segregation and then assaulted by two other inmates. The third man claimed Straight failed to protect him from being assaulted by another inmate.

All three cases were dismissed by the court, according to federal court records — a common outcome in lawsuits filed by incarcerated people representing themselves.

In 2018, a fourth and final disciplinary hearing determined Straight would be demoted from sergeant to detention officer.

Instead, Straight wrote to the sheriff that he preferred to resign and request early retirement.

“I have really tried to set a good example for the troops and to go above and beyond in boosting moral on my shift,” Straight wrote in his resignation letter, “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.”

Around the same time, Straight began working as a private security guard at Gold Star Security and Investigations.

Gold Star Vice President Mark Shelton said he was not aware of Straight’s personnel record when the company hired him, around June 2018. His résumé seemed promising: He had worked in the jail for years, was licensed as an armed security guard and had good references.

In hindsight, Shelton said of Straight’s disciplinary issues at the sheriff’s office, “I would have loved to have known that.” Straight worked for Gold Star for a little over a year in a low-stakes assignment that involved sitting behind a desk and “pushing a button to let employees in,” Shelton said.

But by November 2019, Straight was on his way out over what Shelton, citing employment laws, would describe only as “labor-relations-type stuff” and “kind of a lot of negativity.” He added that Straight was talking about starting his own private security company and trying to bring other Gold Star employees along with him, causing additional tension.

Straight eventually landed a new job with Response Protection, a private security company formed in November 2019 and registered to a home in Sapulpa, Okla. Attempts to reach representatives with the business, which was licensed by CLEET, were unsuccessful.

Straight often made Facebook posts seeking guards for the company, at one point saying a guard was needed “for a graveyard shift in a pretty rough area.”

As protesters took to the streets in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Straight on June 5 posted an image saying: “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.” In the caption, he wrote, “For real.”

His encounter with Carson came the next day.

Watching the surveillance footage of the shooting, Watkins said, all of the detectives “kind of had the same reaction: This was manslaughter.” Straight had assaulted Carson with the pepper spray “right off the bat and for no provocation,” Watkins said.

Maybe Carson should not have attacked Straight in response, Watkins said. But Straight never should have pepper-sprayed him.

Carson’s family has been left to mourn the father of three, remembered as a jokester who liked to fish and kept close to family. He struggled to find steady work after serving stints in prison on charges including possession of a controlled substance, false personation and burglary. And in recent months, his family had been helping him seek mental health treatment.

After the shock of his death, Ananias Carson said, the family wants to see something change.

“From the family standpoint, they just don’t want it to be in vain,” he said, “just like he just got killed for nothing.”

correction

An earlier version of this report said Monroe “Trey” Bird III's age was 15. He was 21.