Speaking at the Tulsa Police Department a day after being stabbed, reportedly by his adult daughter at his home, Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said mental illness needs to be prioritized in the state.
Police were called to Kunzweiler’s south Tulsa home about 3 p.m. Tuesday after his office said he was stabbed “multiple times,” and one of his daughters was arrested later that day in connection with the stabbing.
Kunzweiler said Wednesday afternoon that he is a little sore and has staples to close the wounds but otherwise is fine.
“Yesterday my family endured one of the toughest days of our lives,” Kunzweiler said Wednesday in beginning his public statement. “Fortunately, my daughter is alive. I’m alive, and we have a God who we trust in to guide us on the path we’re walking.”
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He thanked all the emergency responders who helped his family through the situation, as well as Tulsa firefighters for “doing what they had to do to intervene,” and then turned his attention to what he called a “gaping wound” that needs to be addressed in the state and the U.S. at large.
“Mental illness is a terrible thing,” he said. “Many families like ours have endured years of anxious-ridden concern for our affected loved ones. You have heard me speak on many occasions of this state and this country’s need to address what seems to be an exploding mental health crisis among our population.”
Kunzweiler first became a prosecutor 30 years ago, and he said mental health infrastructure was much better then but has regressed.
The Tulsa County jail houses the largest population of people with mental illness in the state, he said, adding: “That is simply wrong, and we as a state need to do better.”
Pointing to the 2015 fatal stabbing of then-state Labor Commissioner Mark Costello, 59, by his son — who was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity — Kunzweiler said that should have sent a message to the state Legislature that things needed to change when it comes to mental health funding.
In the time after Costello’s death, Kunzweiler said, he served on the Oklahoma Commission for Criminal Justice Reclassification, which was tasked with looking at the criminal justice system and making recommendation for improvement.
The commission considered funding and resources for the state’s mental health crisis, but nothing changed.
“That was this state’s very first public warning that our laws governing the mentally ill and the funding necessary to treat them while also protecting the public were in peril,” he said. “It has been crickets since the death of Labor Commissioner Costello. Crickets.
“When it comes to meaningful mental health funding, the elected leaders of our state Legislature need to make this a priority.”
Protecting all Oklahomans and providing safeguards and infrastructure to care for those with mental illnesses is legislators’ job, he said.
They need to “take personal time” and talk with first responders, psychologists, doctors, mental health professionals, attorneys and legal experts, as well as parents and siblings of people with mental illnesses, about the issues they see and solutions to help protect people.
“I can guarantee you, you will hear that a lot of work needs to be put in,” Kunzweiler said.
“Stop putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. Figure out how to resource this problem. Put the time in to do your homework so we can do it right.
“I know this state, and I know its leaders can do a better job.”
Wagoner County District Attorney Jack Thorpe was appointed by the Oklahoma attorney general to handle this case, Kunzweiler said.
Jennifer Kunzweiler, who Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin said was arrested in connection with her father’s stabbing, has not yet been charged, court records show.
“For clarification, the suspect is in custody. We are guarding her at the hospital while she recovers from self-inflicted wounds. Once released from the hospital, we are booking her for Felony Domestic AWDW,” police said in a social media comment.