OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Over the course of two days this week, the Oklahoma County Board of County Commissioners held special meetings, mainly to address pending litigation.
At both meetings, the Board had to listen to the concerns of several Oklahoma County residents who were incensed by a damaging recording of Jail CEO Greg Williams that surfaced this week.
While neither meeting had any direct focus on the Jail, members of the public who spoke would hold the BoCC responsible for the actions of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust), which the Board created.
Marty Peercy reports Local government
Two items of business over the course of the two days involved spending County money for legal defense in two separate lawsuits.
On Wednesday, Assistant District Attorney Aaron Etherington brought to the Board a request to authorize the DA’s office to hire expert testimony in a case styled Spray v. BoCC.
The lawsuit, brought by family members of a person who died in custody of the Oklahoma County Detention Center (Jail). The Spray family alleges that their family member was booked into the Jail on December 13, 2018 with symptoms that should have triggered medical care. However, they claim their loved one was placed in a cell, where she was found dead on December 16. The autopsy revealed the cause of death was a perforated duodenal ulcer.
The DA’s office requested that $30,000 be allocated from the County’s Self-Insurance Fund to pay for “case consulting, analysis and testimony” from OSS Law Enforcement Advisors, a Texas-based company that offers training and consulting services to law enforcement agencies.
The Commissioners unanimously approved the allocation.
In another effort to defend the County against litigation, the BoCC had to choose a private law firm to represent them in a case styled Foreman et al. v. Oklahoma County Sheriff et al.
The suit was filed on behalf of four people who allege they were tortured in December and November 2019 by detention officers at the Jail while in custody.
The plaintiffs claim that two detention officers, Christian Charles Miles and Gregory Cornell Butler, Jr., effectively tortured the four plaintiffs while they were detained.
The petition in the case lists various forms of torture beyond physical violence, and including, as has been widely publicized, playing the children’s song “Baby Shark” on a continuous loop for a protracted amount of time. That action, allegedly, happened while a detainee was handcuffed behind his back, then secured while standing to a bar behind him. This position is described as a “standing stress position” used in “enhanced interrogation.”
The alleged events occurred in 2019, when the Jail was in the control of the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office, under the leadership of Sheriff P.D. Taylor. However, the lawsuit names the County, and the Criminal Justice Authority (aka Jail Trust) in addition to the Sheriff’s Office and the individual detention officers.
Three firms were listed on the BoCC’s agenda. Fellers Snider Attorneys at Law, Pierce Couch Hendrickson, Baysinger & Green LLP, and Riggs Abney Law Firm were each asked for a bid for defense services for the BoCC.
Attorneys from Riggs Abney are currently involved in different litigation against the County, and are therefore unable to represent the County in this case due to that conflict of interest.
Fellers Snider offered a quote of $60,000, whereas Pierce Couch etc. offered a bid of $50,000.
As Pierce Couch and company have already represented the BoCC in the past, the Board unanimously selected that firm for this contract.
A story was published Tuesday by NonDoc Media that included a four-minute audio clip of Jail CEO Greg Williams speaking with coworker Mark Opgrande about COVID. During that conversation, the two discussed COVID protocols being a convenient way to keep the press out of the Jail facility.
The two went on to say, shocking many, that COVID has been their “best friend” in many ways. In addition to keeping the press at bay, they bragged about the amount of money that has come to the Jail due to COVID.
At both BoCC meetings, angry members of the public came to address the Commissioners.
Sean Cummings, a local restaurant owner and The Village City Council candidate, attended both meetings of the Board.
In the first meeting on Wednesday, Cummings spoke before the Board and addressed most of his comments to District 1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert, who now represents the Village after recent redistricting.
Cummings said that since she was now his representative, even though he never got to vote for that, she was responsible to listen to constituents. Cummings demanded of Blumert that she call for Williams’s firing or resignation, and that she attempt to dissolve the Jail Trust.
He also asked if any of the Commissioners had even issued a statement about the fiasco. At that time, only Blumert had done so.
At Thursday’s meeting Blumert was not in attendance, but again Cummings addressed her through her Chief Deputy Joe Blough, who sat in as Blumert’s proxy.
Blumert’s statement was insufficient, said Cummings. He called on all three Commissioners to do the right thing, but lamented that they wouldn’t because they consistently refuse to do the right thing.
Cummings referred to Blumert as a “doormat” that is constantly shut out by the “two abusive men” she shares the horseshoe with. He went on to call District 3 Commissioner Kevin Calvey a “political cockroach.”
“Humiliation doesn’t bother any of you!” Cummings concluded.
Local activist Mark Faulk was also in attendance and addressed the Board at both meetings.
Faulk underscored the horror of mass deaths around the world due to the deadly COVID pandemic that has plagued most of the planet since the end of 2019.
Throughout the comments from Faulk, Cummings, Councilperson-elect Sara Bana of Del City, and Cherisse Baker, Calvey showed his disdain for the activists by never acknowledging them. Calvey shifted in his chair to be mostly in profile to the speakers and spent the time looking down at what appeared to be his cellular phone.
Faulk asked Calvey to put his phone down and listen to the public for once. When Calvey didn’t respond, Faulk called him a “corrupt piece of shit,” getting no reaction from the Commissioner.
Faulk passionately talked about the suffering of the people in the Jail, and that any person who could joke about death from COVID in such a way was in no position to oversee the health and safety of people detained in the Jail.
At Thursday’s meeting, Calvey addressed the controversy during the part of the agenda set aside for “Commissioner Comments/General Remarks.”
Calvey began in a folksy tone, and brought up the Paul Harvey radio program. He referenced Harvey’s oft-quoted catchphrase, “and that’s the rest of the story.”
He went on to say that the controversy over Williams’s comments lacked context. He said the “rest of the story” is that Williams’s own mother died of COVID. Williams was only able to say goodbye to his mother by holding up a sign at the window of his mother’s hospital room, according to Calvey.
Calvey then called the comments from Williams and Opgrande “innocuous,” and praised what he sees as the great work of Greg Williams as CEO of the Jail.
The Board of County Commissioners’ next scheduled meeting is on February 22 at 9:00 a.m. That meeting will be a rare Tuesday morning meeting in deference to the Federal holiday on February 21.
Last Updated February 10, 2022, 6:40 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor