OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — A special meeting of the Oklahoma County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) met Wednesday to consider items in Executive Session. And, then a corrective second meeting the next day, Thursday, was meant to clean up business left over.
Wednesday, they planned to take up items about COVID-19 mask policies, ongoing litigation regarding a death at the Jail in 2017, and potential acts of terrorism in and around the downtown County building complex.
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Winding path of meetings
However, something was irregular about the posting of the meeting and so, on advice of the District Attorney’s office, a second meeting was scheduled for Thursday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. for those Executive Session items.
The Wednesday meeting still took place, as the Board had added four items to handle during open session.
On Wednesday morning the Board took action on an item presented by District 3 Commissioner Kevin Calvey for the purpose of rescinding the County’s mask policy. That policy was rescinded by a 2-1vote.
On Thursday afternoon the BoCC reconvened to go into Executive Session for discussion of an ongoing matter of litigation against the County for the wrongful death of a former detainee named Maurice Pendleton.
The Commissioners also discussed a vaguely worded item to discuss “assessment of the vulnerability of the Oklahoma County Downtown Complex to an act of terrorism and plans for deterrence or prevention of, or protection from, an act of terrorism.”
Thursday afternoon’s meeting happened at the scheduled time, but none of it was streamed on the County’s YouTube channel. Standard practice is a livestream to YouTube which is then saved and archived on the channel.
On Wednesday, the Board discussed Calvey’s request to rescind the County’s mask policy in County buildings.
Calvey said that while it was time to end any requirements for masks in the County, but that residents should still exercise social distancing. He offered no scientific reason that one was important but the other was not.
Emergency Management Director David Barnes was called to the podium to give his feedback on the item. Barnes told the Commissioners that he was in the “personal responsibility camp.”
Barnes said that the City of Oklahoma City’s mask mandate is set to expire on April 30, but that on the 13th the City Council would discuss ending the mandate early.
But, the number of votes required to end the City’s mandate early is 7 of 9, and at least three members of the Council have said they do not support ending the mandate early.
Next, Phil Maytubby provided scientific guidance as he has so often in county and city meetings.
He said that testing rates are far lower than they were months ago, which may give an impression of case rates dropping more than they actually have. He said that the Department’s sewage surveillance program shows that cases in the County are probably higher than what our testing rates may show.
The Department has confirmation of several variants of the COIVD-19 virus in Oklahoma County, including the UK and Brazilian variants, said Maytubby.
Maytubby doesn’t think the OCCHD is in a place to feel confident in lifting mask requirements.
District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan stated that he believed every County employee who wants it has been offered the vaccine. He said people in his department were encouraged to get their vaccination while on the clock working for the County.
District 1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert then recommended that they allow the mask policy to last until April 30, like the City’s mandate. Calvey disagreed and immediately moved the item.
The mask policy, such as it was, was rescinded by a 2-1 vote with Blumert alone voting against.
While the agenda was posted for a meeting at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, and that agenda said that the meeting would be streamed on YouTube as usual, the meeting never appeared.
Free Press spoke to District 1 First Deputy Cody Compton on the subject.
Compton confirmed that the meeting had been held and lasted approximately 45 minutes. According to Compton, after Executive Session the Board returned to open session to take action on the items discussed privately. The Board voted to “proceed as discussed” on both items. That means that nothing discussed will be brought to public light after for now.
Since that session is privileged, none of the Commissioners are at liberty to divulge details of what was discussed.
Jail death Litigation
One of the topics discussed in Executive Session by the BoCC Thursday is ongoing litigation regarding the death of a Jail detainee in 2017.
In June of 2018 Mae Pendleton filed a civil suit against the County naming Sheriff P.D. Taylor, Willa Johnson, Brian Maughan, and Ray Vaughn in their roles as Sheriff and County Commissioners as well as in their individual capacities.
Since taking their seats on the BoCC, Blumert and Calvey have each been added to the suit.
According to the petition, Mae Pendleton is suing on behalf of the estate of her son Maurice Pendleton.
On or about July 18, 2017, Ms Pendleton claims, her son was locked into the basketball court which was being used at that point as a “holding pen.” The petition claims that the basketball court was not supervised.
Maurice Pendleton was allegedly confronted by at least four men in the locked basketball court.
The narrative claims that the men stripped Pendleton naked, and kicked and beat him for an extended time while no detention officers were present to respond to the crisis. Staff eventually arrived and found Pendleton alive. He was transferred to the hospital where he died mere hours later of a traumatic brain injury.
The suit claims that Jail staff acted illegally under the Sheriff’s supervision, and that the County Commissioners are legally liable for the lack of staffing and safe conditions in the Jail. The BoCC’s legal attempts to be excluded from the suit have all failed to this point.
The case is in the Federal Court, not the District Court of Oklahoma County.
Free Press will continue to cover this case and other wrongful death suits filed against the Jail, Sheriff, County Commissioners, and should the time come, the Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust).
The second item for discussion during Executive Session was listed as such:
“To enter into Executive Session pursuant to 25 O.S. 307 (B) (11) to discuss assessment of the vulnerability of the Oklahoma County Downtown Complex to an act of terrorism and plans for deterrence or prevention of, or protection from, an act of terrorism.”
That section of Oklahoma Statute provides for discussion of terrorism and plans for terrorism prevention.
Free speech infringements?
One can only guess what this item means. It raises questions about free speech activities on County grounds. Last year, an item was brought before the BoCC to curtail free speech activities on the campus of the Courthouse and Courthouse Annex.
At the time, elected officials obfuscated the source of that item. Sheriff Taylor, Court Clerk Rick Warren, Commissioner Calvey, County Auditor Larry Stein, and Judge Ray Elliott were each blamed by various community members and elected officials. None of those figures ever confirmed having requested the item.
Free Press reached out via text to District 1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert to ask if these things were related. Blumert replied that this does not have anything to do with free speech activities on County property.
Free Press spoke to local activist and law student Jess Eddy via phone about this item.
“Prior to last year, government doing routine evaluations to ensure that they’re keeping the public safe from acts of terrorism like we’ve seen in Oklahoma City historically, this wouldn’t be of much concern to me,” Eddy said.
“But, given what we’ve seen in the last year regarding the charges under the constitutionally questionable Oklahoma Terrorism statute punishing political protestors, coupled with the Board’s attack on free speech on county property last year, I’m deeply concerned that this is another attempt to erode the community’s first amendment rights.”
“I have no evidence that the item for Thursday’s meeting is related, but the veil of secrecy is unsettling,” Eddy continued.
“Regardless of any consequences the State may conspire to apply to us, we will continue to speak freely to the fullest extent under the law,” Eddy declared.
Last Updated April 13, 2021, 1:11 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor