OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Four declared candidates for the open Oklahoma County District Attorney seat had their first outing together Wednesday night in a forum primarily for union members but open to the public by live stream.
The race is providing a broad spectrum of candidates to Oklahoma County voters as was revealed in the event.
The four candidates were: Kevin Calvey, Jacqui Ford, Gayland Gieger, and Robert Gray.
While Kevin Calvey delivered what many would consider an insensitive if not outrageous statement, the bulk of the forum remained focused on reasoned policy statements about what each candidate thought should be done if they win the race.
The Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge No. 123, the union that represents sworn officers in the Oklahoma City Police Department, held the event in their hall located in the Stockyards district. The 1 1/2 hour event was livestreamed on the union’s Facebook page.
The forum was organized around four main questions asked by FOP Vice-President Mark Nelson plus some specific questions for individual candidates.
According to Nelson and the FOP President John George, the questions they used were from members of the FOP.
Kevin Calvey, currently an Oklahoma County commissioner, is unique from the rest of the group of four as an attorney that was an Army prosecutor of insurgents and terrorists during the Iraq occupation but since back in Oklahoma has been mostly focused on being a career politician.
And, the way he is conducting his campaign shows that particular orientation in that he has been far more willing to make extreme statements intended to help his name recognition by even getting his opponents to mention his name over and over.
As well, Calvey’s early-career influences from being an occupying army’s prosecutor of insurgents were revealed at several points.
More than once he referred to violent encounters between police and residents as “combat,” blurring the differences between a police force and an occupying army.
He has keyed his campaign on the promise that on the first day after being elected he would drop all charges against five OKCPD officers who have been charged with first-degree manslaughter, a felony, in the shooting death of 15-year-old Stavian Rodriguez in November 2020.
Rodriguez was cornered by police at the convenience store he and another person set out to rob. When he came out of the store at gunpoint, police ordered him to put down his weapon, which he did. But then, he reached down to his waist which some officers thought was his reaching for a second weapon. Rodriguez then died in a hail of police gunfire. No other weapon was found on him.
Friends of the 15-year-old Rodriguez who saw the first video and then police bodycam footage later said it looked like he was habitually reaching down to pull up his pants, something they had seen him do often.
In comments Tuesday night, Calvey promised again to drop all charges on his first day in office.
And, in a later statement about his views of charging officers with crimes when they use deadly force, Calvey referred to such incidents as “combat situations” where “split-second decisions” have to be made.
He said that it was “absolutely outrageous and malicious” that the officers were being charged.
But, viewers of the livestream might have considered another statement of Calvey’s to be even more outrageous.
“I would have shot him [Rodriguez] myself,” said Calvey about the decision of whether or not to shoot Rodriguez as he reached down to his waistline. His point was that there was nothing the officers could have done and so he would not prosecute them.
At another point, Calvey made up a scenario of an officer having a gun “stuck in his face” and having to decide how to react.
Current Assistant District Attorney Gayland Gieger (pronounced “geeger”) at several points in answering questions directly criticized Calvey for the idea of dismissing charges against the officers.
He said that Calvey had not seen the discovery evidence and had no grounds to make a promise of dropping charges on the five officers without it except to score political points in the race.
In response to Calvey’s made-up scenario about an officer having a “gun stuck in his face,” Gieger said that in his entire time at the DA’s office (22 years) he had never known of such a situation.
He called it an “inflammatory statement” that could only cause further harm.
Instead, Gieger said that instead of making inflammatory statements, the effort of a DA should be to base actions and statements on “evidence and truth.”
Gieger so far has gained the endorsement of seven other FOP lodges across the county. Each law enforcement agency has its own FOP lodge.
And, Gieger responded to Calvey’s saying earlier that he already had the endorsement of Oklahoma County Sheriff Tommie Johnson. Gieger said that in Johnson’s race in 2020 Calvey had given the maximum contribution to Johnson and that Calvey’s wife had also given the maximum.
In other statements during the forum, Gieger said that “the district attorney’s office is not a place for a career politician. It’s just not.”
Certainly, Gieger has the most prosecutorial experience, having served in the DA’s office for over two decades. He lists in his bio that he has litigated over 50 child murder cases and has been involved in thousands of investigations, especially in the area of child sex crimes and child abuse.
Defense attorney Jacqui Ford also raised questions about whether anyone who does not have access to the discovery information should be making promises on what they would do in the case of the five police officers who are charged.
But, she also said that the DA should not be trying law enforcement “in the media.”
Ford said that in the case of the five officers, what DA David Prater did is “not what I would have done.” Ford said that she would have let a grand jury decide about prosecuting them.
Ford made several statements emphasizing that she is a life-long member of the community and seemed to take a great deal of pride in that.
Leadership “from the front” is what Ford considers a real need right now in the DA’s office.
She pointed to the many years that she has spent teaching other attorneys and considers the teaching role of the DA to be highly important because so many young attorneys start out in the DA’s office.
When the candidates were asked if they would be tough on crime, Ford was comfortable with the nuances of whether or not the person being charged was acting out of mental illness or substance abuse or if they were evil people who willfully do harm to others.
She made similar comments about judging the “intent” of the officer in a shooting situation.
Ford said that the question for prosecution should be whether someone is being prosecuted because they “make us mad” or because they “scare us.”
The jail is often overcrowded with people who are in because they are folks that “we are mad at,” she said.
Ford said that too often the jail is full because there are too many people there just waiting for their day in court.
And, people sit in jail waiting sometimes nine months for low-level drug offenses because the DA is slow in bringing charges, Ford said. And that’s when they become worse.
“They learn to be mastermind criminals,” Ford said. “They have nothing but time on their hands, and they’re just learning more and more bad habits.”
In two different answers, she pressed the theme that the DA needs to lead and encourage others in the office as well as the justice system to “be the best version of ourselves.”
Robert Gray is the only attorney in the field of candidates who has served as an assistant district attorney in Oklahoma County and then served as a defense attorney.
The Edmond native said that he was running to provide “leadership, service, and fairness” in the DA’s office.
Gray pointed out that the outgoing DA David Prater has been in the post since 2006 and it’s time for a “new era” where “fairness” is the effort in dealing with everyone.
In response to the “tough on crime” question, Gray said that one aspect of keeping dangerous people off the street is that once they are in jail, to “get a bond sufficient to keep them there.”
But, he attempted to balance that approach by saying the overall effort should be to achieve the “right and just punishment” for offenders.
Gray revealed a distinctive matter-of-factness at several points in the forum responding to questions about what he would do with “I don’t know.” His point seemed to be that anyone who is currently outside of the DA’s office is not privy to information that he would need to feel comfortable making a more detailed answer.
He emphasized that the position of district attorney is a leadership position and that people in the large prosecutor’s office need that leadership right now, a sentiment echoed by both Ford and Gieger.
Gray said that being in the position is about “managing egos” as much as anything.
Last Updated December 1, 2021, 10:04 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor