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Oklahoma City (Free Press) —- The two candidates running for the Democratic nomination in the race for Oklahoma County district attorney faced off in a public debate Wednesday night ahead of the June 28 primary. 

The debate, which was the second debate of the night, was hosted by NonDoc Media and News9. Both Republican and Democratic nominees debated other contestants within their own party. District Attorney David Prater is not seeking another term. 

Each candidate was asked three rounds of questions with an equal time of 60 to 90 seconds to respond. 

Ethical Standards 

The two candidates, both practicing attorneys, were asked in the first round about their positions on the ethical standards and obligations of a DA.

Mark Myles
Mark Myles responds to a question during the Democratic Okla County DA race primary June 15, 2022. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

A specific question was asked about a string of incidents in recent years involving two former judges and an OKCPD detective that have raised questions about the integrity of those in the criminal justice system. 

Vicki Behenna said in her response that it would be her responsibility as DA to ensure that prosecutors, judges, and staff within the DA’s office operate with integrity by holding them accountable. 

“It does affect the integrity of the criminal justice system, people have lost trust in the criminal justice system, and they have to know that everybody is going to be held accountable,” Behenna said. 

Mark Myles, said it’s vital for leaders to establish a culture of accountability and fairness in the DA’s office. 

“When I announced that I was running for district attorney, I said that accountability was going to be one of the issues,” Myles said in his response. “And when I said accountability, I meant that holding the office of the district attorney to the highest possible standards as well as the other people who encompass that.”

Police and county jail accountability

In the second round of questions, the candidates were questioned about their thoughts on issues concerning the Oklahoma County Jail and law enforcement accountability. Both candidates were asked to raise their hands in favor of the construction of a new jail facility. 

Behenna raised her hand in support and Myles, with his hand down, explained how he was still undecided on the issue. 

“It’s unsafe, it’s unsanitary, it’s unclean,” Behenna said about the Oklahoma County Jail. “We need a new jail. It’s not working.” 

Myles explained that his uncertainty on the issue is based on the lack of specifics on the $260 million dollar bond proposal. According to Myles, questions about the location, actual cost, and launch date still need to be answered for a more informed decision.

Vicki Behenna
Vicki Behenna delivers her opening remarks at the Democratic DA candidate primary debate June 15, 2022. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

“I hope to address part of that problem, if I’m elected as district attorney, by advocating for bonds that are more reasonable, that are fair, that are attainable for people so that we can get rid of some of the overcrowding,” Myles said. 

The candidates also discussed their positions on the cash-bail system, Jail Trust accountability, and how to maintain a collaborative relationship with the police while also seeking justice for citizens in cases of police misconduct. 

When it came to police accountability, Behenna said as long as law enforcement abides by their training, they shouldn’t be concerned about being investigated or prosecuted by her as DA. 

“A police officer who uses excessive force and doesn’t abide by his training will be investigated like any other murder or shooting incident in Oklahoma County,” Behenna said in her response. 

Myles pledged to work collaboratively with the police while also holding them to a greater standard. 

“My goal is to make sure that they have the best possible training so that they know that when they encounter certain situations they know what to do,” Myles said. “If they’re doing something wrong; that’s a separate case and if charges are appropriate, they’re going to be charged.” 

Political issues 

In the final round, candidates answered specific questions about their politics and how to secure the majority of the vote as a Democratic candidate. 

Myles was asked about his loss against Republican Mike Hunter, who received endorsements from 20 Democrats, in the 2018 race for Attorney General. The question was how can he convince voters that he can win this year? 

Myles said he doesn’t necessarily believe that Democrats who supported Hunter in 2018 reflect the will of the people of Oklahoma County. 

DA Candidate primary debate
Tres Savage from NonDoc Media (L) and Storme Jones from News9 (far right) asked candidates Vicki Behenna and Mark Myles questions during the Democratic candidate pre-primary debate for Okla County DA June 15, 2022. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

In his response, Myles said Oklahoma County has a history of electing a Democratic District Attorney. He said this race is imperative, because the DA has the power to investigate corruption at the State Capital. 

“That’s the reason why the Republicans really want to win this race because we’ve got, kind of, an autocratic Governor here who wants to hand-pick the people that are out there around him,” Myles said. “And he would rather not have somebody, or anybody, looking over his shoulder.” 

Behenna was asked about her son who fatally shot an Iraqi detainee he was questioning about a roadside bomb. Michael Behenna, who claimed he acted in self-defense, had been sentenced to 25 years in prison for unpremeditated murder in a combat zone. 

Former President Trump offered a full pardon to Michael Behenna after the candidate, and other Oklahoma elected officials, advocated for him. The question was how can she convince voters of her “Democratic bona fides” given her connection to Trump’s pardon of her son. 

Behenna said she fought for her son, whom she says was wrongfully convicted, as she would any client. 

“I would fight for my son in the situation that he was in, any day of the week, as I would anybody else who felt that they were wrongfully convicted and there was evidence to prove their innocence.” 

She said that she was glad that Trump gave her son a pardon but she did not vote for Trump. Behenna did not seem to have any problem with holding those two realities together.

Click here to watch the full debate. 

Democratic candidates
Democratic candidates for Okla County DA engaged in a debate June 15, 2022. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Last Updated June 16, 2022, 4:18 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor