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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — In the first meeting of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust) since the resignation of Trust Chair Tricia Everest, the Trust elected a new Chair and Vice-Chair Monday.

The Trust also debated and eventually passed a new resolution to allow them to bring criminal charges against people “disturbing” the proceedings.

Joe Allbaugh, former director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, was present and in person for the meeting on Monday. Some Trustees continue to attend the meeting virtually, but Allbaugh was joined by Trustees Sheriff Johnson, Sue An Arnall, Francie Ekwerekwu, and Commissioner Kevin Calvey.

Chilling Speech

A resolution requested by Trustee Senator Ben Brown was considered by the Trustees. The resolution, as explained by Brown, would set requirements on decorum during their meetings by limiting the amount of public comments and the times during which a member of the public may address the Trust.

The resolution also includes language declaring that in the face of disruptions, which are not specifically enumerated in the resolution, the Chair or Vice Chair or other presiding member of the Trust would, by default, become the Sergeant at Arms to “enforce applicable laws.”

Currently only one member of the Trust is in a law enforcement role in the County, that being Sheriff Tommie Johnson, III.

Whichever member acting as Sergeant at Arms would be able and authorized to “enforce” the updated Oklahoma State Law about interrupting meetings, as well as the new rules of the Trust.

According to the new resolution, members of the public would be given exactly three minutes one time at the beginning of Trust meetings. Typically, members of the public are able to speak on any individual item on an agenda, as well as during the time for broader public comment. This eliminates all comment except during broad public comment, which will now come before any discussion of agenda items by the Trust.

Trustees and other members of the public were offended by active, loud protests during the Jail Trust meetings in 2020 centered on the use of CARES Act funds.

To learn more: Jail Trust faces loud protest over $36M Cares Act money

Trust Disagreement

Trustee Francie Ekwerekwu, a defense attorney, argued that the resolution was unnecessary since it includes language stating that the rules for comment can be modified at any time. Furthermore, and more importantly, the new rules take away a significant layer of public involvement in the work of the Trust.

Williams, for his part, offered Ekwerekwu the flaccid argument that any citizen can swear a statement against another. He did not respond to the fact that this would be a member of a public trust taking on a law-enforcement role. 

Sue Ann Arnall said that, while she was in favor of limiting public comment, she found the resolution to go against the philosophical purpose of the Trust. 

Jail Trust
Those present at the virtual and in-person meeting of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority 5-17-21. (MARTY PEERCY/Okla City Free Press)

Violating these rules can result in a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Arnall pointed out that they would risk increasing the population of the jail by adding new crimes to their books. She said that one of the purposes of the Trust was to reduce the jail population and to pursue criminal justice reforms.

General Counsel for the Trust, John Michael Williams said that this resolution doesn’t create new laws. Arnall countered that it creates new opportunities to criminalize the public.

Local activist, and member of the Trust’s Detention Center Action Committee, Adriana Laws, said that open communication creates trust in the public eye. Actions like this, Laws, said, leaves important voices out of the conversation.

In spite of protestations by Laws, other activists, Arnall, and Ekwerekwu, the Trust passed the resolution by a vote of 7-2, with new member Allbaugh voting in favor.

Vacant Positions

With Tricia Everest’s recent resignation from the Trust, The Board of County Commissioners on Monday appointed Joe Allbaugh to take her vacant seat.

However, Everest was the Chair of the Trust, and that requires a vote of the Trustees. At Monday’s meeting, there was an agenda to elect a new Chair and a new Vice-Chair. As of the beginning of the meeting, former OKC City Manager Jim Couch was the Vice Chair.

In Monday’s meeting, Couch was nominated hurriedly to be the new Chair of the Trust. No other Trustees were nominated. Couch was unanimously elected to step into the role.

The following agenda item was to vote for a new Vice-Chair as well, which obviously presumed that Couch was the natural conclusion to the dilemma of filling the vacant Chair seat.

Sen. Ben Brown was nominated. In response, Ekwerekwu nominated Trustee M.T. Berry, who refused the nomination.

Brown was elected in an 8-1 vote, with Ekwerekwu voting “Nay.”

Jail Report

Jail CEO Greg Williams gave his customary monthly report.

As of Monday, the population at the Jail was 1492, 108 of whom have been sentenced are awaiting transfer to Department of Corrections custody.

Williams said that in the last 7 days, the jail has tested 173 people for COVID-19 with zero positive cases.

In the last 30 days, 815 people have been tested, resulting in two positive cases.

Since taking over operations of the Jail on July 1, 2019, Williams says 9055 tests have been administered.

The Jail has vaccinated over 1,000 people, Williams said, but the desire and willingness to be vaccinated has been in decline recently.

The Detention Center Action Committee will meet again on June 7 at 1:00 p.m. The Jail Trust will reconvene for a regular meeting on June 21 at 1:00 p.m.

Last Updated May 17, 2021, 8:13 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor