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In Monday’s noisy meeting of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust), the trust passed a narrow vote to kick ICE out of the County Jail. The Trust also agreed on a path to spend CARES money allocated by the Board of County Commissioners.

How the sausage gets made

Government according to columnist Marty Peercy

ICE controversy

In the year since the formation of the Jail Trust, affinity groups and activists have lobbied the group to no longer host ICE agents at the Jail. That wish came true at Monday’s meeting of the Trust, surprising many.

Trustee Francie Ekwerekwu requested an item for Monday’s agenda to discuss the presence of ICE at the County Jail and to review the Jail’s policy of holding 48-hour “detainers” for people incarcerated who ICE has said they have interest in taking into custody.

When the item initially came to the floor, Trustee Ben Brown moved immediately to table the item. Many of the activists and protestors in the crowd took umbrage and engaged the Trustees with chants and curses, one crowd member specifically accusing Brown of racism.

The motion to table failed to pass and the item was heard, along with public comment.

Ekwerekwu started with an observation that the Jail is not statutorily required to commit office space to ICE. She said that if additional space was needed at the Jail in order to expand medical or psychiatric care, then there’s a room that could be used instead of having an ICE Agent in it.

One speaker, Jess Eddy, held a moment of silence for the families he says have been torn apart by ICE across America, and for those held in camps as they await their fate. Another speaker, Sam Wargin, talked about his community and what ICE has done to incite fear among his neighbors.

After public comment, Trust co-chair Jim Couch tried to address the agenda item, beginning, “This is hard.” He got no further in his comments as protestors shouted him down.

Motion to remove

He motioned to Ekwerekwu, who formally moved to remove ICE Agents from the County Jail, seconded by Ben Brown.

The vote was called, though Chairperson Tricia Everest had been disconnected. Trustees Kevin Calvey and Todd Lamb each voted against the item. Calvey had earlier indicated his intention by saying that regardless of one’s feelings about immigration, cooperating with federal law enforcement isn’t negotiable.

Danny Honeycutt, counsel for the Sheriff’s Office, chose to abstain from the vote as Everest was disconnected and he wasn’t sure it was a valid vote.

Trustees M.T. Berry, Ben Brown, and Jim Couch joined Ekwerekwu in voting yes on the motion, which passed 4-2-1.

Late Monday UPDATE: John Williams, legal counsel for the Trust, determined that the vote did not pass.

CARES Money

The Trust again took up a resolution to accept the $34 million of CARES Act funds allocated by the Board of County Commissioners. A plan for spending the money by December 31 has still not been presented to the Trust.

Greg Williams, CEO of the Trust, recently provided a list to the Trust and the public detailing needs of the Jail, many with dollar amounts.

Trustee Couch pointed out that while Williams has experience in jail administration, he doesn’t have a staff member to help with capital improvements.

After approving the aforementioned proposition, the Trust also authorized Williams to hire a Program Director/Owner’s Representative to assist with making the crucial decisions of which projects should move ahead with the looming deadline just months ahead. The Trust was unanimous in authorizing the engagement of the Owner’s Representative.

When the Trust meets again on October 5, Williams is expected to have a more manageable list of projects.


Caption for feature photo: Adriana Laws lies on the floor of the Okla County meeting room during the Jail Trust meeting Sept 21, 2020, to demonstrate against deaths in the Oklahoma County Jail. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)


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