Monday afternoon was the first meeting of the year for the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, more commonly called the Jail Trust. New Sheriff Tommie Johnson III was present for his first meeting as a Trustee on the same day he was sworn in.
The Trust heard reports from CEO Greg Williams, and also public comment from many members of the community, some of whom got into a physical altercation in the gallery of the Board Room. The Trust also took action to limit terms for their Chair and Vice-Chair.
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Sheriff Johnson received a warm welcome from most of his fellow Trustees before the meeting began. As she called the meeting to order, Chairperson Tricia Everest welcomed Johnson officially and asked him to lead the pledge of allegiance.
Then came public comment. Several activists signed up to address the board, and most of them were focused on the new Sheriff.
During the campaign for Sheriff, Johnson was quoted as saying that he didn’t believe there was systemic racism in law enforcement.
Most of the activists present on Monday called him out for those comments, calling him complicit in racist policing. Several called Johnson names and shouted at him as Johnson sat calmly and listened to their remarks. Local interpretation of the Open Meetings Act prohibits officials from responding to comments that are not part of the official agenda, so Johnson had to wait until the meeting was over to talk to his critics.
Several other activists also spoke during public comment and welcomed Johnson, while also saying they supported ICE in the Jail and law enforcement in general.
As the meeting plodded along, some audience members began commenting back and forth in the front two rows of the gallery.
One, a white man in a MAGA hat sat next to his companion, bedecked in branded Proud Boys t-shirt and baseball cap. The MAGA hat man stood and turned around to face the young black people sitting behind them.
A Deputy stepped up and called for them all to stop. Local activist and rapper, Jabee Williams, stepped forward to the group and spoke to one of the white men who then called Williams the n-word.
Activists jumped in to separate the two sides as Sheriff’s deputies poured in to quell the fight. The altercation migrated to the hallway, where the deputies separated the parties and the two white men left the floor. Most of the other activists eventually returned to the meeting.
Video of the proceedings cued to the beginning of the altercation:
Trustee Sue Ann Arnall brought an agenda item for the possible adoption of terms and term limits for the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Trust. She explained that since the Trust has existed now for over a year and a half, it was time to start fine-tuning the Trust with rules and bylaws. Her first suggestion was the limiting of terms for the leadership of the Trust.
Vice-Chairman Jim Couch said that his experience in working with 12 Title 60 Trusts of this sort over the past number of years taught him that continuity of leadership in a Trust was crucial for the success of the organization, especially, he said, for one as new as the Jail Trust.
“We’re basically a start-up business,” Couch said.
During public comment on the item, members of the community expressed that rotating chairmanship of an organization prevents one person from consolidating power in the organization.
The Trust voted 5-2 to limit the Chair’s term to two years with a new Chair taking the seat in January of even-numbered years. A Chair, it was decided, would not be able to succeed themselves. Everest and Couch voted against the proposal. The Vice-Chair, it was decided, would rotate into the Chairmanship unless they declined, and a new Vice-Chair would be elected in January of even numbered years.
Jail CEO Greg Williams reported to the Trust on regular items, including COVID-19 in the Jail and Jail operations.
In the last two weeks, there have been no positive tests in the jail, according to Williams. The number of people who have died of COVID in the Jail’s custody remains at two.
The death in the jail over the weekend, Williams told the Trust, is being investigated by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations as a homicide. Williams could share no more details due to that fact.
The jail count as of the morning of Monday, January 4, 2021 was 1769. Transfers to the custody of the Department of Corrections this week will total 51 people leaving the Jail this week.
The CEO said they are still working on eliminating the practice of “triple ceiling,” which means to have three people in a cell built for two people, with one person sleeping on a “sled” on the floor of the cell.
As the meeting drew to a close, members of the audience began shouting at the Chair of the Trust to allow them more time to speak. As they crowded the podium and an activist from “the other side,” got up from her seat and attempted to hold her coat over the lens of a news camera, calling the photographer from KOCO “fake news,” and telling him he should be ashamed of himself.
Sheriff Johnson remained at his seat for several minutes and attempted to talk with protestors, before eventually departing through the back door of the board room.
The Trust will meet again on January 18 at 1:00 p.m.
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