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The second debate between candidates for Oklahoma County Sheriff Wednesday revealed few differences between the three and failed to impress some in the crowd.

Brandi and Jezy Gray left with many more questions once the debate ended.

They talked to Free Press on their way out and weren’t sure who they would vote for, each saying they would have to do more reading and research.

“I didn’t particularly like any of them,” said Jezy. “I was most moved by candidates who acknowledged the humanity of the prisoners, though.”

Both said they appreciated the debate because it let them know what they didn’t know and what needed more research before they vote in the special election Sept. 12.

The debate was sponsored by NonDoc Media, Let’s Fix This and Oklahoma Women’s Coalition.

An earlier debate Sunday was sponsored by VOICE, or Voices Organized in Civic Engagement, a nonprofit made up of a coalition of congregations, worker associations, schools and nonprofit groups.

Candidate realities

Acting sheriff P.D. Taylor, current Oklahoma County sergeant Mike Hanson and Ed Grimes, most recently undersheriff for Canadian County are the candidates.

Taylor is running as a Republican, Hanson a Democrat and Grimes as independent.

The reality is that each candidate has some sort of extensive law enforcement background, each is white and male.

Those realities produce similar responses on many issues with some variations.

Murmuring crowd

The most murmuring of the evening came in response to the answers all three gave to a question about Black Lives Matter and how they would enhance relationships between law enforcement and the black community in Oklahoma County.

Tussle at the Tower
Tussle at the Tower – a collaboration between NonDoc Media, Let’s Fix This & Okla Women’s Coalition

Each seems to believe that black people in Oklahoma County have few, if any, unique challenges with law enforcement.

Hanson gave an example that he was fair with black people at the Daniel Holtzclaw trial where emotions ran high about the former OKCPD officer sexually assaulting black women on the east side.

P.D. Taylor and Ed Grimes both drew groans from the crowd when each started their answers with “all lives matter” a typical conservative come-back to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Oklahoma City Police Department veteran Taylor said “I rode [patrolled] the east side for 13 years. Everyone should be treated equally.”

But some attendees gave each other open-mouthed, stunned looks after Grimes gave his response.

“All lives matter and everyone deserves to be treated equally until they can no longer be treated equally,” said Grimes. “Black is a color that you find in a box of crayons.”

Twitter reactions revealed the disappointment, too.

Central issue

While running the jail is the biggest job of any county sheriff in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma County jail has been a large issue since it opened in November 1991.

Poor design and construction has led to problems for each county sheriff since.

P.D. Taylor
P.D. Taylor

And the last sheriff, John Whetsel, added to those problems by neglecting jail facilities in favor of patrol-oriented spending. He abruptly retired March 1 after an unfavorable Oklahoma County district attorney audit.

Each candidate said that the jail had problems that needed to be fixed now in order to keep it running until a new jail could be built in the future.

But the candidates differed about what was wrong with the operation of the jail based on their own experiences.

Ed Grimes
Ed Grimes

Grimes said that the jail has been given the “same amount of money this year as last year.”

“Money has been allogated (sic) to the wrong places,” said Grimes.

As a current sergeant, Hanson emphasized a common theme throughout the evening.

“We need more staff. Spending money anywhere else is wrong,” said Hanson.

Mike Hanson
Mike Hanson

Taylor’s responses mirrored Hanson’s somewhat, but he emphasized several times during the debate that he has already made significant changes since March 2 when he took over as acting sheriff.

He has been the undersheriff for the last decade and has been with the sheriff’s office for the last 20.

But Taylor diverged from Hanson’s view of just needing more jail guards.

There is a need for people to work with inmates, assess what their needs are, and deliver a host of services the inmates need, Taylor said.

He listed major improvements that need to be made to the jail if a new one is not built, but did not rule out building a new one.

Female inmates

Appropriate treatment of female inmates came up at the first debate and then Wednesday.

Specifically, rumors have persisted that female prisoners are denied menstrual care supplies at the jail.

Hanson gave the most direct answer.

“It’s feminine hygiene, it has to happen. It’s somebody’s relative who’s in the jail.”

Grimes addressed the issue from a general standpoint of hygiene of the whole population.

And Taylor said he had taken care of the issue by 7:30 Monday morning as he had promised in the first debate.

But at both debates he left some with the impression that he was not taking the issue seriously.

Twitter reactions were similar to this one.

Special election

Oklahoma County voters will have the opportunity to elect their next sheriff in a special election Sept. 12. The winner will finish out the last three years of John Whetsel’s term.

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