Oklahoma Sheriff, Staff, All Resign Over Massive Jail F*ckery
There are a few vacancies in the Sheriff's Office in Nowata County, Oklahoma. Like almost all of them, after the acting Sheriff, Terry Sue Barnett, resigned Monday, along with the undersheriff, all the deputies, and most of the staff at the county jail. They all walked off the job after Barnett alleged a judge tried to pressure and also maybe bribe her into reopening the jail, which had been evacuated at the end of February over multiple safety issues she says the county has not made any efforts to fix. The Tulsa World has the story, which had us raising our eyebrows so frequently our forehead hurts now. (Mind you it's a heavy lift.)
Three dispatchers and two jailers stayed on the job, at least; the dispatchers still take care of 911 calls for fire and EMT services, although they have to patch law enforcement calls to other agencies. Inmates from the county jail are being held in a nearby county's jail for the time being. In a news conference yesterday, Barnett said the jail suffered from an extensive list of problems that made it unsafe, including exposed wiring and carbon monoxide gas that had hospitalized jail staff. And then there's the live snake that fell on a prisoner, which we'll get to in a moment.
Barnett and Undersheriff Mark Kirschner said they both resigned because law enforcement was under pressure from Nowata County Associate District Judge Carl Gibson to keep the jail open despite the safety problems.
"I believe in doing the right thing, and I am not going to stand down from doing the right thing," Barnett said. [...]
"I will not sweep these things under the carpet," she said.
Barnett said Judge Gibson had suggested to her last week that the county was likely to go broke paying for the prisoners to be housed elsewhere, and that if she could just see her way clear to reopening the jail without a lot of pricey maintenance, there might be a nice treat in it for her:
"He stated to me, 'Let's say you go to Greece for two weeks, and when you come back, the jail is open and has passed all inspections and the prisoners are returned.'
"He also stated to me he felt like he could get my salary up to around $75,000 in order for me to increase the salaries of employees who work in the Sheriff's Office. I advised the judge at that time my salary is dictated by statute. He also stated he could put paperwork in place for me that would protect me from all personal liability involving the jail, which I know he cannot do.
"I looked straight at the judge and asked him, 'Are you compromising my integrity?' The judge never responded. I continued to visit with the judge a little bit and informed him under no circumstances will I shove anything under the carpet concerning Nowata County. I also stated directly to him I feel that Nowata County is an extremely corrupt county.
Well gee, that's hardly a cooperative attitude, Ms. Sheriff!
Kirshner also said Gibson tried to intimidate him, because what the hell, if corruption doesn't work on the sheriff, maybe threats will work on the undersheriff:
"I came in here, was ordered up here by the judge, and he basically said if I don't get prisoners back over here I would be in contempt and go to jail, and this job is not worth me going to jail. I have a family to take care of," he said.
Kirschner said the judge feels like outsourcing is "breaking the bank" of the county, but he said it's cheaper to outsource than to try to keep the jail open.
Kind of makes you wonder -- and this is pure speculation on our part -- whether Nowata County depends on the revenue from piling up fines and fees on people committing low-level offenses, as lots of small communities do. Nothing about that in the story, but seems like something to at least look into, huh?
Barnett laid out one hell of a list of problems that led to the jail's closure:
• It does not comply with constitutional standards.
• The fire alarm system as mandated by the fire marshal is not in place.
• The cause of the carbon monoxide issue, which required four employees to go to the emergency room, has not been determined.
• The wiring is exposed in shower areas and throughout the jail; inmates have been shocked.
• There is mold throughout the jail.
• Plumbing is improper with improper sewer lines; methane gasses seep in.
• A snake fell on a prisoner's head after a jail door was opened. [Emphasis added -- Dok Z]
We'll admit, we hadn't expected that last one, at least not in a story that isn't from Florida.
Nowata County is in rather dire condition, budget-wise, according to county district commissioner Troy Friddle, who said there's only about three months left in the operating budget for the jail.
Things got even weirder Tuesday, when Judge Gibson held a hearing in which he questioned a bunch of county employees, including law enforcement, but didn't actually issue an order to reopen the jail or even set a date for another hearing.
At the conclusion of the hearing, an observer in the gallery said he "was not quite sure what that was all about." A Nowata County Court Clerk's Office employee said that as of Tuesday afternoon, no administrative order had been filed with that office.
The Tulsa World notes Nowata County has gone through acting sheriffs like the Trump White House has gone through Spinal Tap drummers in the Communications office:
At least five sheriffs have resigned from the position since 2015.
Barnett replaced Interim Sheriff Kenny Freeman, who had replaced Interim Sheriff Sandra Hadley. Hadley had stepped in to complete former Interim Sheriff Rick Miller's term. Miller took office in June 2015 after longtime Sheriff James Hallett retired midway through his term. Miller was elected to the position in November 2016.
Wednesday morning, the World reports, the county commission appointed a NEW interim sheriff, Mirta Hallett, who had retired from the sheriff's office a few years back with the rank of major. Her husband was Sheriff Jim Hallett, the one who retired halfway through his term.
We wish Nowata County all kinds of luck, and hope at the very least interim Sheriff Hallett will declare she has had it with these motherfucking snakes in that motherfucking jail. And apparently in the county government.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.