Criminal Justice Archives - The Frontier Illuminating journalism Mon, 05 Feb 2024 20:45:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Criminal Justice Archives - The Frontier 32 32 189828552 Shot by Shot: Tracking Oklahoma police shootings in 2024 Mon, 05 Feb 2024 20:45:40 +0000 The Frontier is tracking shootings by police officers in 2024.

The post Shot by Shot: Tracking Oklahoma police shootings in 2024 appeared first on The Frontier.

Data about shootings by police officers can be hard to find, so The Frontier actively tries to collect and store as much information as possible on every shooting.

Know of an officer-involved shooting we missed, or have information on one we’ve covered? Contact us at

Past years
2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018


Date: Feb. 4
Department(s) involved: Bixby Police Department.
Shot: Christopher Veal, 55.
Race: White.
Fatal: No.
Armed: Yes, with a gun. 
Details: Bixby Police responded to an early-morning domestic dispute and said Veal eventually fired “multiple rounds” toward officers, who returned fire, striking him. Veal was hospitalized, released and later booked into jail in Tulsa.

Date: Feb. 1
Department(s) involved: Oklahoma Highway Patrol, U.S. Marshals
Shot: Preston Lange
Race: White
Fatal: No
Armed: Yes, with a gun.
Details: Lange was being arrested for allegedly removing his ankle monitor after being released from prison. While authorities were attempting to serve the warrant, Lange allegedly shot at them. Officers returned fire, striking Lange, who survived.


Date: Jan. 20
Department(s) involved: LeFlore County Sheriff’s Office
Shot: Unreleased.
Race: Unreleased. 
Fatal: No.
Armed: Yes, with a gun.
Details: Deputies arrived at a home in LeFlore County after being notified of a domestic disturbance. The suspect fled the home, authorities said, eventually crashing his vehicle. He exited with a firearm, deputies said, and was shot. He survived.

The post Shot by Shot: Tracking Oklahoma police shootings in 2024 appeared first on The Frontier.

A firebombing in Tulsa highlights gaps in Oklahoma hate crime law Thu, 11 Jan 2024 14:00:22 +0000 Hate crime investigations based on gender and sexual orientation are complicated by a patchwork of state and federal laws. There’s no required training for police.

The post A firebombing in Tulsa highlights gaps in Oklahoma hate crime law appeared first on The Frontier.

Correction: The original story missreported the towns that Rural Oklahoma Pride has held LGBTQ celebrations. It has been corrected.

There’s still a burn mark on the floor of the Donut Hole in Tulsa more than a year after Coby Dale Green threw a Molotov cocktail into the shop. 

Store owner Sarah Swain hosted an exhibit by a local artist where drag performers handed out donuts behind the counter in October 2022. Weeks later, Green shattered the windows and threw the explosive device inside the store, leaving anti-LGBTQ fliers taped to the door of a neighboring business. Federal authorities didn’t arrest him for more than six months.

During that time, Green attended a drag brunch at another Tulsa business and allegedly started yelling slurs during the performance. The business owner declined an interview but claimed in court documents Green stalked and harassed her, and a judge issued a protective order against him. The Frontier isn’t identifying the business owner because she fears more harassment. 

For months before Green’s arrest, Swain kept a can of bear mace and a gun with her. She mapped out escape routes as she worked late nights preparing donuts for the mornings. And she scanned every line of customers for anyone who even slightly resembled Green. 

Green pleaded guilty to malicious use of explosives and was sentenced in December to serve five years in federal prison and another three years of probation. His sentence includes an enhancement for committing a hate crime. 

Swain’s case didn’t fit the criteria to be prosecuted under a federal hate crimes statute. And while 22 other states recognize incidents based on gender and sexual orientation as hate crimes, which can carry harsher penalties, Oklahoma law still doesn’t. Green’s attorneys declined to comment. 

Green also wasn’t charged under Tulsa’s hate crimes ordinance, which includes penalties of up to $1,000, six months in jail or both. Tulsa is one of just a few cities in the state that can prosecute hate crimes based on gender and sexual orientation because of a local law enacted in September 2020 that covers more protected classes than state law. But three years later, the only arrest Tulsa police have made under the ordinance was for malicious harassment based on race in October 2021. The charge was later dismissed.

Swain said she’s thankful she no longer has to worry about Green returning to her business unexpectedly or harming the community more.  

“I feel like I didn’t ever turn off mentally until they came in here and told me they arrested him that morning,” Swain said.

She’s concerned that a lack of protection in state law and a narrow federal law mean the perpetrators of similar crimes could get lesser sentences.

Eight local law enforcement agencies told The Frontier they still investigate those incidents as potential hate crimes, even if the state can’t prosecute them that way. But some experts believe gaps in the law prevent incidents based on gender or sexual orientation from being reported. Some LGBTQ community members also don’t report incidents because of mistrust for law enforcement. Oklahoma is one of 32 states without a requirement in statute that police go through training on investigating hate crimes and working with victims.

Hate crime cases based on gender and sexual orientation can fall to federal authorities, though the applicable law only covers specific cases and the bar for prosecution is high. Prosecutors rely partly on local law enforcement to refer incidents, said Robert Troester, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma. But Troester said he believes many crimes go unreported because of gaps in state law. 

Out of 63 hate crimes reported in Oklahoma in 2022, only 12 were based on sexual orientation, according to data from local law enforcement collected by the FBI. There were just two crimes based on gender identity reported and none based on gender that year. 

“I would be very surprised if many people in the state would report a hate crime if they thought it was based on orientation because it’s not under state law,” Troester said. 

Local law enforcement are required to report potential hate crimes through a system that the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation maintains. But state statute does not require police departments to categorize incidents based on gender and sexual orientation as hate crimes or to report them to the State Bureau of Investigation as such. 

Underreporting and a high bar for prosecutors 

The Frontier surveyed the state’s 30 largest police and sheriff’s departments on how they identify, report and investigate potential hate crimes. Officials for the eight departments that responded said they go beyond state law to report gender or sexual orientation-related hate crimes to the State Bureau of Investigation.

Representatives from five agencies said they believe crime in their communities is underreported. Two departments mentioned outreach to minority groups to encourage reporting.  

Reports of potential hate crimes from local law enforcement are also sent to the FBI. The FBI transitioned to the National Incident-Based Reporting System in 2021, which allows for more detailed data collection. All 461 departments in Oklahoma are now using the new system. 

The evidence that investigators gather is passed onto federal authorities, who can prosecute crimes based on gender and sexual orientation under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, named after a gay man who was attacked by two men and left to die, and a Black man who was killed by white supremacists. 

But the federal law only applies when a person causes or attempts to cause bodily harm in specific situations, like if the crime affects interstate or foreign commerce. Any prosecution requires certification from the U.S. Attorney General or a designee that the state where the crime occurred doesn’t have jurisdiction over the case, and that the federal government’s involvement is in the public interest. 

The only hate crime the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma’s office has prosecuted under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was the June 2019 assault of a Black man outside of a bar in Shawnee. The incident wasn’t sent to their office as a hate crime, which shows the importance of training officers on identifying those incidents, said Julia Barry, Western District civil rights coordinator.

A still image of Coby Dale Green firebombing The Donut Hole. Courtesy

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics conducts a national survey on crime victimization each year that some experts use as a tool to measure underreporting to police. Over the past five years, crimes based on sexual orientation have been reported to the FBI more often than crimes based on gender or gender identity. 

The FBI has separate bias categories for gender and gender identity, but the National Crime Victimization Survey doesn’t. About 24% of violent incidents reported in the National Crime Victimization Survey from 2015 to 2019 were believed to be based on gender. According to FBI data for that same time period, an average of about 2% of reported crimes nationwide were based on gender identity, and an average of about 0.6% were based on gender. 

Meredith Worthen, a sociology professor at the University of Oklahoma who studies LGBTQ issues, said it’s impossible to get completely accurate data for any type of victimization. Experts refer to this issue as the “dark figure of crime.” But there are additional safety and privacy concerns for many LGBTQ people, Worthen said.

Some agencies boost LGBTQ outreach

The group Rural Oklahoma Pride has organized LGBTQ celebrations in Oklahoma towns over the past two years, including in Ada and Lawton. Co-founders Jacob Jeffery and Bryan Paddack said their group has received threats through social media in some towns. They told local law enforcement about the threats in some instances and police responded with increased security at events, Jeffery said. 

There are a variety of reasons why victims might choose not to interact with police to report a crime. Jeffery said some LGBTQ community members might worry that officers could ask unwanted or insensitive questions about their gender or sexual orientation, among other concerns. 

The Tulsa Police Department has stepped up outreach efforts to the community. As Tulsa’s LGBTQ Community Liaison Officer, Thomas Bell said his job is focused on building trust. He teaches rookies in the department’s academy on how to refer to people with the appropriate genders and pronouns. 

The Tulsa Police Department created the position in 2017, after acknowledging that both historical events like the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City and a lack of communication locally had led to a tense relationship between LGBTQ community members and police. Bell said it’s helpful for the agency to have a specific officer that residents know they can come to with issues. Many of the calls he gets are from community members asking if they should report an incident to police or requesting follow ups on cases like the targeting of the Donut Hole. He also sometimes receives questions from officers about ways to build trust with victims and assure them they’re taking an investigation seriously. 

“I hope that we’re so successful in what we’re doing that I’m told someday, ‘Yeah, we don’t really need a liaison anymore because they’re good with us.’ And they don’t have any fear when they call us for a report, and they reach out to us for help when they need it,” Bell said. 

No training requirements in state law 

Eighteen states require training for law enforcement on how to identify and investigate hate crimes. Of those, 13 explicitly include training to investigate crimes based on gender and sexual orientation. 

But in Oklahoma, the amount and specific focuses of hate crime-related training are up to the discretion of individual law enforcement agencies. The Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training requires police academies across the state to include training on civil rights, but they aren’t required to cover the federal hate crimes statute. 

The eight respondents to The Frontier survey said their officers receive training on how to identify and investigate hate crimes, either through the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training basic academy or continuing education training, or their own police academy and additional instruction. But some described their training as cultural awareness or diversity, racial intelligence or community engagement. 

A spokesperson for the Broken Arrow Police Department said police recruits take an eight-hour class on cultural awareness and racial intelligence that includes legal definitions for different crimes and ways to document evidence of potential hate crimes in incident reports. The Edmond Police Department offers civil rights and hate crime training through its academy and continuing education classes, a spokesperson said. And a spokesperson for the Norman Police Department said its academy includes an 8-hour training block on how to identify and investigate potential hate crimes, and another 8-hour block on cultural diversity, including gender and sexual orientation. 

The federal government has launched several initiatives, including one created in 2021 to help local agencies do education and outreach on hate crimes, and another established in 2022 creating state-run hotlines to encourage hate crime reporting. But no agencies in Oklahoma received that funding for the 2023 fiscal year. 

The Matthew Shepard Foundation did in-person training for law enforcement across the country for a few years, focusing on helping officers identify and report bias crimes, and interact with victims respectfully. But founder Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, said no agencies in Oklahoma ever asked her team to visit.

All three U.S. Attorneys’ offices in Oklahoma train local police officers on the federal hate crimes statutes and emphasize that federal prosecutors have a path for prosecuting some bias crimes that state agencies lack. A representative from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Oklahoma in Muskogee   provides civil rights training to many new officers attending the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training police academy in Ada. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the training goes beyond state standards by also covering the federal hate crimes statutes and methods for working with victims. 

The Western District’s office works with the Oklahoma City FBI field office to try to reach as many law enforcement agencies in their area as possible, but they can’t reach all of them. They prioritize departments where they have existing relationships, as well as areas with either disproportionately high reports of hate crimes or signs of underreporting, said Adam Berry, an FBI special agent. 

Full-time officers in Oklahoma are required to complete 25 hours of continuing education training a year, including two hours on mental health issues.The Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training lists 16 classes with “hate crime” in the title that can be used for continuing education credit, but Preston Draper, the agency’s general counsel, said other training could also include information on hate crimes. He also said he thinks in-depth hate crime instruction would help many officers, but they generally benefit from fewer mandated courses, which allows them to receive more variety in their training. 

In Minnesota, the state legislature changed the law in 2023 to require that every three years, police officers receive an hour of training on hate crimes, including crimes based on gender and sexual orientation. The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, which covers the state capital St. Paul, hosted a training focused on the LGBTQ community that included identifying and reporting bias crimes, and building trust with victims by using correct names and pronouns. Local law enforcement, victims’ advocates and prosecutors attended the training, which was funded using federal Bureau of Justice Assistance money. 

“Minnesota has a reputation for having a real progressive, sort of safe environment for LGBTQ folks and others,” said assistant county attorney Mark Haase, who organized the training. “But that doesn’t always translate to how people are actually treated by police or by others.” 

Kelley Blair, the executive director of the Diversity Center of Oklahoma, an LGBTQ advocacy nonprofit, said they believe mandatory training for officers on handling hate crime cases would be helpful to build trust with victims and improve data collection. Having officers go through that curriculum regularly is also important as new officers join and society’s understanding of LGBTQ people evolves, they said. 

“We have our own culture, too,” Blair said. “And so if there are people that respect that, it would make a big difference in how people perceive them and trust them.” 

The post A firebombing in Tulsa highlights gaps in Oklahoma hate crime law appeared first on The Frontier.

A look back at Tulsa’s history of overturned convictions Thu, 28 Dec 2023 14:29:10 +0000 Some were sent to prison after testimony from witnesses who later recanted. Others were convicted based on faulty evidence before advances in DNA testing.

The post A look back at Tulsa’s history of overturned convictions appeared first on The Frontier.

Henry Jamerson served nearly 24 years in prison for a 1991 rape he says he didn’t commit. He’s trying to clear his name after DNA evidence was tested and cast doubt on his conviction. But prosecutors are still fighting a bid to have his conviction overturned. 

Read more about Jamerson’s case.

Tulsa has a history of high-profile convictions that have been overturned. Oklahoma ranks 10th per capita in the country in overturned convictions with 45 since 1989, according to data from The National Registry of Exonerations. Sixteen of those overturned cases happened in Tulsa. 

  • Sedrick Courtney was convicted in 1995 of armed robbery after a woman was blindfolded and beaten during a break-in of her apartment in Tulsa. The victim told police she believed it was Courtney who had attacked her. A Tulsa police laboratory analyst testified that hair found at the scene was similar to Courtney’s. The Innocence Project began requesting access to DNA evidence from Courtney’s case in 2007, but Tulsa Police said it had been destroyed. When evidence was eventually located and tested, it ruled out Courtney as the source. His conviction was overturned in 2012 and he later won an $8 million settlement with the city of Tulsa for his wrongful conviction.
  • Michelle Murphy’s murder conviction was vacated in 2014. Murphy was 17 years old when she found her infant son, Travis, stabbed to death in her kitchen in 1994. She was charged with her son’s murder after giving police a false confession, according to the Innocence Project. Prosecutors told Murphy’s attorney that blood from the scene belonged to her son, but later told jurors that test results from the blood could not rule out Murphy as suspect. The jury convicted her based on the blood evidence and a recording of a juvenile neighbor who suffered from mental health issues and had hanged himself by the time of the trial. The neighbor told police he had looked through Murphy’s windows and saw her son in a pool of blood and Murphy with blood on her arms. A judge sentenced her to life without the possibility of parole in 1995. She was freed in 2015 after DNA testing on the blood revealed it belonged to an unidentified male. Prosecutors dismissed Murphy’s case and a judge ruled her innocent
De’Marcho Carpenter, left, and Malcolm Scott try to direct a T-shirt cannon their way during a timeout at an Oklahoma City Thunder game on Dec. 25. MICHAEL DOWNES/ For The Frontier
  • Malcolm Scott and De’Marcho Carpenter’s murder convictions were vacated in 2016. Scott and Carpenter were convicted in the 1994 killing of 19-year-old Karen Summers and the wounding of two others. A third man, Michael Wilson, was also arrested after police found him trying to hide a pistol that had been used in the shootings. Wilson eventually told police he gave the gun and ammunition to Scott and Carpenter and hid the gun for them. Scott and Carpenter were sentenced to life plus 170 years in prison in 1995. In 2014, just before his execution on an unrelated murder conviction, Wilson told investigators he had actually killed Summers and blamed it on Scott and Carpenter. A Tulsa County judge vacated Scott and Carpenter’s sentences in 2016, declaring them “actually innocent.”
Corey Atchison. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier
  • Corey Atchison’s murder conviction was vacated in 2019. Atchison, who is Malcolm Scott’s half-brother, was convicted for the1990 shooting and killing 29-year-old James Lane. Atchison, who was 19 at the time, said he and his friends heard the gunshots, saw Lane in the street, and urged others to call 911. Atchison said he tried to help the dying man. He stayed at the scene for hours that night, before police searched his vehicle and found nothing illegal. Months later, a 16-year-old named Doane Thomas implicated Atchison as the shooter in a phone call with detectives. Thomas later said detectives coerced his identification of Atchison. Two other suspects, Ben King and 15-year-old Demacio McClendon, also later implicated Atchison, and claimed to have been threatened and coerced by police. Atchison was sentenced to life in prison in 1991. A Tulsa County judge vacated Atchison’s conviction in 2019, ruling it was a “fundamental miscarriage of justice” and that eye witnesses had been coerced to testify against Atchison. The judge said: “Without those witnesses, I don’t think a jury would have found Mr. Atchison guilty of this crime.”

The post A look back at Tulsa’s history of overturned convictions appeared first on The Frontier.

DNA evidence casts doubt on Henry Jamerson’s rape conviction after 24 years in prison. Prosecutors are fighting efforts to clear his name. Thu, 28 Dec 2023 14:28:15 +0000 A new discovery follows years of claims that the evidence had been destroyed. The victim says doubts about the case always haunted her.

The post DNA evidence casts doubt on Henry Jamerson’s rape conviction after 24 years in prison. Prosecutors are fighting efforts to clear his name. appeared first on The Frontier.

Kayleen Dubbs was sitting in her car on a summer night in 1991, listening to the radio while waiting for her boyfriend to get off work. 

Two men approached Dubbs’ car and one held a gun, telling the second man to watch her while he went inside to rob the Tulsa diner where Dubbs and her boyfriend worked. Just 16 and newly pregnant, Dubbs told police she was terrified as the lookout man pulled her from the car, pressed what she thought was a stun gun to her neck and raped her behind a dumpster.

Minutes later, the robber emerged from the diner’s back door as Dubbs lay on the ground, pretending she fainted. Both men ran off into the darkness. 

Whoever robbed the store that night, May 24, 1991, was never found. A Tulsa Police Department detective wrote that the robbery investigation “bogged down” and the file was turned over to the sex crimes unit.

Dubbs, the only witness who reported seeing the rapist, told police she thought she could describe her attacker. 

By late July, police prepared a report for prosecutors alleging that William Henry Jamerson, a 22-year-old former busboy at the diner, Ma Bell’s, was the rape suspect. Jamerson was arrested, charged, tried and convicted in a whirlwind of three months. 

Trial transcripts show prosecutors based their case on two pieces of evidence: testing on semen recovered during Dubbs’ sexual assault exam they said put Jamerson in a “narrow class” of people who could have been the rapist, as well as Dubbs’ supposed identification of Jamerson, including in a police photo lineup. 

Advanced DNA testing wasn’t widely used in 1991, but a chemist testified during the trial that Jamerson was among the 20% of people who are “non-secretors,” meaning their blood type is not detectable in their semen. Police said tests done on the rape kit showed the semen belonged to a non-secretor. Jamerson’s attorney opted not to cross examine the chemist, telling jurors he feared the testimony would only confuse them.

Jamerson’s trial lasted only two days. His attorney, who lost his license to practice law in 1995 for “disciplinary reasons” according to the Oklahoma Bar Association, did not give an opening statement and did not call any witnesses. Jurors took about three hours to come back with a guilty verdict and Jamerson was sentenced to 34 years on three felony counts. 

It was a verdict that Jamerson, who was 22 years old when he was sent to prison, has spent the last 30 years trying to undo. 

For decades, he begged the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office in letters and court motions to find and test the rape kit for DNA. Tulsa police said each time that the sexual assault examination evidence had been destroyed. 

But those repeated claims by police, including under oath in a 2020 court hearing, were wrong. The evidence police insisted for more than two decades had been destroyed was instead found last year in a police property storage facility. Once that evidence was tested, Jamerson was excluded as being the source.

Jamerson spent nearly 24 years in prison before being released in 2015. He has to register as a sex offender until 2025. Jamerson’s long quest to clear his name is detailed in a 56-page petition filed in August by attorneys Dan Smolen and Allen Smallwood seeking to throw out his conviction. 

Prosecutors are pushing back against Jamerson’s efforts. Dubbs described the rape as only taking place for a matter of minutes and never testified the assailant ejaculated, so the sample not belonging to Jamerson doesn’t exclude him from being the rapist, they say. Prosecutors also argue Dubbs’ alleged identification of Jamerson as her attacker in 1991 is still evidence of guilt.

Police records state Dubbs picked Jamerson out of a photo lineup. But now, Dubbs, who still lives in the area, told The Frontier she didn’t remember seeing a photo lineup. It was Tulsa Police, Dubbs said, who told her Jamerson was her rapist.

The Frontier does not identify victims of sexual violence without their consent. In multiple interviews, Dubbs consented to The Frontier publishing her name.

“I was 16, I was pregnant, I was scared … I just did what Vicki (Sousa, the prosecutor) told me,” Dubbs said. “I got on the stand and did what they said and answered the questions. It’s always bothered me.

“Things don’t add up to me. It’s been eating me alive ever since.”

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, as is his custom with an ongoing case, declined to be interviewed for the story. He also declined to view The Frontier’s recorded interviews with Dubbs. 

After two decades in prison, Jamerson cuts a soft-spoken, humble profile. He said he’s worked to overcome the anger that filled him years ago at being accused and imprisoned for a crime he says he didn’t commit. He said he wants to clear his name while his mother, Donna, 81, is still alive.

“I kept fighting because I knew I didn’t do anything wrong,” Jamerson said.

Smolen notes Jamerson’s case didn’t happen in a vacuum. Police also repeatedly insisted DNA evidence had been destroyed in the case of Sedrick Courtney, convicted in 1995 of armed robbery after a woman was blindfolded and beaten during a break-in of her apartment in Tulsa. 

She told police she believed it was Courtney who had attacked her. A Tulsa police laboratory analyst testified hair found at the scene was similar to Courtney’s. As in Jamerson’s case, it was too early for advanced DNA testing. Courtney was convicted based on the victim’s identification, including from a photo lineup, and testimony about the recovered hair.

The Innocence Project began requesting access to the DNA evidence from Courtney’s case in 2007, but Tulsa Police said the evidence had been destroyed. It was eventually located, and when tested, ruled out Courtney as the source. His conviction was overturned and he later won an $8 million settlement against the city of Tulsa for his wrongful conviction.

Oklahoma ranks 10th per capita in the country in overturned convictions with 45 since 1989, according to data provided by The National Registry of Exonerations. Sixteen of those wrongful convictions occurred in Tulsa, data shows. 

Years of denials, then a surprising twist 

In 1991, advanced DNA techniques now taken for granted in courtrooms were not widely used. Instead, prosecutors in his case relied on serology, the study of blood. At the time of Jamerson’s trial, DNA testing was in its infancy. So investigators would look within the semen to see if blood had been secreted, and then use that information to determine blood type.

Jamerson’s conviction rested on two things: Dubbs’ alleged identification of Jamerson and the serology results done on semen collected during her sexual assault examination. Trial transcripts show prosecutors told jurors the results of the tests couldn’t confirm Jamerson as the source, but they couldn’t rule him out, either.

During closing arguments, prosecutor Vicki Sousa told jurors the case was air-tight.

“In some cases you only have circumstantial evidence,” Sousa said. “And in other cases, you have just the eyewitness or victim’s testimony. Ladies and gentlemen, in this case, you have both.”

Reached by phone, Sousa declined to be interviewed by The Frontier.

As DNA testing became more prevalent and reliable, Jamerson pleaded from prison for someone to test the sample, convinced it would rule him out as a suspect. The Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, which provides legal services for people in the criminal justice system who can’t afford an attorney, even obtained a grant in the years after Jamerson’s conviction to test DNA in questionable convictions. 

But no matter who asked for the sample, they were met with the same roadblock: The Tulsa Police Department claimed to have destroyed it. 

In 2001, Jamerson asked lawyers for the Indigent Defense System to test the rape kit, but they informed him it was impossible.

“As you already know, the Tulsa Police Department destroyed whatever evidence they had in their possession,” Indigent Defense attorney Kathleen Smith wrote to Jamerson. 

Jamerson wrote to Tulsa Court Clerk Sally Howe-Smith in 2002, asking her to check for evidence, but none was found. 

The Indigent Defense System wrote to Jamerson in 2014 that the DNA Forensic Testing Program had been discontinued. But the letter gave Jamerson a lifeline, something that would connect him with the attorney who made a crucial breakthrough in his case.

“However,” wrote Indigent Defense investigator Kim Marks, “I found a document from the Tulsa Police Department’s legal advisor in which the status of the evidence in your case …(is) addressed.”

The document was a 2001 memo from the Tulsa Police Department’s legal advisor at the time, telling the Indigent Defense System that the rape kit Jamerson was seeking had been in an evidence building known as the Trenton Facility, but was destoyed via court order in 1995.

Tulsa civil rights attorney Dan Smolen. MICHAEL WYKE/The Frontier

In 2016, one year after being released from prison, Jamerson traveled to Smolen’s office, holding a nearly 20-year-old story from the Tulsa World. Smolen, a civil rights attorney whose firm has a history of taking on law enforcement misconduct, immediately took an interest in Jamerson’s case.

In the 2001 news article, then-Tulsa Police Chief Ron Palmer told the paper evidence from 10 cases, including Jamerson’s, had not been destroyed, and in fact, remained in the department’s possession “untouched.”

The article stated two Indigent Defense attorneys were investigating the evidence, which was “held at a city facility at 105 N. Trenton Ave.”

Smolen said he had worked on other cases where supposedly destroyed or missing evidence had been found, so Jamerson’s assertion that his innocence could be proven if they could locate the DNA wasn’t outlandish. But it was mostly Jamerson’s patient and calm demeanor that drew Smolen in.

Over the next four years, Smolen would repeatedly ask for Tulsa Police to produce the rape kit, which he was convinced still existed. And for years, Tulsa Police would tell him it had been destroyed. 

At least once, those assurances even conflicted with what Tulsa police said internally. A Tulsa police captain emailed city attorneys in 2016 that “this is 25 years old but I believe the items listed on the receipt may still be in the property room.” 

Yet police continued to insist to Smolen that the rape kit and other evidence had been destroyed, including in an evidentiary court hearing in November 2020. 

In 2022, after years of getting nowhere, Smolen convinced a judge to let him search for the evidence. But when he actually gained access to the Tulsa Police property room that summer, he faced a different problem – he had no idea how to find what he was looking for. 

Closely watched by property room staffers and officers, Smolen spent hours that day looking for the rape kit and other evidence, growing increasingly disappointed as it appeared it was no longer there. Eventually he found a lead: The back of an original property receipt listing evidence retained in Jamerson’s case showed an as yet-unseen item identified as “fibers.” 

By 3 p.m., having blown past lunch, Smolen was informed the people supervising his search needed to take an hour break. Smolen was buoyant, he said, having found a new lead for the first time in years. But the possibility existed that it would turn out to be another dead end. 

“I was like, ‘this is going to give me the opportunity at least to go in front of a judge and argue I should be able to go back and look for more stuff,’” Smolen said.

When he returned to the property room, he said the vibe had shifted. 

“When we walked back in … it’s a completely different feeling in the room,” Smolen told The Frontier. “I was like ‘Did you guys find it?’”

The item, a manilla envelope, had been found in a dry police storage facility located elsewhere in Tulsa. It wasn’t the rape kit, but it was something better. They had located slides containing biological evidence from the rape kit, material that had already been identified as containing semen.

Months later, the sample was sent to a forensic testing laboratory in Virginia. The lab responded via email on April 13, 2023, saying the results excluded Jamerson as the source of the sample. 

Smolen told The Frontier he anticipated the test results would end the case, and Jamerson would finally have his sentence vacated. But prosecutors took a different approach. 

The Tulsa County District Attorney’s office response maintains that the DNA test results do not qualify as a reason to vacate Jamerson’s conviction. 

“The lack of Jamerson’s DNA from the latest round of testing does nothing for him,” a prosecutorial filing states. “It does not overcome a conclusive identification of him made by GD (Dubbs).” 

‘A remarkable resemblance’

In an Oct. 31 response to Jamerson’s petition to vacate his conviction, prosecutors continued to maintain that Dubbs identified Jamerson as her attacker when she chose him from a photo lineup. 

The Tulsa County District Attorney’s response states a detective presented Dubbs with a photo lineup and included a form with Dubbs’ signature saying she chose Jamerson’s photo from it. The evidence gathered by law enforcement, however, did not include a recording of Dubbs identifying Jamerson from a lineup or the actual photos from that lineup. 

Dubbs testified during Jamerson’s trial that she viewed a photo lineup of five people and picked Jamerson out of the series of photos. She told the prosecutor she had no doubt Jamerson was her rapist.

But police records from the case show how detectives, not Dubbs, came up with Jamerson as their prime suspect before a photo lineup. 

Because witnesses described the robber and rapist as Black men and there were suspicions the robbery could have been an inside job, a store manager, not present on the night of the crimes, gave police the names of three current and former restaurant employees who were Black, including Jamerson. 

Though no witnesses had named Jamerson as a suspect and some named another man they thought was responsible, police nonetheless pulled Jamerson’s photo taken during an earlier encounter and added it to the case files on the Ma Bell’s rape and robbery. 

Two months after the robbery, Det. David Witt was brought into the investigation to create a composite drawing of the rape suspect. The composite was created based on an interview with Dubbs, police records state.

“Witt … was not certified and had no formal training as a forensic artist. The drawing he created is not a forensic drawing,” Jamerson’s petition states.

According to police records, the robbery detective assigned to the case saw Witt’s drawing of the rape suspect and “noticed the resemblance of that composite to … a standard police mug shot of William Henry Jamerson.” The robbery detective, J. Hunter, shared the composite and photograph of Jamerson with Det. Deborah Daniels, who agreed there was a “remarkable resemblance” between the two, police records state.

Jamerson’s petition claims officers created the composite drawing, then informed Dubbs that it had allowed them to identify Jamerson as the attacker. “TPD never disclosed to the District Attorney’s Office that they – not Dubbs – had identified Jamerson as the assailant,” Jamerson’s petition claims.

During Jamerson’s trial, the state did not call either Hunter or Daniels – who investigated the case and were integral in identifying Jamerson – as witnesses to testify about that process. The state did enter a “stipulation” outlining that Daniels would, if called, testify about collecting bodily fluids from Jamerson after his arrest. Prosecutors now say they aren’t sure “why the State did not call” the detective responsible for the alleged photo line up, “or include anything about the photo lineup” in its stipulation about Daniels’ testimony.

In interviews with The Frontier, Dubbs said while she recalled helping Witt draw a composite sketch of her attacker’s face, she did not recall participating in a photo lineup.

“I don’t remember any lineup, I don’t think so, and I remember everything,” Dubbs said.

Dubbs said she had never met Jamerson and that she first heard his name from police. “They said they had … found the guy that they believe is the guy that did it and that his name was Jamerson,” she said.

She said she described what her attacker looked like to police, pointing to the composite drawn two months after the attack, and doesn’t know how police came up with his name. 

“I gave them the face I saw and they’re the ones who later on was like ‘Oh this is who this is.’’’ Dubbs said police told her “his identity was a perfect match” with the composite sketch. “But they could be lying to me, I don’t know.” 

‘No Negroid hairs so far!’ 

While police told Dubbs they had identified her attacker, some evidence pointed to another possible suspect. But records show that exculpatory information wasn’t turned over to Jamerson or his previous attorney before trial.

Tests from the Tulsa Police lab on Dubbs’ clothing from that night found numerous pubic hairs from a Caucasian person. Jamerson said those tests were among hundreds of pages of documents the prosecutor didn’t share with his attorney.

Despite finding no hairs from a Black assailant, records show prosecutors and police were clearly looking for them during their bid to tie Jamerson to the rape.

A Tulsa police crime lab examiner’s notes about tests on Dubbs’ clothing from that night state that Sousa called the examiner on Sept. 23, 1991 – about a month after Jamerson was arrested. 

“She said that she needs to know if there are any negroid hairs in order to obtain known samples from the suspect!” the examiner’s notes state. 

The next day, the examiner’s notes state: “No negroid hairs so far!”

In a sworn statement filed in the case, Sousa stated while she doesn’t have detailed memories, “it was my practice to provide defense counsel with all police reports in my possession as an (assistant district attorney) assigned to a case.” 

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1963 that the government’s failure to disclose evidence favorable to a criminal defendant and that could determine guilt or punishment is a violation of the 14th Amendment’s right to due process. Withholding evidence can be used to overturn convictions in some cases. 

‘I kept fighting’

During the nearly 24 years he spent in Oklahoma prisons, Jamerson waged a lonely quest to prove his innocence. He spent most of his time in law libraries, writing appeals and letters to anyone who might help.

While those appeals were turned down, he struggled to rise above the everyday horrors of prison life. Jamerson saw the aftermath of a teen cellmate’s suicide by hanging and the fatal stabbing of a prison cafeteria worker. He was unable to grieve with his family after his father and brother died.

Yet through those years, he rejected multiple chances to win early release through parole, a process that would have required him to admit guilt in the case. 

“I ain’t going to accept a crime that I didn’t do,” he said. 

When freedom finally came in 2015, Jamerson said he remained determined to prove his innocence, even after serving out his time. He had to register as a sex offender, making it nearly impossible to find a steady job to support himself. He said he can find temporary employment, but it almost always ends as soon as his employers learn about his criminal past. 

His memorabilia from days as a standout basketball player had been removed from a display at Central High School. If his conviction is vacated and he’s found legally innocent of the crime, he could be eligible for compensation from Oklahoma’s Wrongful Conviction Fund. But the payout is capped at $175,000 and it could take years to be compensated.

Most of all, Jamerson said he wants to prove his innocence and clear his name to make life easier for his mother, who never wavered in her support for him during her son’s two decades in prison. 

“She always tells me ‘I’ll be glad to have this over with,’” he said.

Golden Saddle Cafe, 6618 E. Admiral Place, in Tulsa. The diner is the former site of Ma Bell’s, where Kayleen Dubbs worked in 1991. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Jamerson said he has worked for years to overcome his anger at how the case played out. 

While watching Dubbs’ video interview with The Frontier, in which she expresses doubts about his conviction, Jamerson shook his head and exhaled. 

“I didn’t lose no hope … I just stayed focused,” he said.

Glenda Kayleen Dubbs.

Dubbs said it’s important to remember that even if Jamerson’s conviction is vacated, she is also a victim in the case. She said she was a traumatized, pregnant teen who did what police and prosecutors told her to do.

“I feel like they put a story together … I’m not here to convict people that aren’t guilty. I was 16, I was pregnant. I was scared.” She said if she had been older and more confident to stand up for herself, the outcome might have been different.

“It’s a very emotional thing to sit there with a jury and (be) pregnant and being so young. And your parents are sitting there and … the lawyers are asking you, ‘If you could see his penis again could you identify it.’” 

The possibility that she might have been wrong about who attacked her that night is deeply upsetting to her. 

“I am damaged and still a victim. Now I get to live with the fact that my rapist wasn’t caught.” 

The post DNA evidence casts doubt on Henry Jamerson’s rape conviction after 24 years in prison. Prosecutors are fighting efforts to clear his name. appeared first on The Frontier.

Oklahoma officials claim the Okmulgee jail illegally held juveniles Mon, 18 Dec 2023 16:49:00 +0000 Some minors were not kept separate from adult prisoners. In one case, a juvenile was housed with an adult, an inspection found.

The post Oklahoma officials claim the Okmulgee jail illegally held juveniles appeared first on The Frontier.

State officials claim the Okmulgee County Jail is violating state and federal law by holding juvenile prisoners without proper certification and housing them alongside adults.

The jail has held youth facing charges in tribal and federal court in the past and claims state officials have no authority over those prisoners. 

State inspectors found in 2022 that some of the juveniles were not kept separate from adults. In one case, a juvenile was housed with an adult prisoner, according to an inspection report.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Office of Juvenile Affairs filed separate civil actions in Okmulgee County earlier this month against the trust that runs the Okmulgee County Jail, asking a judge to order the facility to stop housing juveniles until it receives state certification. 

The judge denied the Office of Juvenile Affairs’ motion last week. Eric Stall, an attorney representing the jail, said the State Department of Health’s request for an emergency order to  stop the jail from holding juveniles was also denied because the judge ruled there was no “emergency.” 

“If you believe their allegation about juveniles being housed with adults, that allegation first came to light in July 2022,” Stall told The Frontier. “That was almost 18 months ago.”

The state has notified the court of its intent to appeal.  

“We are disappointed in the judge’s ruling,” said Department of Health spokeswoman Erica Rankin. “The agency is exploring all available options.”

After a federal law change in 2021, all Oklahoma jails lost their certifications to hold juveniles in October, 2021, and the Department of Health notified the jails of the changes in August of that year. Okmulgee County jail officials said they believe the restriction only applies to prisoners who are in state custody, and not those being held at the jail for tribes and federal authorities.

Jails that house juveniles are governed by strict state and federal rules, said Ben Brown, general counsel for the Office of Juvenile Affairs. Youths must be separated from the sight and sound of adult prisoners and are not allowed to be placed in solitary confinement for long periods. Jails are also required to provide time for educational activities, Brown said. 

Juveniles who are housed in adult prisons and jails report being more afraid for their safety and can be at greater risk for physical and sexual assault, some research shows. 

Okmulgee County Jail officials maintain that the facility follows all federal and tribal requirements for holding juvenile prisoners and has a full-time school teacher for youth. 

The state moved to take legal action after jail staff blocked inspectors in November from reviewing records and speaking with juveniles being held at the facility for the Cherokee Nation and U.S. Marshals Service. Julie Hubbard, a spokesperson for Cherokee Nation, told The Frontier last week that Cherokee juveniles were not currently being held in the Okmulgee jail. She did not respond when asked if juveniles would return to the jail in the future.

The Okmulgee County Criminal Justice Authority, which operates the jail, claims it did not bar state inspectors from the jail. Jail officials claim they only told inspectors they could not bring cell phones inside or inspect records for and visit prisoners in tribal or federal custody.

Tim Lawson, director of operations at the Okmulgee County Criminal Justice Authority, told The Frontier the state tried to overstep its bounds. The jail doesn’t house any juveniles in state custody, he said. 

“It was a losing battle for them from the start, in that they had no legal standing as it related to federal juveniles or sovereign tribal juveniles,” he said. 

The Okmulgee County Criminal Justice Authority has repeatedly argued with state officials over access to federal and tribal prisoners and has been cited for violating Oklahoma jail standards, records show. 

State health inspectors dinged the Okmulgee County Jail in 2022 for failing to conduct routine checks on prisoners, unsanitary conditions and fire hazards. An inspection also found that the jail was holding six juveniles for tribal and federal authorities, although the facility was not certified by the state to house minors. A jail administrator also refused to provide information to a Health Department inspector about federal prisoners being housed at the facility, the report states.

Jail officials denied State Health Department inspectors access to federal inmates again during an inspection in August, according to inspection reports. 

Lawson said during the August inspection that health department inspectors demanded access to juveniles held at the jail, which put the jail in an awkward situation with the tribal and federal authorities it has contracts with to house prisoners. 

“They are, for lack of a better term, bullies,”Lawson said. “We will let them talk to them in passing — ‘Hey, how are you being taken care of and fed?’ But we can’t give them an opportunity to get into a case. We’re just protecting them. There’s nobody there on their behalf other than us. We don’t hide anyone from the inspectors when they come through, we give them access, but it’s minimal in that we can’t jeopardize the relationship with those that are paying us to house them.”

Lawson said the jail plans to continue holding juveniles for the tribal and federal authorities.

The post Oklahoma officials claim the Okmulgee jail illegally held juveniles appeared first on The Frontier.

An Oklahoma mom’s court challenge seeks to end charges for pregnant women who use medical marijuana Thu, 14 Dec 2023 19:43:22 +0000 Prosecutors have filed a flurry of criminal child neglect cases involving women who used marijuana during their pregnancies since the state legalized medical use.

The post An Oklahoma mom’s court challenge seeks to end charges for pregnant women who use medical marijuana appeared first on The Frontier.

Attorneys for a Comanche County woman are asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to stop prosecutors in the state from criminally charging women who use medical marijuana during their pregnancies.  

An application filed at the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Thursday argues state law grants medical marijuana users immunity from arrest or prosecution. 

The legal challenge involves the case of Brittany Gunsolus, 27, who used marijuana edibles and topical creams during her pregnancy with a recommendation from her doctor, according to the filing. Gunsolus gave birth to a healthy baby in Lawton in October 2020 who tested positive for marijuana. Child welfare workers closed an investigation after finding Gunsolus’ home was safe and loving. But the Comanche County District Attorney still charged Gunsolus with felony child neglect in May 2021.

Attorneys for Gunsolus argue she can’t be prosecuted for using an illegal drug during her pregnancy because medical marijuana is the same as any other legal medication used at the direction of a doctor under Oklahoma law. 

At a court hearing in Comanche County in August, a prosecutor argued Gunsolus broke the law because her unborn child did not have its own, separate state license to use medical marijuana. 

Medical experts advise that women should not use marijuana while pregnant or breastfeeding, because of the potential to pass chemicals to their babies that can affect brain development.

The Frontier reached out to Comanche County District Attorney Kyle Cabelka’s office for comment on Thursday and is awaiting a response.     

The nonprofit Pregnancy Justice, which advocates for the civil rights of pregnant people, is providing legal support for Gunsolus’ court case. 

The Frontier first reported in 2022 that Oklahoma has seen a flurry of criminal cases involving women who used marijuana during their pregnancies since the state voted to legalize medical use in 2018. The Frontier has found dozens of women charged with child neglect for using marijuana during pregnancy 17 women were prosecuted even though they had state medical marijauna licenses.

Child neglect carries a maximum sentence of life in prison in Oklahoma, but women have received probation in all of the cases The Frontier has found.

The post An Oklahoma mom’s court challenge seeks to end charges for pregnant women who use medical marijuana appeared first on The Frontier.

A criminal record and protective orders didn’t stop her attacker from having a gun Thu, 07 Dec 2023 14:05:37 +0000 Firearms have been the leading cause of domestic violence homicides in Oklahoma since 1998. The state’s anti-red flag law bans any efforts to seize weapons by court order.

The post A criminal record and protective orders didn’t stop her attacker from having a gun appeared first on The Frontier.

Robert Lee Harrison Jr. was charming when Tara Currin first met him at an Oklahoma City bar, but things turned dangerous when he started using drugs about a year into their relationship.  

Harrison, 50, became verbally abusive and accused Currin, 53, of hiding cameras around her apartment, she said. 

She knew she had to break up with Harrison when he crept up behind her with a gun and shot into the wall at her apartment in Warr Acres.

“I wasn’t scared of Robert,” she said. “I was afraid of him when he had a gun.”

Harrison had three prior felony convictions, a misdemeanor conviction for domestic abuse and two active protective orders against him that should have kept him from possessing guns under state and federal laws. He also had two pending criminal charges against him for possessing a firearm after a prior felony conviction and was out of jail on bond. 

But none of these things kept Harrison from hiding in the parking garage with a gun at the Oklahoma City hospital where Currin worked and shooting her eight times on March 11, 2022.

If Currin had lived in one of 21 states with a red flag law, a judge could have ordered police to seize Harrison’s guns. But Oklahoma lawmakers passed the nation’s first and only anti-red flag law in 2020. The law bans the state or any county or city from enacting a red flag law or accepting any grants to support red flag legislation. 

Domestic violence advocates say Oklahoma’s permissive gun laws give abusers easy access to weapons. Guns accounted for 70% of domestic violence-related fatalities in Oklahoma in 2021, according to the most recent state numbers. The Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control has ranked Oklahoma in its top 10 states for women murdered by men in 15 out of the past 25 years. Oklahoma is now ranked number two in the nation for women murdered by men.

Kim Garrett-Funk, founder of the Oklahoma City-based nonprofit Palomar, which provides services to victims of domestic violence, said she saw the worst cases in her career in the last three years and attributed it to the state’s firearm laws such as not requiring a permit to carry and the Anti-Red Flag Act. She said simultaneously, as the laws changed, the state also lacked affordable housing, childcare, and resources for victims, and some abusers get triggered by protective orders and escalate to severe violence.

“I think part of it goes back to access to firearms. There’s a direct correlation. If you look back at our laws, opening up access and an increase in firearm-related homicides,” Funk said. 

A protective order didn’t stop an attack with a gun 

The day after Valentine’s Day in 2022, Currin went to the Oklahoma County courthouse and took out an emergency protective order against Harrison. 

Currin checked the box marked “victim of domestic abuse/violence” and wrote she was afraid Harrison would retaliate against her for filing the protective order. She wrote that she wanted Harrison to get mental health and substance use treatment. 

Currin changed her phone number and the locks at her apartment. She told sheriff’s deputies to serve Harrison with the protective order at his brother’s house, but they couldn’t find him. Currin said Harrison called her mother’s phone and said he knew sheriff’s deputies were trying to find him to serve the protective order. She told Harrison he needed to get help for his drug use. 

Federal law bars anyone with an active protective order against them from possessing guns. When Oklahoma County deputies serve an order, they tell the person to turn over any weapons they have to law enforcement, but can’t make anyone comply or forcibly seize guns, said Aaron Brillbeck, a spokesperson for the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office. 

Currin said she doesn’t know how Harrison got access to guns, but he always managed to have one.  

One day after an Oklahoma County judge finalized Currin’s emergency protective order, Harrison showed up at her workplace with a gun. 

Harrison hid in the parking garage of Integris Baptist Medical Center where he followed Currin to her car at the end of the work day. 

“He punched me right in the face. And he said, ‘Scoot over, I’ll shoot you,'” Currin recalled. 

He continued punching her, but Currin was able to open the passenger-side door of the car and escape. Harrison chased Currin and cornered her by the elevators on the fourth floor. He raised his gun and pointed it at her. Currin grabbed the weapon, hoping to at least keep him from getting a fatal shot. Harrison shot Currin six times in the abdomen and twice in the thigh.

Harrison then fled the scene as Currin tried to crawl back into the hospital. She just wanted to survive and knew there were nurses two floors below. Currin climbed down a flight of stairs before losing consciousness. 

Second Amendment advocates fight red flag laws

Firearms have been the leading cause of domestic violence homicides in Oklahoma since 1998, according to data from the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board. The state panel operates under the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office and reviews deaths and makes policy recommendations to help protect victims. 

The board can make recommendations to the legislature, said Leslie Berger, press secretary for the Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General. But it has not made any recommendations to change state gun laws in any of the available reports online which date back to 2002. A different organization produced the reports prior to 2010. 

The board recommended in 2020 that law enforcement and the courts assess whether people convicted of domestic abuse and violating protective orders have firearms, but didn’t offer any specific changes to the law.

A growing number of states began adopting red flag laws after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Before 2018, just five states had red flag laws. 

The laws allow police and family members to seek a court order to temporarily remove guns from individuals who may pose a violent threat to themselves or others. 

The U.S. Department of Justice issued model legislation in 2021 for states to follow that outlines a process allowing law enforcement to seize weapons with a court order.

But Second Amendment advocates have opposed efforts to prevent people from keeping guns as an infringement of the constitutional right to bear arms.

The United States Supreme Court is now weighing whether the federal law that bars people with active protective orders from possessing guns is constitutional. The case involves a Texas man who was criminally charged for possessing a gun while there was an active domestic violence protective order against him. Zackey Rahimi was involved in five separate shootings and threatened a woman with a gun before his arrest. 

In 2020, Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, and Rep. Jay Steagall, R-Yukon, introduced the nation’s first anti-red flag law in the Oklahoma Legislature. The bill’s authors said during hearings at the Oklahoma Capitol they believe red flag laws violate the constitutional rights of gun owners.

“This isn’t solely about the Second Amendment. These red flag laws violate numerous provisions of the Bill of Rights. The right to face your accuser, the right to a fair trial, the right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizures,” Dahm said while presenting the bill at a Senate committee. “In fact, these red flag laws violate the majority of the Bill of Rights.” 

Some lawmakers raised concerns about mass shootings and domestic violence cases when the bill was brought for a vote during a committee hearing in the House of Representatives. 

“What is more important? A man’s right to a weapon, or a woman’s right to life, liberty, and happiness,” said Rep. Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater.

The bill passed with strong support from Republican lawmakers. Gov. Kevin Stitt, who signed the bill into law, did not respond to questions or interview requests.

The Frontier attempted to reach Dahm through phone calls, interview requests via email, and written questions through email, but he didn’t respond.

Steagall declined an interview request and did not respond to written questions.

Currin believes a red flag law could have prevented her attack. The court could have granted a search warrant for police to seize any weapons. Tara Tyler, executive director of the domestic violence support agency Survivor Resource Network in Ponca City, believes limiting abusers’ access to firearms could help save lives.  

“There’s no question that unfettered, unrestricted gun access negatively impacts public safety,” she said. “And I say that as a gun owner.”

There is usually a pattern of escalating violence before most intimate partner homicides, said Sarah Schettler, a spokeswoman for the Norman Police Department.

“If those who have convictions early have firearms removed, lethal events may not be as likely to occur,” Schettler said.

A red flag law could be another tool to help law enforcement prevent homicides, Shettler said. 

Representatives for the Tulsa and Edmond departments all declined to answer questions about the efficacy of red flag laws and the Oklahoma City Police Department didn’t have any information on the effect of the Anti-Red Flag Act.

Trying to recover after a protective order served too late

Police didn’t find Harrison until the day after he shot Currin, when his black Ford F-150 truck was spotted at an Oklahoma City apartment complex. 

Harrison took off running into a wooded area, where a police officer chased him to a metal fence. Officers found ecstasy, marijuana, methamphetamine and other pills on Harrison. Police searched the apartment and found a gun in the master bedroom, but it’s unclear if it was the weapon used to shoot Currin. The department declined to comment on whether it was the gun used to shoot her.

After the shooting, Currin had to have surgery on her left leg to avoid having it amputated. She had physical therapy and home health services for three months and recently started physical therapy again. 

Currin only started to feel pain from her injuries after the shock and adrenaline from the attack wore off. Doctors told her she was lucky to be alive.

Police didn’t serve Harrison with Currin’s protective order until March 15, 2022, four days after the shooting, when he was sitting in the Oklahoma County Detention Center. 

Harrison continued to try to contact Currin. Six months after he shot her and left her bleeding out, he emailed her from the jail and asked to visit with her by video. Contacting Currin violated the protective order she still had against Harrison. 

Federal authorities charged Harrison with illegal possession of ammunition for two spent rounds from a .45-caliber handgun that were found in the parking garage after the shooting. Harrison was prosecuted as part of Operation 922, an initiative of the U.S. Attorney for the Western  District of Oklahoma to crack down on gun violence by targeting repeat domestic abusers. Operation 922 has netted 284 convictions for breaking federal firearm laws since 2018. He was also charged with carjacking, kidnapping, and use and discharge of a firearm during a carjacking after he shot Currin.

Currin didn’t find out about Harrison’s previous history of domestic violence until his federal trial. Harrison was convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse in 2010 and his ex-wife took out a protective order against him. Another woman Harrison dated filed a protective order in 2020 that was still in effect when Harrison met Currin.

The federal jury found Harrison guilty of all charges after a one-day trial in January and a judge sentenced him to life in federal prison in October. Harrison is appealing the federal case. Harrison still has more pending state charges related to the shooting that are scheduled for trial in March. 

Currin still suffers from nerve damage, numbness, and pain. She also has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and participates in therapy programs at Palomar for domestic abuse survivors. 

She left the job that she loved as a department assistant at Integris Baptist Medical Center after 22 years because it was a constant reminder of the attack.

Currin said something needs to change, and it starts with ensuring violent offenders can’t get guns. 

“From my experience, having that access to a gun, knowing that this person is violent is the scariest thing for a woman,” Currin said. 

The post A criminal record and protective orders didn’t stop her attacker from having a gun appeared first on The Frontier.

Oklahoma carries out final execution of 2023 Thu, 30 Nov 2023 20:15:28 +0000 Phillip Dean Hancock, 59, was put to death for the 2001 murders of two men in Oklahoma City. He is the 11th person executed since the state resumed use of the death penalty in 2021.

The post Oklahoma carries out final execution of 2023 appeared first on The Frontier.

Oklahoma executed Phillip Dean Hancock on Thursday morning for the 2001 double-murder of Robert Jett, 37, and James Lynch, 57, in southwest Oklahoma City.

The execution was delayed about an hour while Hancock, strapped to a gurney, waited while the process was held up for legal reasons and while awaiting a chaplain to arrive. 

Hancock’s legal team asked to postpone the execution less than an hour before it set to begin Thursday morning. But Steven Harpe, director of the Department of Corrections said it was “kind of late in the game.”

Harpe described Hancock’s demeanor as entertaining and in good spirits.

As the curtains lifted, Hancock smiled and said, “‘where are my enemies at,’” according to the Associated Press reporter Jake Bleiberg, who witnessed the execution.

Phillip Hancock. Courtesy DOC.

Hancock looked at Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond and ranted about his office not supporting the claim that he killed Jett and Lynch in self-defense, according to media witnesses. Hancock was unconscious at 11:23 a.m. and pronounced dead at 11:29 a.m. Drummond attended the execution but did not speak to reporters. In an emailed statement, he said that “justice has been served” for the murders of Jett and Lynch.

“I hope today brings a measure of peace to the families of the men whose lives were tragically cut short by Phillip Dean Hancock,” Drummond said in the email.

Before he died, Hancock expressed hope that the state would exonerate him after his death, according to media witnesses. 

After the execution, Lynch’s niece read a letter from the victim’s youngest sister, Caroline Thomas, who wrote that she was believed justice had been served according to God’s will.

“This 22 year nightmare can finally be laid to rest. I have prayed for his salvation for nearly two decades,” Thomas wrote. “And I can only hope that he chose to get his soul right with God before his window of opportunity closed for eternity.”

Hancock claimed he killed Jett and Lynch after they tried to hold him against his will. Hancock said he was afraid the men would kill him. Shawn Tarp, the only eyewitness to the murders, testified at trial that Jett ordered Hancock into a metal cage before the shooting. Hancock grabbed a pistol that was tucked into Jett’s pants and shot both men.

Lynch had bullet wounds to his torso, face and left hand, according to records. Jett had wounds to his upper right back, right elbow, and side and right knee. Jett ran toward the backyard to escape after being shot in the back. Hancock followed him. 

Family members of Robert Jett and James Lynch enter the media center at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester on Nov. 30, 2023. ASHLYND HUFFMAN/The Frontier

Jett’s last words were, “I’m going to die,” according to Assistant Oklahoma Attorney General Joshua Lockett.

“Yes, you are,” Hancock reportedly responded before fatally shooting Jett.

Hancock admitted to killing Jett and Lynch but claimed he acted in self-defense. 

“I was suddenly terrified for my life. I have no doubt they would have killed me,” Hancock said at a clemency hearing via video conference in front of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on Nov. 8.

Lockett argued that if Hancock had only been trying to defend himself, he wouldn’t have chased Jett to the backyard and shot him again. Hancock also had a history of claiming self-defense. In 1982, Hancock shot another man dead and claimed it was in self-defense. He was convicted of manslaughter.

Oklahoma state lawmakers Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, and Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, spoke in support of Hancock’s self-defense claims at the hearing. McDugle, who has become something of an anti-death penalty advocate in recent years, has supported Hancock’s self-defense claim, and told The Frontier on Thursday “I think it’s a shame that Phillip Hancock was put to death for that reason here in Oklahoma.”

The Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-2 to recommend that Gov. Kevin Stitt grant Hancock clemency. Hancock’s execution marks the third time Stitt has rejected the board’s clemency recommendation since Oklahoma began carrying out executions again in 2021. 

Hancock’s attorney Shawn Nolan said in a press release after the execution that Stitt “unconscionably” decided not to halt the execution. He further said he was sad that Oklahoma executed Hancock for defending himself from a vicious attack.

The Oklahoma chapter of the criminal justice reform group Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty issued a statement Thursday criticizing Stitt’s decision not to grant clemency. Brett Farley, the state coordinator for the group, called Hancock’s execution “another gross miscarriage of justice.”

“Oklahoma’s practice of capital punishment continues to be riddled with problems, including the inability of the state to prevent the execution of innocent people,” Farley said in a press release.

Oklahoma executions since 2021

Oct. 28, 2021: John Marion Grant
Dec. 9, 2021: Bigler Jobe Stouffer II
Jan. 27, 2022: Donald Anthony Grant
Feb. 17, 2022: Gilbert Postelle
Aug. 25, 2022: James Allen Coddington
Oct. 20, 2022: Benjamin Cole
Nov. 17, 2022: Richard Fairchild
Jan. 12, 2023: Scott Eizember
July 20, 2023: Jemaine Cannon
Sep. 21, 2023: Anthony Sanchez
Nov. 30, 2023: Phillip Hancock

The post Oklahoma carries out final execution of 2023 appeared first on The Frontier.

Governor Stitt weighs self-defense claims of man on death row Fri, 10 Nov 2023 15:03:41 +0000 The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board has recommended clemency in four death penalty cases in three years. The governor has only granted mercy once.

The post Governor Stitt weighs self-defense claims of man on death row appeared first on The Frontier.

Gov. Kevin Stitt has three weeks to decide whether to grant mercy to a death row prisoner who claims he acted in self-defense.

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency for Phillip Dean Hancock  in a 3-2 vote on Wednesday.

The board has recommended clemency in four cases since the state resumed executions in 2021 after a six-year moratorium. Stitt has only granted clemency once, in the case of Julius Jones, who was convicted of the 1999 murder of Paul Howell. Jones’ sentence was commuted to life without parole.

A spokeswoman for Stitt told The Frontier the Governor’s office will weigh information from the prosecution, defense, and the victims’ families before making a decision.

Hancock was convicted in 2004 for the 2001 double-murder of Robert Lee Jett, 37, and James Vincent Lynch, 58, in Southwest Oklahoma City. Hancock, 59, claims that he killed the men after Jett threatened him with a metal bar and demanded he get into a cage.

Gov. Kevin Stitt. A spokeswoman for Stitt told The Frontier the Governor’s office will weigh information from the prosecution, defense, and the victims’ families before making a decision. Frontier file

Hancock said his only means of survival was to get a pistol that was tucked into Jett’s pants and shoot both men. 

“I was suddenly terrified for my life. I have no doubt they would have killed me,” he said.

But Assistant Attorney General Joshua Lockett told the Pardon and Parole Board that Hancock hasn’t given consistent statements about what led up to the fatal shooting. An eyewitness testified at the 2004 trial that Hancock was the aggressor. Jett also had injuries to his back, which were  inconsistent with a self-defense scenario, Lockett said. 

“Nothing between then and now has made his claim any more credible,” Lockett said. 

The board also heard from Jett’s family members. Ryan Jett told the board his brother didn’t deserve to die.

“He did not deserve to be hunted down in the backyard and killed like a dog,” Ryan said.

Republican State Representatives Kevin McDugle and Justin Humphrey both attended the hearing and backed Hancock’s self-defense claims.

Humphrey said he hopes Stitt will look at the facts of the case and agree that clemency is warranted.

“I continue to support the death penalty but believe that we must use it appropriately, ” Humphrey said. “I hope the people of Oklahoma agree that self-defense should not be a case where the death penalty is used.” 

Rep. Kevin McDugle, pictured during his death penalty moratorium study, spoke on behalf of death row prisoner Phillip Dean Hancock on Wednesday. ASHLYND HUFFMAN/The Frontier

Hancock’s execution is slated for Nov. 30. Unless Stitt grants clemency, Hancock will be the 11th person to die by lethal injection since Oklahoma resumed executions in October 2021. 

Oklahoma has three more executions scheduled for 2024. 

James Ryder’s execution is set for February, but will likely be delayed by a pending legal challenge. Ryder has a trial date set for March to determine whether he is competent for execution. His attorneys have argued that Ryder suffers from severe mental illness and should not be put to death. Ryder was sentenced to death for the 1999 killing of Daisy Hallum, who was bludgeoned to death in Pittsburg County. He was also sentenced to life-without-parole  for fatally shooting Sam Hallum.

Michael DeWayne Smith is scheduled to be executed on April 4 for the 2002 murders of Janet Moore and Sarath “Babu” Pulluru in Oklahoma City. 

Wade Greely Lay’s execution is set for June 6. Lay was sentenced to death for fatally shooting a security guard in 2004 during an attempted bank robbery in Tulsa. Lay has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. A trial is scheduled for May to determine whether he is too mentally ill to be executed. 

Oklahoma executions since 2021
Oct. 28, 2021: John Marion Grant
Dec. 9, 2021: Bigler Jobe Stouffer II
Jan. 27, 2022: Donald Anthony Grant
Feb. 17, 2022: Gilbert Postelle
Aug. 25, 2022: James Allen Coddington
Oct. 20, 2022: Benjamin Cole
Nov. 17, 2022: Richard Fairchild
Jan. 12, 2023: Scott Eizember
July 20, 2023: Jemaine Cannon
Sept 21, 2023: Anthony Sanchez

The post Governor Stitt weighs self-defense claims of man on death row appeared first on The Frontier.

Another officer is stabbed as Oklahoma prisons struggle with staffing Fri, 13 Oct 2023 13:15:45 +0000 One prison lost more staff after a state takeover from a private prison company due to low pay and problems with workers passing background checks.

The post Another officer is stabbed as Oklahoma prisons struggle with staffing appeared first on The Frontier.

The name may have changed, but violence continues to plague a former private prison in Holdenville, including the day it was renamed for an officer who was fatally stabbed at a different facility.

A prisoner stabbed a correctional officer at the former Davis Correctional Facility the morning of Oct. 6, before a ceremony celebrating its renaming as the Allen Gamble Correctional Center. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections took over management of the medium-security prison from the private contractor CoreCivic at the beginning of October. 

The Holdenville prison, which houses about 1,600 male prisoners, has a history of chronic understaffing and violence. CoreCivic struggled to hire and keep enough correctional officers at the facility. The prison has lost more staff since the Department of Corrections took over. The Holdenville prison had 273 employees on Aug. 1, with 161 listed as detention officers, the Department of Corrections said. After the state takeover, only 106 correctional officers remained.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections took over operation of the former Davis Correctional Facility in Holdenville in October 2023. The facility is now called Allen Gamble Correctional Center. BRIANNA BAILEY/The Frontier

The Department of Corrections kept about 72% of the total staff, but some chose to stay with CoreCivic because the for-profit company paid higher wages and other workers couldn’t pass a state background check, said Kay Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections. CoreCivic advertises pay starting at $22.10 an hour for correctional officers while state correctional officers start at $42,553 a year, which equates to $20.46 an hour for a 40 hour work week. 

Bobby Cleveland, director of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, a group that represents Department of Corrections employees, was at the prison on Oct. 6 when the stabbing occurred. Violence is a statewide problem that boils down to low staffing, he said. 

Cleveland described the low staffing and conditions as a “big mess.” He said the state prisons are short-handed, creating a dangerous environment.

The current prisoner-to-correctional officer ratio in Oklahoma prisons is 15:1. The Department of Corrections would like to get that number lowered and is working on increasing recruiting efforts, Thompson said. 

Comparatively, the Arkansas Department of Corrections says its current correctional officer staffing ratio is 1:8.

Better pay would help the agency recruit and keep more workers, Cleveland said. Department of Corrections employees got a raise in 2022, when correctional officers saw a 30% pay increase. Cleveland said another pay raise is needed for all correctional staff because it can be dangerous work. 

Ongoing problems with violence

During the dedication ceremony in Holdenville, Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, called the prison safe. 

“I’m thankful this facility is now becoming a safe facility. I’m thankful for our private partners … but as the state is able now to begin taking some of these facilities, I believe we can take them to the next level,” he said. 

Meanwhile, family members swarmed a Facebook live video of the ceremony with concerns about their loved ones serving time at the prison in Holdenville. Some complained that the Department of Corrections doesn’t share enough information with families when violent incidents occur.

“Please keep their lives as a priority. End the stabbings and deaths. That are swept under the rug,” Lydia Rollins wrote.

The Department of Corrections didn’t immediately release information about the stabbing. The only indication the officer had survived came after a Facebook commenter asked if he was OK. 

“He is. Thank you for your concern,” The agency wrote in response. 

Emily Shelton, founder of Hooked on Justice, an advocacy group dedicated to bringing community awareness to criminal justice issues, said Oklahoma prisons are unsafe due to low staffing, drugs, and prison tensions.

Shelton’s son and her husband are incarcerated at Oklahoma Department of Corrections facilities but previously spent time at a former private prison in Holdenville. 

“I fear every day that I will get a phone call telling me my loved one is dead,” she said. 

Stabbings have been an ongoing problem in Holdenville. Since January 2022, at least four people have been fatally stabbed at the facility, including three prisoners and one correctional officer. There were 18 stabbings at the Holdenville prison during the first seven months of 2022 alone, according to county emergency records.

Roger Thompson said in an email to The Frontier after the dedication that the assault before the ceremony was problematic. 

“With the number of incarcerated in our prison system, many of whom are very bad people, incidents will occur,” he wrote. “The very reason for the naming of the new facility was due to a violent incident where Mr. Gamble lost his life.”

Gamble died on June 5, 2000, after answering a distress call from another officer at Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite. Officer William Callaway had been stabbed 13 times by a prisoner but managed to escape. Gamble was stabbed twice in the neck after he rushed to help and died from his injuries.

The post Another officer is stabbed as Oklahoma prisons struggle with staffing appeared first on The Frontier.