Judge OKs Grand Jury Probe of Parole Board, County Jail
Beverly Cantrell - October 1, 2021 12:36 pm
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma County judge has agreed to convene a grand jury to investigate potential wrongdoing by the state’s Pardon and Parole Board and conditions at the Oklahoma County jail.
Presiding Judge Ray Elliott agreed Wednesday to the request by District Attorney David Prater.
The grand jury was given the power to issue subpoenas, investigate and charge by indictment, and make accusations for removal. Jury selection was set for Oct. 18.
Gov. Kevin Stitt called Prater’s request “the latest political stunt to intimidate the Pardon and Parole Board and obstruct the Constitutional process as high-profile cases that his office prosecuted are being considered.”
The Pardon and Parole Board is set to conduct a clemency hearing on October 26 for high-profile death row inmate Julius Jones. Prater has strongly opposed Jones’ clemency request and has alleged that some members of the board have conflicts of interest that should result in their removal.
In his grand jury application Wednesday, the district attorney told the judge there are “credible allegations that involve official corruption and/or official neglect … committed by State and/or County officials,” the newspaper reported.
Testimony will be taken in closed proceedings at the Oklahoma attorney general’s office.
Prater called for an investigation of the Oklahoma County Detention Center because of the poor living and unsafe conditions there uncovered by health inspectors. He called for an investigation of the parole board because inmates have been released from prison by mistake.
The convening of a county grand jury has become rare in Oklahoma because prosecutors rely on the state’s multicounty grand jury for help with investigations.
The county grand jury could bring removal accusations against the jail administrator, jail trustees, and parole board members, according to the application.
“Such persons also may be subject to criminal penalties,” Prater wrote.
A trust took over the operation of the jail from the sheriff’s office on July 1, 2020. Since then, it has repeatedly come under fire because of inmate deaths, escapes, and other incidents.
That criticism intensified after an inmate was shot and killed after taking a detention officer hostage on March 27.
Jail officials said Wednesday that many improvements have been made since a February inspection by the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
“We appreciated the visit from OSDH because it identified many of the problems we had already been addressing in a concise way,” the jail’s administrator, Greg Williams, told the newspaper. “We know there are more improvements to be made, but we continue to be proactive in removing barriers to quality of life for those who live and work within the Oklahoma County Detention Center.”