Over the last few years, Oklahoma has had its eye on criminal justice reform, but it has remained one of the last holdouts for such reforms. As a result of its tough penalties for drug offenses, including simple possession, and non-violent property crimes, the state has led the nation and even the world in incarceration rates. However, voters decided enough was enough, and 2016 marked a significant moment in the state's criminal justice reform efforts. Still, despite significant reforms and even a record-breaking commutation this year, the state has a long way to go in reforming the criminal justice system.
In 2016, voters passed a ballot initiative which reduced many such crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, and this year, Governor Kevin Stitt signed a measure that would make that law retroactive. On November 1, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended immediately commuting the sentences of 527 Oklahoma inmates, the largest single-day commutation in state history. On Monday, November 4, all but 65 of those inmates walked free, with those still held remaining because of immigration issues or charges in other states. Even though the release of so many inmates at once was a watershed moment in Oklahoma criminal justice reform, the state has just begun to scratch the surface of what is needed to truly fix a broken system.
For example, HB 1269, the retroactivity bill, was the only law to pass this year that specifically targeted Oklahoma's immense prison population. Four other bills that would target the current incarceration rate stalled:
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin (D, Norman) says that many legislators caved to scare tactics on HB 252, one of the most needed reforms:
“We heard about people who were let out on bail and went on to commit other crimes." Once that bill ultimately failed in a narrow vote (45-49), legislators found it easier to vote against subsequent reform bills.
While the state has made progress in reforming the criminal justice system over the past three years, it is clear that more work is needed. Reform experts say they were encouraged by measures taken in 2016-2018, but they were disappointed that progress nearly stalled this year. Even Louisiana, the state with whom Oklahoma continually vies for dubious distinction of highest incarcerator, has adopted reforms similar to those that Oklahoma this year denied. Without these needed reforms, the state will struggle to keep up with those states who have already made significant changes to their criminal justice policies. At this point, we are trying to bail water out of a leaky boat, and no real progress will be made until we make the needed repairs.
A multi-agency investigation into Oklahoma prostitution rings has led to eight arrests so far, including two educators from the small town of Ripley, Oklahoma. "Operation Velvet Fury" is a crackdown targeting organized prostitution using dark web communications and online forums to arrange prostitution at local massage parlors and businesses that were used as fronts for commercial sex.
According to investigators, the sting was not intended to target the women working as prostitutes, but rather, it was intended to disrupt the "demand" portion of the supply and demand chain. Those arrested were individuals accused of facilitating the prostitution: the leaders of the alleged sex rings and the "johns," or customers who utilized their services.
Among those arrested as a result of Operation Velvet Fury are a former Ripley middle school employee and the superintendent of Ripley schools. Reports say Kacey Williamson was employed by Ripley Public Schools as a 6th grade teacher at the time of her arrest. Williamson is accused of working as a moderator of a site that was used to facilitate prostitution. Investigators say Williamson wrote on the site that she was "starting a new life" [as a teacher], but that she would be keeping "select clients."
At the time of her arrest, Williamson identified one of her superiors at Ripley Public Schools as a person known to solicit prostitution. Since then, investigators have arrested Ripley Public Schools superintendent Kenneth Beams on a complaint of soliciting prostitution.
School board vice-president Brett Morris confirmed the employment of Williamson and Beams and said the board was "shocked." He said the board had not yet had a chance to meet to address the issue or to confer with legal counsel. Morris says he expects an emergency board meeting to be scheduled in compliance with the Open Records Act.
As a result of the sting, seven alleged leaders of local sex rings were arrested. Teresa Adams, Thomas Johnson, Ravi Chandra Kakaraparthi, Meri Peterson, Kara Rodriguez, Kacey Williamson and Elizabeth Wyers were charged Thursday in Tulsa County District Court with racketeering, pandering, using computers to violate state law, having proceeds from violating state law and conspiracy. Kenneth Beams faces a charge of soliciting prostitution.
Investigators say that the women working as prostitutes are often the victims of sex trafficking. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agent Ryan Spradlin says that investigators are working with outside agencies to provide therapy, treatment, and rehabilitation services to the women who were working as prostitutes at the now-shuttered massage parlors.
Oklahoma and drug news seem to go hand-in-hand in recent years: Tulsa has been dubbed the meth capital of the world; Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation due to tough drug laws; Every legislative session, voters approve the easing of drug crime penalties; The state is at the center of the opioid crisis; Voters approved medical marijuana. The list goes on and on.
While voters have eased state drug crime penalties and have voted to legalize medical marijuana, there are still plenty of ways for a person accused of illegally distributing drugs to be criminally charged.
Last week, two Oklahoma physicians--one in Tulsa and one in Oklahoma City--were charged in separate cases with federal drug crimes after being accused of illegally prescribing opioids and conspiring to illegally prescribe drugs.
In the Tulsa case, Dr. Christopher Moses and two of his employees at the Southside Medical Clinic were charged with conspiracy to illegally distribute opioids. According to an indictment, Moses and the two employees worked together to illegally prescribe Oxycodone, Fentanyl, Carisoprodol, Clonazepam, Morphine Sulfate, Hydrocodone, and Tramadol. These alleged acts reportedly took place from January 2010 to January 2018, and investigators say at least three patients died as a result of Dr. Moses's alleged overprescription of opioid painkillers.
In the Oklahoma City case, Dr. David Quy, who practiced out of Family Medical Center in Warr Acres, was charged with 55 counts of illegally prescribing Schedule II opioids and two counts of identity theft. Quy is accused of writing prescriptions for opioids, including Oxycodone and Hydrocodone, for his employees, telling them to fill the prescriptions and bring the pills back to him. The identity theft counts are based on the accusation that Quy wrote prescriptions in the names of minor children of employees with the knowledge that those prescribed medications were not intended for the children and would be used by someone else. The acts are alleged to have occurred from November 2014 until April 2019. In May, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs issued an emergency suspension of Quy's license to prescribe controlled substances.
Federal drug distribution crimes carry stiff penalties. If convicted of conspiracy or illegal distribution of opiods, the physician faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
A Broken Arrow man is in jail and terminated from his job after being accused of engaging in a sexually explicit Snapchat conversation with a 16-year-old girl.
Carnell Matthews, 43, is a former middle school track coach and behavior coach with Broken Arrow Public Schools' alternative education facility, Options Academy. Matthews was arrested on July 11 after an investigation into allegations that he solicited nude photos from a teen girl via Snapchat. The investigation was prompted in May when the girl's mother notified police of a sexually explicit Snapchat conversation on her daughter's phone.
The school district initially suspended Matthews, but as the investigation progressed, he was terminated from employment with Broken Arrow schools. The district issued a statement saying, "While everyone is innocent until proven guilty, the type of behavior alleged in this case will not be tolerated by anyone associated with our schools."
Tulsa County prosecutors have filed two felony charges against the former coach: using technology to engage in sexual communication with a minor (21 O.S. 1040.13a) and soliciting a minor for indecent exposure (21 O.S. 1021.5). As of this writing, Matthews remains jailed on $40,000 bond ($25,000 for Count 1 and $15,000 for Count 2).
Court records indicate that Matthews's wife filed for divorce five days after his arrest, citing a "complete and irreconcilable incompatibility."
According to Oklahoma state law, any person who solicits a minor to engage in indecent exposure is guilty of a felony punishable by 10 to 30 years in prison, unless the minor involved is under the age of 12. In that case, the crime is punishable by a minimum of 25 years.
Using technology to solicit sexual communication with a minor is likewise a felony. It is punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Both of the above offenses are considered sex crimes; conviction of these felonies requires the convicted party to register as an Oklahoma Sex Offender. Sex offender registration imposes numerous restrictions that last far beyond the initial penalty of incarceration. Click here to learn more.
Image by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay
In Oklahoma, there is such a thing as justifiable homicide, in which the killing of another person is not against the law. However, there are specific circumstances under which a homicide is considered justified, and "disrespect," is not one of them.
An Oklahoma City man has been charged with murder for allegedly shooting a man with whom he argued earlier in the day. Adam Bernard Jones, 30, reportedly argued with Kiah Dykes, Sr., 44 on May 27, an altercation that was confirmed by a witness to the argument and by Dykes's girlfriend, who claimed she knew of the verbal altercation that day.
Around 1:00 a.m. on May 28, police responded to the scene of a shooting at an Oklahoma City apartment complex. There, they found a coherent but seriously injured Dykes. He reportedly told police that "Adam" shot him. He was transported to a local hospital, where he later died.
One witness claims to have seen both the argument and the shooting, and this witness identified Jones as the shooter. Dykes's girlfriend likewise reported that her boyfriend identified Jones as his shooter. Police arrested Jones and reportedly found messages on his phone stating, "I had to shoot him, he disrespected me twice."
Jones was arrested on complaints of first degree murder and being a felon in possession of a firearm. His felony status comes after prior convictions of burglary, drug possession, kidnapping, and concealing stolen property.
Clearly, "disrespect" is not a criteria for justifiable homicide, and Oklahoma law is specific in determining the conditions under which it is legal or excusable to take the life of another. According to 21 OK Stat § 21-733 homicide is justifiable in the following circumstances:
1. When resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to commit any felony upon him, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is;
2. When committed in the lawful defense of such person or of another, when the person using force reasonably believes such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to terminate or prevent the commission of a forcible felony; or
3. When necessarily committed in attempting, by lawful ways and means, to apprehend any person for any felony committed; or in lawfully suppressing any riot; or in lawfully keeping and preserving the peace.
In other words, homicide is justifiable when it is committed in an effort to protect oneself or others from serious bodily injury or death as a result of a violent felony attempted by the person killed. Homicide is not typically considered justifiable if it is committed in the defense of property or if it is committed after the threat of violence has been neutralized or diverted.
While Oklahoma has permissive gun laws, it is important toknow the laws surrounding the use of lethal force. Such knowledge can mean the difference between being cleared of any offense and going to prison forlife.
Less than a year after being released from prison for assaulting his girlfriend, a Tulsa man is now charged with the murder of the same woman and her unborn child.
Earlier this month, police responded to a Tulsa apartment complex as a woman called to report that her son was suicidal. When they arrived, they did, in fact, find a distraught man "screaming and hollering," but they also found the caller performing CPR on an unconscious pregnant woman. Neither the young woman nor the fetus had a heartbeat when medical personnel arrived. However, the 22-year-old woman was transported to a local hospital, where she was placed on life support, declared brain dead, and died days later.
Her boyfriend, Colby Wilson, is charged with two counts of first degree murder in the deaths of Allyssa Fielding and her unborn child, Dayson. He is additionally charged with possession of a firearm after felony conviction.
Wilson was released from prison in July after previously being convicted of assaulting Fielding. Reports say he gave her two black eyes, choked her, repeatedly punched her, and beat her with an electrical cord in October 2016. The assault left her with a collapsed lung and three broken ribs. In that incident, Fielding filed a protective order. However, in April 2017, during Wilson's trial, she claimed that she could not remember the incident, and a judge declared her "legally unavailable" to testify against Wilson. She also attempted to have the protective order dismissed, saying, "I do not feel that Colby Wilson is any threat to me. I love him and want to be with him."
Upon conducting a safety evaluation, the judge refused to dismiss the protective order. In May 2017, a jury convicted Wilson of two of the six felony charges against him, and he was sentenced to three years in prison. However, he was released in July 2018.
Upon his release, despite the protective order legally barring him from contact with Fielding, he apparently moved in with her.
During this time, reports say, he established complete control over her, even requiring her to sit in front of a video camera while he was at work. If she moved out of the frame, he allegedly beat her upon his return home. This reported cycle of abuse came to an end on April 15, when Wilson reportedly became enraged and beat Fielding so severely that both her unborn child and she died at his hands.
In September 2018, the Violence Policy Center released its report "When Men Murder Women." This report confirms Oklahoma's longstanding ranking as one of the worst in the nation for women killed by men. In 2016, the most recent data available, Oklahoma ranked 11th in women killed by men in single-victim, single-offender incidents. This was up from 15th in 2015. The four years prior, Oklahoma ranked in the top ten.
If you or someone you love is in need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, or contact one of the local domestic violence resources listed here.
For years, Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, more commonly known by the name "Joe Exotic," ran a private zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, that featured big cats among its most notable inhabitants. However, many animal rights activists were critical of the exotic park, claiming that Joe Exotic mistreated the animals and should not have allowed the public to pet tiger cubs at the facility. Some claimed that, rather than running a wildlife sanctuary, Exotic's showcased his animals purely for profit, even killing five tigers once they were beyond cub-bearing in an effort to make room for more cubs and more "useful" animals. One of his most vocal critics, Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Florida, became the target of a supposed murder-for-hire plot allegedly orchestrated by Joe Exotic.
Baskin sued Maldonado-Passage for trademark and copyright infringement after he traveled under a name similar to that of her organization. She was awarded $1 million in that lawsuit.
Today begins opening statements in Joe Exotic's trial. Federal prosecutors say they plan to present witness testimony that shows the former zoo owner tried on several occasions to hire someone to murder Baskin. Evidence against Maldonado-Passage includes the following:
Prosecutors say that FBI agent will testify at trial and that jurors will hear a recording of their conversation.
One possible motive for the attempted murder-for-hire is Baskin's affect on the zoo's financial difficulties. According to federal prosecutors, "Evidence regarding the lack of money to purchase food for animals is relevant to the jury understanding that Ms. Baskin’s $1 million judgment against Mr. Maldonado placed significant financial pressure on the zoo. Accordingly, this evidence is relevant to establishing Mr. Maldonado’s state of mind toward Ms. Baskin — including the motive and intent to have her murdered."
Joe Exotic has remained in federal custody since his arrest in Florida partly because of concerns that he is suicidal.
The animal park formerly owned by Joe Exotic is now owned by a man named Jeff Lowe. Lowe plans to close the existing park and move the animals to a new location in southern Oklahoma.
A northeastern Oklahoma man was sentenced this week in federal court after pleading guilty last fall to child sexual exploitation.
U.S. District Judge John Dowdell sentenced Zachary Newberry, 25, of Claremore, to 30 years in federal prison.
Newberry was first charged in August 2018, after an anonymous tip led investigators to him. In July, Tulsa police received a phone in the mail with a note attached saying, "Child pornography. Please investigate." Police examined the phone and found a video of a girl approximately 10 years old being sexually abused by an adult.
Investigators followed the digital footprint to Newberry, whom they found in an RV park between Claremore and Pryor. Police say they confronted Newberry, who initially denied making the video. However, they say that there were enough identifying features to connect him to the crime, and he eventually admitted the act.
Newberry reportedly told police that he lived with the girl and her family, and that he coerced the child into performing the sex act and recorded it on his cell phone, watching it at least five times after the incident. He was arrested and booked in to the Tulsa County jail.
Soon, federal authorities took over the case, and in November, Newberry pleaded guilty to sexually exploiting a minor. He was sentenced this week to 30 years in prison. Upon release, he will be required to serve 10 years of supervised release and is ordered to register as a federal sex offender.
U.S. Attorney Trent Shores says the man's arrest and conviction are a product of Project Safe Childhood, an initiative of the United States Department of Justice. According the the Project Safe Childhood website, the program is "[l]ed by the U.S. Attorneys' Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) to [marshal] federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims."
A Creek County elementary school principal has been arrested after being accused of sexually abusing a child. Reports say that a young woman came forward to accuse Kiefer Upper Elementary principal Jayson Daniel Larremore, 43, of sexually abusing her when she was between the ages of 9 and 16 years old.
The woman, now 20, told investigators that she disclosed to family members that Larremore, a relative, had been molesting her for several years. She says the family decided to handle the matter themselves rather than going to police. The woman told police that both she and Larremore were present at a family meeting in which he admitted to abusing the girl. He reportedly agreed to resign from teaching and the ministry and to get counseling in exchange for the family not reporting the abuse to police.
The woman says that she decided to reach out to authorities after she discovered that Larremore had not quit teaching, and that, in fact, he was hired as principal of an elementary school in July 2018. Larremore was terminated from the district at the end of January, with Kiefer schools citing a "criminal investigation" as the reason for his termination.
According to Kiefer Public Schools, the principal had passed all criminal background checks, as an unreported crime would not have been discoverable on any state or federal background check. In fact, they report that before being hired by Kiefer schools, "Larremore was employed for approximately 8 years by another local school district, ultimately serving as a Principal at that school."
According to his accuser, the meeting in which Larremore reportedly agreed to resign from teaching was held four years prior to her coming to police.
Investigators say the woman gave them a handwritten letter which appeared to be a signed confession Larremore had given to her parents in the past.
Police arrested the man earlier this week on charges of child sexual abuse, rape by instrumentation, and lewd molestation. He was booked into the Creek County Jail, but has subsequently been released on $40,000 bond.
The Canadian County Sheriff's Office is a leading Internet Crimes Against Children task force member, and it's investigators frequently make arrests of individuals accused of making indecent proposals to investigator decoys posing as minors online.
Recently, investigators arrested a 43-year-old Enid man they say sent unsolicited sexual communication to an investigator posing online as a 14-year-old girl.
According to the Sheriff's Office, Jason Seek began communicating with the undercover officer via a popular social media app. Investigators say the decoy repeatedly told Seek that she was a 14-year-old girl; however, they claim that did not deter him from making sexual advances toward her.
At one point, the man allegedly engaged in a video chat with the decoy in which he posed naked on a bed. During the call, he reportedly expressed his concern that he could go to jail because of her age, but continued the sexually explicit conversation anyway. He reportedly "used graphic and profane language to describe the sexual acts he desired to perform with her," including telling the girl he wanted to perform oral sex on her and asking her if she had ever had an orgasm.
Earlier this month, Seek reportedly told the girl that he could have a friend bring him to Yukon to meet her. Investigators arranged a meeting place with the man, and when he arrived, deputies arrested him on complaints of lewd or indecent proposals to a child under 16, meth possession, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Deputies say Seek admitted that he was attempting to meet a child whom he believed to be 14 in order to have sex with her.
Seek has prior convictions from charges in 2014. In that case, he was convicted of possession of forged instruments, uttering forged instruments, meth possession, and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was sentenced in that case to 15 years in prison with all but the first 10 years suspended.
If the suspect is ultimately convicted of a sex crime, he will be required to register for life as an Oklahoma sex offender. Many current registered sex offenders find themselves in their situations because of communication with an undercover officer. These investigations must be carefully conducted to avoid entrapment of an individual who would not otherwise participate in such discussions. If you or a loved one is charged with a computer sex crime after online communications, it is imperative to contact a qualified criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible.