In the Democratic runoff for northeast Oklahoma City’s House District 99, candidates say they want to focus on issues, but a past criminal conviction has caused controversy.
Public records indicate candidate Ajay Pittman, 24, was convicted for “larceny of merchandise” on July 20, 2016, after a May 18 incident at the Belle Isle Walmart. A police report (embedded in documents below) states Pittman was field-released after signing a citation.
Asked about the incident during an interview on the HD 99 race, however, Pittman questioned the accuracy of the legal documents.
“Well, I have not seen the ticket, and someone brought it to my attention that there was an email going around and everything about that,” Pittman told NonDoc.
Pittman, whose legal first name is Ayshia, offered several alternatives to her commission of the crime, suggesting a mistake on Walmart’s behalf. She also said her identification had been stolen and that her legal team was “looking into” whether someone might have impersonated her after stealing merchandise.
“I also had my license stolen and [OKCPD] Chief (Bill) Citty had to help me get it reinstated,” she said. “And there was also a ticket in my name as well, so there were multiple things that transpired along with that.”
Pittman expressed frustration that the larceny charge had become an issue in her campaign.
“We’re looking more into it to make sure there was no self-checkout incident, or accident on camera and a ticket was written without me being there, all of that,” she said. “I have had my attorneys look directly into that to make sure that I am in compliance with all the rules and all the law and I can be transparent with the people.”
Police: ‘Nothing in here that says the wrong person was arrested’
NonDoc attempted to verify Pittman’s suggestions that she was not the person cited for shoplifting $28 worth of “makeup and merchandise” from Walmart.
But signatures on the citation and on OKC Municipal Court records (above) appear to match Pittman’s signature on her 2018 declaration of candidacy form, which was notarized. A spokesman for the Oklahoma City Police Department also said he could find no record of Pittman challenging the accuracy of her arrest and citation.
“There’s nothing in here that says the wrong person was arrested or there was a case of mistaken identity,” Capt. Bo Mathews said of Pittman’s 2016 arrest report.
Additionally, signatures matching Pittman’s indicate she pleaded nolo contendre in the case and paid a total of $632 in fines and fees for the conviction.
Pittman’s claim that she had not seen the ticket was made during an interview Aug. 8 with NonDoc. Multiple follow-up questions about the validity of her story went unanswered in subsequent days.
“Those allegations are true, I think,” said Nkem House, Pittman’s opponent. “I want to focus on my positives. I don’t necessarily want to focus on someone’s negatives. But if people talk about it, then that’s definitely something for voters to consider.”
Issues and qualifications in HD 99
Monday night, an alumnae chapter of the Delta Theta Sigma sorority hosted a candidate forum for HD 99 candidates as well as candidates for Oklahoma County Commissioner, District 1.
The Facebook comments section of the video (embedded below) contains time stamps and summaries of most questions. The HD 99 portion of the evening begins around the 52:30 mark.
In her interview with NonDoc, Pittman said voters are most concerned about protecting the elderly, health care access and education.
House, 38, discussed his background as an attorney and said criminal justice reform is his top priority.
“My experience in the courts kind of makes it imperative that I try and make some change at the Capitol,” House said. “But I would like to use the platform to help bring different resources into my community for kids as well. All kids should be able to get an adequate education just through the public education system.”
House talked about his endorsements from the Northeast Oklahoma City community, including HD 97’s Jason Lowe (D-OKC) and former Rep. Kevin Cox. The American Federation for Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), which represents more than 230 unions in Oklahoma, also endorsed House.
“People who have been in this community for several years — decades even — that have thrown their support behind me, those are people I appreciate,” House said.
House also urged voters to consider his experience over his opponent’s.
“I find it admirable that Ms. Pittman would run at such a young age,” House said. “But at the same time, I think that her age and lack of experience — any experience — whether it be education, employment and otherwise, that’s what separates us.”
Pittman, on the other hand, does not view her age as an obstacle.
“We have enough young people leaving (the state),” Pittman said. “So me being 24 and deciding to run, that is one of the reasons why I decided to get on the ballot. I wanted to show young people that you can lead now. Your voice is powerful now.”
Pittman said she has experience in health care and corrections and said she spent the last year as the primary caretaker for her grandfather. She emphasized her lifelong proximity to politics thanks to her mother, Sen. Anastasia Pittman (D-OKC), who previously served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and is now the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.
“I do feel like I have the legislative experience,” Pittman said. “I’ve been to committee meetings. I’ve sat in open meetings and watched how they conduct business and relationships with lobbyists and the staffers.”
Pittman said that, when she was younger, she became so close to legislative staffers that she occasionally stayed at their houses.
“My family has these roots in the community,” she said. “So it kind of puts [voters] at ease a little bit to know that someone with similar institutional knowledge was going to be running for this seat.”
She said she believes Oklahoma’s future is positive.
“At this point, it’s about the state moving forward,” Pittman said. “I don’t feel like we can go anywhere else but up. We’ve kind of hit rock bottom.”
Winner of Aug. 28 runoff wins race
In the June runoff, Pittman received 38.1 percent of the vote compared to House’s 32.1 percent.
Because there is no Republican, Libertarian or independent candidate for HD 99, the Aug. 28 primary-runoff winner will secure the seat in the House.