Former Oklahoma State Sen. Jonathan Nichols has died from an apparent gunshot wound. Nichols represented Cleveland County as a Republican from 2000 to 2012 before serving subsequent legislative leaders in staff capacities.
At the time of his death, Nichols was working as a senior policy advisor for House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka).
“I am shocked and incredibly saddened to learn that Jonathan has passed away. He was a valuable member of my staff and a friend. Jonathan was a very proud man, but he served humbly,” McCall said in a statement. “He was proud of his family and loved them deeply, he was proud of Norman and he was proud of Oklahoma.”
Norman Police Department public information officer Sarah Jensen released a statement around 11 a.m. Thursday:
On June 5 at approximately 8:44 p.m., the Norman Police Department responded to a report of an individual with a gunshot wound inside a residence in the 3900 block of Annalane Drive. Upon arrival, officers located one adult male, later identified as 53-year-old Jonathan Nichols, deceased inside the residence from an apparent gunshot wound.
Investigators are currently working with the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office to determine the exact cause and manner of death.
The case remains under investigation by the NPD Criminal Investigations Division.
Nichols previously worked as a prosecutor for the Cleveland County District Attorney’s Office. After term-limits resulted in Nichols leaving the Senate, he served as chief of staff for Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman (R-Tulsa) and then Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz (R-Altus).
“He was a great servant to the state of Oklahoma, and I really feel for his family. I’m kind of at a loss of words to lose someone that early in life,” Bingman said. “Jonathan was one of the smartest legislators that I think we’ve ever had. It was an easy pickup for me to hire him as my chief of staff. I recognized qualities that he was possessed with.”
He joined McCall’s staff in November 2018, according to a House press release.
“He was especially proud of his service to the state, as a prosecutor, as a state Senator and later as a valued and esteemed advisor for both Senate leadership and House leadership,” McCall said. “He loved the rule of law and public safety, and he spent most of his career working tirelessly on those issues. His wife, Talitha, and his daughters, Jessica and Rachel, are in our prayers today.”
Former Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee (R-OKC) also praised Nichols’ service in the Legislature.
“Jonathan was a talented senator, and that was recognized even after he left office. He passed too soon,” Coffee said.
Former Sen. Andrew Rice (D-OKC) echoed the sentiments of his former colleagues, saying he enjoyed serving with Nichols.
“We would invariably find ourselves often at the back of the Senate floor, near the coffee urns, when one of our colleagues was long-winded in debate,” Rice said. “He always enjoyed sharing with me about his family and me with him. I also found him gracious in praising the loyal opposition of the Democratic caucus, even when we weren’t deserving. He was a good man.”
University of Oklahoma political science and journalism professor Keith Gaddie lived near Nichols in Norman and noted that the former senator was an avid collector of works from early Oklahoma artists.
“Jonathan Nichols was my dear friend and neighbor. He was a quiet, highly effective servant of the people,” Gaddie said. “He distinguished himself in his ability to work across the aisle to try and make lives better. He spent a lifetime in service to the state as a prosecutor, lawmaker and as a member of the OU family.”
Nichols previously served as OU’s vice president of government relations.
Sen. Rob Standridge (R-Norman) succeeded Nichols in SD 15 and released a statement Thursday.
“Sen. Jonathan Nichols was the most brilliant political, legal mind in the Oklahoma State Legislature and worked tirelessly as a senator and for years on staff to help guide our state forward,” Standridge said. “Jonathan was a great friend, a mentor, a confidant, and was always there for me in whatever situation I was in. From political advice to a sounding board for each other’s challenges in life, my friendship with Jonathan touched every aspect of my life, and I will miss him dearly. Talitha and their daughters are in our prayers.”
Former House member and current CEO of the State Chamber of Oklahoma Fred Morgan also released a statement.
“It was my privilege to know and work with Jonathan over the course of our careers in the Legislature. Jonathan was a talented, dedicated public servant who always sought compromise to resolve complicated problems,” Morgan said. “Jonathan was a friend and will be sorely missed by everyone at the state Capitol. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
University of Oklahoma Interim President Joe Harroz also released a statement.
“We mourn his loss deeply on behalf of his family but also on behalf of the OU family and everyone who believes public service is sacred and essential for a civil society,” Harroz said. “Jonathan will be missed by me, our OU family and the many people he served in his roles as senator, prosecutor and advocate for education.”
Nichols received his juris doctorate from the OU College of Law in 1993, according to the OU press release.
(Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:35 a.m. Thursday, June 6, to include quotes from Bingman and Coffee. It was updated again at 9:40 a.m. to include comment from Gaddie and Rice, NonDoc’s founder. It was updated again at 10:06 a.m. to include comment from Standridge, at 10:32 a.m. to include comment from Morgan and at 10:56 a.m. to include comment from Harroz. It was updated at 11:06 a.m. to include a Norman Police Department statement.)