Monday’s Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority meeting included a resolution to advance discussion on spending CARES Act funds for the county jail, an attempt at a citizen’s arrest and a vote removing ICE agents from the facility amid heavy pressure from citizens in attendance.
But Tricia Everest, the chairwoman of the OCCJA (also called the “jail trust”), cast doubt on the vote to remove Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from the jail Monday night in conversations reported by other media.
Everest said the 4-2 vote did not yield the five-person majority needed to advance a motion. Everest dropped off the call ahead of the vote, as explained below.
CARES Act money took center stage … first
Last month, the Oklahoma County Budget Board approved the diversion of $34 million in CARES Act funding for COVID-19-related expenses for the Oklahoma County Jail. That move was met with a hailstorm of objection from citizens.
An item on Monday’s agenda called for action to approve a resolution to begin making a decision about how those funds will be spent.
“The resolution doesn’t spend any money,” Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority counsel John Michael Williams said. “The resolution establishes a process for the thoughtful and economic expenditure of money on the Oklahoma County Jail.”
Items range from HVAC exhaust to radios
The list of potential projects that could receive a boost from CARES Act funding includes a broad range of items that don’t seem to have a direct relationship with virus mitigation efforts.
The 21-item list includes $1.4 million for replacement of the jail’s HVAC exhaust system, as well as $2 million in audio-video upgrades to facilitate inmate meetings with their attorneys and court appearances via video link. A further $12 million could be directed toward a complete renovation of the jail’s first floor.
The list also includes $400,000 for new radios and $60,000 for new televisions so that incarcerated individuals could better socially distance.
Jail administrator Greg Williams said the improvements are all COVID related, stressing the need for enhancements in the jail staff’s ability to clean. He said mop closets on most of the jail’s floors have been inoperable for some time and are needed to adequately clean its floors.
Trustee Francie Ekwerekwu questioned if some of the expenses were truly COVID-19-related, as required under guidelines for the federal CARES Act funds.
“Some of these, yes, they are COVID-related on its face,” she said. “But some of these I feel we’re reaching. Let’s be honest with ourselves. We’re reaching. Radios? If we can’t afford the radios for each of your staff members in our own budget, then we need to look at our own budget again. But that’s not Covid-related in the intent of the CARES Act. This really does make us more liable to be putting radios on a list like this. Speaking for myself, I’m not comfortable with that.”
Trustees voted to approve the resolution, although trust member Jim Couch expressed concern that they may not ultimately be able to spend all of the money.
“I know it is going to be difficult to spend the $34 million. I don’t know if we can,” Couch said. “The two criteria are: It has to be spend by Dec. 30, and it has to meet the criteria on CARES (Act).”
Citizens arrest attempted
A number of citizens who spoke at Monday’s chaotic meeting advocated for criminal justice reform issues while also again objecting to the use of CARES Act funds for the jail. They say there are other needs within the county for which that money could be used.
At one point, the group strung up police tape and attempted a citizen’s arrest of the jail trust.
“Today, I declare that you are all under arrest for crimes against humanity, murder, manslaughter, child abuse, grand larceny and accessory to grand larceny,” Adriana Laws said through a bullhorn. “This is a citizen’s arrest.”
Laws also addressed trust members Kevin Calvey and Tricia Everest, who appeared via telephone at the meeting.
“Kevin Calvey, you are a piece of shit,” Laws said. “Tricia Everest, you are a coward. The rest of you should be ashamed of yourselves for stealing money that rightfully belongs to the citizens of Oklahoma County.”
ICE to be removed from Oklahoma County Jail
The use of CARES Act funds wasn’t the only item that stirred controversy Monday. Item 16 on the agenda specified discussion about the controversial provision of office space for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at the jail.
Trust member Ben Brown moved to table that item, which drew jeers from audience members.
“Sit down and shut up, old white man!” yelled Jess Eddy, an activist and law student who has publicly accused former OU President David Boren of sexual misconduct. “You racist motherfucker!”
Trust members ultimately discussed ICE’s presence at the jail, during which it was revealed that ICE agents have served as interpreters for inmates when no other options are available.
“We do have interpreters under contract,” jail administrator Greg Williams said. “I don’t have a list of staff that can interpret with me. We have one on contract, and again, right now, the ICE agent is the interpreter for the Spanish-speaking people.”
That revelation drew further criticism from the audience.
“You have to know that is a huge conflict,” Ekwerekwu said to Williams.
Ultimately, she made a motion to remove ICE from the jail, which passed 4-2. Ekwerekwu, Brown, Couch and M.T. Berry voted in favor. Todd Lamb and Kevin Calvey voted against, with Danny Honeycutt abstaining, Sue Ann Arnall absent and Tricia Everest dropping off the teleconference line before the vote.
“From day one, we made the excuse, ‘Oh, we don’t run the jail yet.’ Well, today, we do,” Ekwerekwu said.
Calvey, who participated in the meeting via teleconference, said in a Facebook post afterward that trustees who voted in favor of removing ICE did so because they were bullied by “Antifa.” He called the decision a mistake.
“Should our jail cooperate with ICE, the federal immigration enforcement agency?” Calvey wrote. “I say Yes. But 4 Jail Trust members today voted to remove ICE agents from our County Jail, under duress from Antifa bullies who used bullhorns while cursing and disrupting our meeting, shouting so loudly you could not hear trust members speak. ICE agents are in the jail to help comply with state law that requires us to identify jail inmates who may be foreign nationals. I understand people have differing views on immigration law, but refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement is a mistake.”
Eddy and others celebrated the vote on social media.
“#COMMUNITY just kicked ICE out of the Oklahoma County Jail,” he posted on Facebook.
(Update: This article was updated at 6:50 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21, to include additional information about how trust members voted on the ICE motion. It was also updated to correct the name of Adriana Laws, and again at 9:27 p.m. to include reference to Tricia Everest’s statements. The headline was also adjusted accordingly.)