One month later, it was déjà vu for the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority. Just as it had in September, the OCCJA considered a motion to remove federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers from the Oklahoma County Jail during a bizarre and often disorganized meeting, but the proposal fell one vote shy again.
The vote marked the latest chapter in a debate over ICE that has raged at the Oklahoma County Courthouse for four weeks.
On Sept. 21, the OCCJA — also known as the jail trust — voted 4-2 in favor of a motion to remove ICE, but that vote was later declared invalid by trust attorney John Michael Williams because five “Yes” votes are required to represent a majority of the nine-member trust.
Unlike past meetings, several people Monday spoke in favor of ICE remaining at the jail.
“Don’t let these misfits bully you,” a woman who gave her name as Tasha said. “All they want to do is scream and bully you. ICE is important. Would Bob Barry Jr. be here today if we still had ICE in our jail?”
KFOR sportscaster Bob Barry Jr. was killed in a traffic accident while riding a motorcycle in June 2015. Charges were filed against Gustavo Gutierrez in the incident. However, Gutierrez had already been returned to Mexico twice by ICE agents prior to the accident.
Another speaker said ICE was necessary because authorities failed to deport several of the 9/11 hijackers.
“These extremists do not represent Oklahoma County as a whole,” Grant said. “Do not allow antifa-type behavior to run this committee.”
She later told a member of the audience opposed to ICE agents at the jail to “shut up” as she returned to her seat. That led to a confrontation that required sheriff deputies to briefly intervene as the meeting was paused to restore order.
Detainer legality raises questions
As she did in September, trustee Francie Ekwerekwu brought the proposal forward to remove ICE agents from office space at the jail.
“There’s no state or county law that requires us to have a space, whether it’s this big or as big as this entire room,” she said. “There’s nothing that requires us to have any ICE agent present at the jail.”
Ekwerekwu said 48-hour detainers commonly used by ICE agents are not legal.
“We’ve been given an opinion by our local district attorney, and there are several federal courts that have weighed in on the 48- hour detainer as being illegal,” she said. “We can’t allow anybody, especially the county, to advise and require us in any policy to incorporate illegality. On this item, my motion is two-fold. First, we move the ICE agents from the jail. Second, we don’t illegally incorporate a 48-hour detainer.”
But trust member Kevin Calvey said the law isn’t settled on 48-hour detainers. ICE agents issued 34 detainers in August.
“It is not settled law that immigration detainers are illegal,” Calvey said. “There’s a split amongst the circuits, and there are jails and prisons all over the country, not in every circuit, but in many — including within the 10th circuit — that do comply with ICE detainers, including most of the county sheriffs in Oklahoma.”
Ekwerekwu’s motion to remove ICE agents failed 4-2, once again not receiving five votes in favor. Trust member Ben Brown was absent from the meeting.
Trust goes into executive session
The trust briefly adjourned into executive session to discuss a request for a judicial ruling on ICE agents at the jail by Calvey, the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association and controversial pastor Tom Vineyard.
Earlier this month, the Oklahoma County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 to require the trust to fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
However, District Attorney David Prater has said that may not be legal.
Trust attorney John Michael Williams said Calvey did not take part in the executive session.
CARES Act money allocated
The trust voted to approve the purchase $1.5 million in video equipment for what it says will be efforts to help mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus by reducing inmate movement for things like court appearances.
But again, controversy stirred. Ekwerekwu said it wasn’t clear if it was legal for the video resources funded by CARES Act monies to be used by outside agencies, such as Palomar.
Trust member Jim Couch said a vote should be conducted and a legal opinion sought afterward.
But Ekwerekwu said it would be ideal to have that opinion prior to voting.
“I’m all for it because we need the efficiency, but I definitely want to be legal and have integrity in spending this amount of money and especially comply with the CARES Act if we’re going to apply it for this manner,” she said. “It would be my preference to have a legal opinion prior to voting.”
That resolution passed with five votes in favor, one opposed and one abstention.