An unusual lawsuit that pitted judges against police has settled, with the Oklahoma City Police Department promising not to book persons apprehended outside Oklahoma County into the troubled Oklahoma County Jail.
The settlement ends a 30-year practice of OKC police booking all arrestees into the Oklahoma County jail regardless of where they were arrested or where the crimes were committed. Because OKC’s city limits extend into Cleveland and Canadian counties, OKCPD jurisdiction extends beyond the Oklahoma County border.
For decades, even those persons arrested by OKCPD in Cleveland and Canadian counties had been booked into the Oklahoma County Jail. Now, OKCPD officers will instead transport those arrestees to Cleveland or Canadian county detention centers within 12 hours of arrest and processing.
Judges in Cleveland and Canadian counties took issue with the long-standing OKCPD practice when COVID-related orders were issued last year.
Those orders also happened to coincide with increasing public criticism of conditions within the Oklahoma County Jail and its management being transferred from the county sheriff to the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority.
Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman issued an order April 1, 2020, that required all persons arrested for crimes allegedly committed and triable within Cleveland County to be detained only at the Cleveland County Detention Center. A Canadian County judge followed suit with a similar order.
That set into motion months of court filings and hearings where police lawyers sought to overturn the orders. The judges contended the police department had illegally and intentionally ignored their orders requiring arrestees to be brought straight to the Cleveland and Canadian county jail facilities.
In one court filing, Cleveland County District Judge Lori Walkley stated the practice of booking the arrestees in the Oklahoma County Jail often resulted in persons being held there for excessive periods without being transported to court.
“Persons detained by (the City off Oklahoma City) are often held in the Oklahoma County Jail for days without the benefit of a bond setting, the ability to obtain counsel, particularly if indigent, or to appear before a magistrate,” Walkley wrote in a court pleading.
Report shows scope of problem
A report prepared by court officials and obtained by NonDoc shows that 116 persons were arrested in Cleveland County by OKCPD from Dec. 30, 2019 to Aug. 20, 2020, with 36 of those persons held in the Oklahoma County Jail for five or more days before being allowed a bond hearing, release or transport to Cleveland County for an appearance before a judge.
The report states that one woman arrested in Cleveland County was held in the Oklahoma County Jail for 79 days before Cleveland County authorities were notified of her arrest. Two other arrestees were held 42 and 49 days, respectively, according to the report.
Judges argue OKCPD has ‘illegally detained’ arrestees by Michael Duncan
Lawyers for Oklahoma City had filed a petition with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to stop the district judges’ orders. They contended the practice of preliminary detention of arrestees in Oklahoma County was justified because it expedited the booking process and allowed police officers to return to patrol more quickly.
The OKCPD also said it had secure rooms for drug testing, detective interviews and collection of evidence at the Oklahoma County Jail and the jail computers were connected with the city police department’s records management system.
The lawsuit was transferred to the state Supreme Court in July. The Supreme Court stayed all lower court proceedings and directed the judges and the city to attempt to resolve the matter by mediation.
A mediation before former Supreme Court Justice Steven Taylor ended in a resolution in which the judges agreed to rescind their orders and OKCPD agreed to transport the arrestees to either the Cleveland or Canadian county jails within 12 hours of processing at the Oklahoma City police facility.
The settlement agreement also states that Cleveland and Canadian counties will provide the Oklahoma City Police Department with a secure video interview room in their respective facilities. Equipment and installation of the equipment will be paid for by Oklahoma City, but Cleveland and Canadian county will cover the cost of connectivity.
The agreement also allows for OKCPD to continue booking arrestees into the Oklahoma County Jail if the alleged crime occurs in multiple counties. Those arrestees would remain there until district attorneys resolve jurisdictional issues.