Presiding Oklahoma County District Judge Ray Elliott will be asked to approve a citizen-filed petition seeking to impanel a grand jury to investigate District Attorney David Prater. Elliott will have four days to approve or deny the petition, which would ultimately need to receive 5,000 signatures from registered Oklahoma County voters in a 45-day window to trigger the process.
About a dozen people held a press conference this afternoon to announce the citizen-called grand jury application, with champions of the effort calling Prater a bully, alleging he is “targeting” death-row inmate Julius Jones by interfering with his right to hearings in front of the Pardon and Parole Board, and alleging that Prater intimidated a witness while prosecuting a manslaughter case.
“I stand before you today as an Oklahoma County resident who is tired of watching many abuses of power go entirely unchecked,” said Hannah Royce, president of the Oklahoma City Pride Alliance. “Today, we the people want an investigation of the behavior of District Attorney David Prater. not only are we tired of the political virtue signaling being made in his effort to apply pressure to Pardon and Parole Board members Adam Luck and Kelly Doyle — who are valid members of our community who are doing very incredible work — but we are also tired of a lack of effort being made by Mr. Prater and his office to lower the population of the Oklahoma County Detention Center.”
Wednesday’s announcement of the petition application comes one week after Prater asked Elliott to impanel a grand jury to investigate the Pardon and Parole Board and the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, which oversees the detention center. Elliott approved Prater’s request, and that grand jury is scheduled for juror selection Monday, Oct. 18.
“Any such petition, upon its face, shall state the subject matter or matters of the prospective grand jury and shall state a reasonably specific identification of areas to be inquired into and sufficient general allegations to warrant a finding that such inquiry may lead to information which, if true, would warrant a true bill of indictment or action for removal of a particular public official,” Title 38, Section 101 states.
Jess Eddy: ‘He is targeting Julius Jones’
Asked what claims in the petition (embedded below) constitute “sufficient general allegations” to warrant a judge authorizing the citizen-called grand jury, activist Jess Eddy said a grand jury could look into allegations of gross partiality and bias or even conduct that could constitute federal criminal violations as a violation of Julius Jones’ constitutional rights.
“He is targeting Julius Jones because he is targeting Julius Jones’ community base of supporters,” said Eddy, who has clashed with Prater for more than a year after Prater charged Eddy and others for disruptive actions taken during public demonstrations in the summer of 2020. (In April, Eddy filed a federal lawsuit against Prater alleging civil rights violations.)
While a county grand jury cannot issue indictments on federal crimes, Eddy said it could find potential violations and deem them as grounds for removal from public office. If the petition application is approved and adequate signatures are obtained, Eddy said Elliott would direct a special prosecutor — perhaps from another district attorney district — to lead the grand jury.
Oklahoma County grand jury approved for jail trust, Pardon and Parole Board by Tres Savage & Matt Patterson
In the petition, applicants wrote that Prater has “personal animus” for Black people and has attempted to “injure” them.
“David Prater has, through the powers of the office of district attorney and under color of law, performed a number of consecutive and related acts, at times in conspiracy with another, of his personal animus for Black Oklahoman(s) on the basis of race, with the intent to injure Black Oklahoman(s) residing within the state of Oklahoma and the County of Oklahoma,” applicants wrote.
The application focuses on Prater’s contention that Jones, who was convicted in the 1999 murder of Edmond father Paul Howell, is guilty and should not be granted a sentence commutation or clemency ahead of his Nov. 18 scheduled execution.
“Similarly situated death row inmates who are white have not received the same level of adverse treatment by Mr. Prater and/or his agent(s) that Mr. Jones has received,” the applicants wrote.
Prater, however, has opposed arguments of innocence and calls for clemency regarding Richard Glossip, a white man who was convicted of hiring a man in 1997 to murder Barry Van Treese, Glossip’s boss at a motel.
“This is a bullshit public relations campaign,” Prater told reporters in 2015 after Glossip’s attorney said new evidence had emerged supporting the man’s innocence.
But Prater’s focus on Jones’ commutation and clemency hearings has gone farther, including a withdrawn lawsuit and a failed Supreme Court hearing to disqualify Luck and Doyle from the Pardon and Parole Board owing to alleged conflicts of interest. (Prater also alleged that Pardon and Parole Board member Scott Williams had a conflict of interest owing to his professional connection to a sports agent who spoke on behalf of Jones during his Sept. 13 commutation hearing. Williams recused himself and the board voted 3-1 to recommend a commutation to life with the possibility of parole, which Gov. Kevin Stitt declined. Jones is scheduled for an Oct. 18 clemency hearing.)
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Prater said he “will not be intimidated” and that he is “proud to advocate for the Paul Howell family.”
“I will never cease advocating for justice in every case that I am responsible for. That is my duty and I will continue to be aggressive in the pursuit of justice,” Prater said. “I am proud to advocate for the Paul Howell family and all innocent victims and families who have been targeted by brutal killers like Julius Jones. I will not be intimidated by any person or group of people threatening me with a grand jury. I am never afraid of the truth. Those who advocate for these coldblooded killers can’t say the same. ”
Background on citizen-called grand jury application
In describing potential criminal conduct a citizen-called grand jury could investigate, Eddy referred to an allegation of witness intimidation that defense attorney Clay Curtis made against Prater during a May hearing on the manslaughter charge facing Trichell Evonne Jones.
Curtis claims Trichell Jones was dealing with the effects of battered woman syndrome when she shot and killed her boyfriend Quaylan Jeffers in January 2019. Curtis had scheduled a YWCA advocate to testify about battered woman syndrome on Trichell Jones’ behalf, and he said phone calls from Prater to the director of the YWCA were unethical.
“[Prater] has acted in a way so deplorable, unethical and, in my opinion, criminal, that it requires disqualification of him and his entire office,” Curtis told Elliott.
Assistant District Attorney Aspen Layman said Prater’s office was in the right when questioning the YWCA witness’ planned testimony.
“We have a witness who has testified for us on several occasions, and now we have reason to believe she is about to testify on things she is not qualified for,” Layman said.
Days after the May hearing, Prater told NonDoc that he welcomes any inquiry into his work.
“For the past 14 and a half years, people have taken every opportunity to allege things about me and to provide false evidence to law enforcement and the grand jury about me, and I have constantly and consistently welcomed any inquiry of impropriety alleged about me,” Prater said. “And every single time, it’s determined that those who have alleged things about me have either falsified evidence or flat-out lied.”
Elliott, the county’s presiding judge, denied Curtis’ disqualification motion in May, saying there was “zero evidence” that Prater had in fact influenced the woman to keep her from testifying.
Elliott is married to former Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney Sandy Elliott, who prosecuted the Julius Jones case and has appeared on Prater’s behalf in recent Jones-related hearings. The Elliotts’ marriage has been a point of criticism on social media from Eddy and other Jones advocates regarding Prater’s own grand jury that is scheduled to start Oct. 18.
Julius Jones has maintained his innocence, and his case has drawn national attention from celebrities, anti-death penalty advocates and other organizations.
“We have multiple community leaders here in Oklahoma, we have multiple civil rights leaders across the country, and we have politicians on our side,” Tiffany Dena Loftin said to launch Wednesday’s press conference.
A resident of Washington D.C., Loftin is a senior advisor for the Grassroots Law Project, a national nonprofit. Loftin told reporters that Jones was innocent and lodged allegations at Prater, whom she referred to as “Pratter” eight times.
“There are people who have tried to trust the system and believe in a system that would do right by them, and then there is David Prater, who is manipulating the system,” Loftin said, eventually asking Prater to resign.
Applicants who spoke Wednesday said they were “very confident” they could gather the 5,000 required signatures over 45 days if Elliott determines their petition includes “sufficient general allegations.”
Filed hours after Wednesday’s press conference, the citizen-called grand jury application was signed by Royce, Eddy, NAACP chapter President Garland Pruitt, Freedom Oklahoma executive director Nicole McAfee and ACLU Oklahoma executive director Tamya Cox-Touré.
“Today is just another one of those days where we have an opportunity to speak truth to power. David Prater in his position and his title and his authority have abused it,” Pruitt said. “David Prater has taken a position in opposition to the community. And when you do that, I don’t see much different in that than the insurrection.”