Garland Pruitt, president of the NAACP's Oklahoma City chapter, speaks during a press conference Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2021, outside the Oklahoma Judicial Center. (Tres Savage)

Oklahoma County District Court Judge Richard Ogden today approved an amended application authorizing a citizen petition to impanel a grand jury for the removal of District Attorney David Prater. The five local activists who filed the application believe Prater has abused his authority and will now have 45 days to collect 5,000 valid signatures from Oklahoma County voters.

The applicants had originally filed their petition Oct. 6, which Ogden denied Oct. 19 after Presiding District Judge Ray Elliott recused. Ogden initially quashed the application as being to vague and lacking the “reasonably specific identification of areas to be inquired into” as required by state law.

The applicants are Oklahoma City Pride Alliance President Hannah Royce, activist Jess Eddy, NAACP chapter President Garland Pruitt, Freedom Oklahoma executive director Nicole McAfee and ACLU Oklahoma executive director Tamya Cox-Touré. They refiled their petition Thursday, with the assistance of attorney Brian Ted Jones, and Ogden approved the amended application Friday afternoon.

“The amended petition greatly narrows the specific identification of areas to be inquired into,” Ogden wrote. “The amended petition is sufficient and meets the requirements of Oklahoma statute.”

While applicants originally sought broad scope for a citizen-called grand jury that could bring potential criminal charges against Prater, Ogden’s order said the amended petition’s only grounds “are to seek a bill of action for removal of DA Prater from office pursuant to” Title 22, Section 1181 for:

  • Gross partiality in office,
  • Oppression in office,
  • Corruption in office, or
  • Willful maladministration.

“By no longer seeking an indictment for crimes or torts claims framed as crimes, the analysis of the amended petition does not trigger the defenses of sovereign and prosecutorial immunity, the pre-requisites of the Oklahoma Government Tort Claims Act, or lack of jurisdiction.”

Contrary to his statement originally denying the applicants’ petition, Ogden agreed that Prater is potentially subject to the Title 22, Section 1181 removal procedure “because he is not subject to removal by impeachment although a duly elected office holder.”

“The applicants’ brief includes an abundance of authority supporting this position, including but not limited to, an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision which makes clear that district attorneys are not subject to removal by impeachment and are in fact subject to removal by the use of a grand jury charging the district attorney with causes for removal.”

Ogden cited the Supreme Court decision in Russsell v. Henderson, 1979.

“The amended petition identifies paragraphs 1-23 reasonably specific identification of areas to be inquired into that such an inquiry may lead to information which, if true, would warrant a bill of action for removal,” Ogden wrote.

He concluded his order by noting that failure to obtain the requisite number of signatures within 45 days shall render the amended petition null and void. That would make Dec. 6 the deadline for submission of signatures.

‘The hands of the people’

Royce, one of the applicants, expressed appreciation for Ogden’s order in a statement early Friday evening.

“We are grateful for a timely ruling that allows us to move forward with our petition effort,” Royce said. “Five thousand signatures is no small effort, but we are confident the will exists to meet the threshold. Accountability for the harm DA Prater has made the staple of his office is finally in the hands of the people.”

The applicants wrote in their petition that Prater had abused his position by targeting Black individuals such as Julius Jones, the man convicted of murdering Edmond father Paul Howell in 1999.

“The acts include, but are not limited to, use and abuse of court proceedings; public statements made to intimidate or otherwise place persons in apprehension of discriminatory and targeted treatment by the Office of the District Attorney on the basis of race and association with persons who are Black; extrajudicial statements and acts made with the intent to intimidate and cause suppression of the exercise and carrying out of constitutionally-guaranteed rights and statutorily compelled administration of the government,” applicants wrote.

Jones, who maintains he is innocent, faces a November execution date if he is not granted clemency and if other legal challenges to the state’s execution schedule fail.

Prater has maintained Jones is guilty and has challenged Pardon and Parole Board members who support removing Jones from death row.

“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 Oct. 6 after the applicants originally filed their petition. “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. ”

Read the amended petition to remove David Prater from office

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