Oklahoma County DA candidates
OKC FOP Vice President Mark Nelson moderates a forum between Oklahoma County district attorney candidates Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. From left to right, the candidates are: Kevin Calvey, Jacqui Ford, Gayland Gieger and Robert Gray. (Michael Duncan)

During an OKC Fraternal Order of Police forum for district attorney candidates Tuesday night, Kevin Calvey faced questions about making “quite radical” statements, Jacqui Ford discussed her arrest record and social media criticisms of law enforcement, Gayland Gieger dismissed claims that he works in a dysfunctional Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office, and Robert Gray was asked if he has enough experience to serve as the county’s top prosecutor.

But the primary disagreement at the FOP Lodge No. 123 in southwest Oklahoma City dealt with whether it is appropriate for a district attorney candidate to pledge the dismissal of charges in a controversial police shooting case without even reviewing the evidence.

In his campaign to become the next district attorney of Oklahoma County, District 3 County Commissioner Kevin Calvey has promised to drop the pending manslaughter charges against five Oklahoma City Police Department officers who fatally shot 15-year-old Stavian Rodriguez in November 2020.

“These malicious prosecutions of police officers for just defending yourselves and making split-second decisions when you’re under threat are absolutely outrageous, and they’re malicious,” Calvey said in his opening remarks, quickly referring Rodriguez’s death. “I will dismiss those charges against those officers with prejudice — for good, double jeopardy, can’t come back up again — the very first day I am in office, and other malicious prosecutions that are being done against police right now.”

The other DA candidates — assistant district attorney Gayland Gieger and defense attorneys Jacqui Ford and Robert Gray — questioned the wisdom and propriety of Calvey’s campaign pledge.

“To say that you’re going to dismiss cases if you are the elected DA without reviewing the evidence and without knowing the facts is a travesty for the people of the county of Oklahoma County,” Gieger said in his opening remarks. “That is not the way the DA’s office should be run, and it will not be run that way if I am elected DA.”

Should OKCPD officers have been charged?

Jacqui Ford
Oklahoma County District Attorney candidate Jacqui Ford answers a question during an OKC FOP forum Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (Michael Duncan)

OKC FOP Vice President Mark Nelson moderated Tuesday’s forum between the four declared candidates, all of whom are running as Republicans. Nelson drew questions from his union’s membership.

The night’s second question specifically asked candidates whether they believed the five OKCPD officers should have been criminally charged in Rodriguez’s death and whether Sgt. Clifford Holman should have been charged with manslaughter for the shooting death of Bennie Edwards, a mentally ill transient man who had initially run toward one officer while holding a knife and was then fatally shot in the back by Holman while running away seconds later.

Posed that question first, Ford began her response by saying she would need to review the evidence in the case.

“The problem with answering that question, frankly, is that I don’t have the discovery in front of me,” Ford said. “I, like many of you, am handicapped by only knowing what has been released in the media. A snippet of an officer’s dash cam or body cam cannot tell us the full picture of what is going on.”.

But as Ford continued her response, she began to criticize current Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater’s decision to charge the OKCPD officers himself without first asking a grand jury.

“Should he have charged in that manner? I don’t think that is what I would have done. If there is a close call when the community is crying out for something different, we have an opportunity. And we should have and could have, perhaps, presented that to a grand jury,” Ford said. “But the justice for Stavian Rodriguez is not going to be found by putting these officers in jail. It’s not going to solve the problem. Because these officers were acting within their training, responding to the situation they found themselves in and did exactly what they were trained and told to do. We cannot second-guess that now and say that is criminal.

“There is a problem in the criminal justice system, and there is a problem that we are policing police differently than how we police citizens. What we must do is make it equal, transparent and accountable.”

Nelson asked Gieger the same question: “Do you think these officers should have been charged?”

Gieger said he has addressed the question before by emphasizing what he called “the correct ethical response.”

“The criminal justice system has to be driven by the facts and the evidence and the law,” Gieger said. “Until you have all the evidence (and) apply it to the law that is applicable, you cannot make a decision of whether someone should be charged or should not be charged. That is true whether you are a police officer, whether you are an assistant district attorney or whether you are a citizen of this county. That is what must drive the decision-making process in this office.”

Gayland Gieger
Oklahoma County District Attorney candidate Gayland Gieger answers a question during an OKC FOP forum Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (Michael Duncan)

Gieger said there is debate over whether presenting police shooting cases to a grand jury is more appropriate than a DA reviewing the evidence and deciding for himself or herself whether to file charges.

“I don’t want to say anything to minimize (this situation), and I want to make this point to the officers that are facing these charges,” Gieger said. “There’s no way that I can sit here and put myself in your place and fully comprehend what you are going through. But what I would ask you to do is have faith in the system that you subject other people to.”

Gieger then offered more criticism of Calvey’s blanket campaign pledge to drop charges against the OKCPD officers.

“When you start making political promises to gain favor — whether it’s favor with endorsements or whether it’s favor with your co-workers or whatever the favor you are trying to get (is) — you are compromising our system and you are putting our entire system at risk,” Gieger said. “The law will dictate the decision that I make based on the facts. (…) To make promises about cases you don’t know anything about simply cannot be done.”

When Nelson asked Gray whether the OKCPD officers should have been charged criminally, Gray said he always tries to be honest in his campaign conversations.

“I’ll give you an honest answer. I don’t know. I have no idea,” Gray said. “I haven’t seen a report. I haven’t seen anything. I saw a news clip on television. So what? I don’t know. So should they be charged or not charged? I’m going to go with the answer that I don’t know.”

Gray said he would “have all the facts” were he DA.

“If they acted within their training, within policy, within procedure and within the law, they won’t have a problem with me,” Gray said. “I think that’s all any officer would ask.”

When it was Calvey’s turn to speak, the former senior prosecutor at the U.S. Army Criminal Court of Iraq emphasized his answer: “No.”

“When you’re in a combat situation, yeah, you go on your training and you’re going there,” Calvey said, appearing to conflate municipal policing with international military operations. “But seriously ask yourself: Is it really possible that five independent Oklahoma City police officers all came to a criminal conclusion in a split-second decision like that? It’s just strange to be able to say that. It’s outrageous that they are being prosecuted.”

Calvey referred to the criminal charges facing Corey Adams, Jared Barton, Brad Pemberton, Bethany Sears and John Skuta for shooting Rodriguez as “bogus.”

“There are some cases, where yeah, you would have to take a look and see, you know, the evidence and all that,” Calvey said. “But you can look at that one and see — the person’s going behind them like he was going for a gun. I’d have shot him myself.”

Calvey clarified that his remarks on officer-involved shootings were not about off-duty officer incidents or “a long, prolonged incident like in Minneapolis with George Floyd.”

“I’m talking about split-second decisions you have to make right on the spot, effectively a combat situation,” Calvey said. “You need to know that you have a right and a duty to protect yourself against violent thugs, and that is the way we will roll in this office.”

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Radical statements and various criticisms

Kevin Calvey
Oklahoma County District Attorney candidate Kevin Calvey answers a question during an OKC FOP forum Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (Michael Duncan)

During Tuesday’s forum, Calvey repeatedly referred to his time serving as an Army prosecutor in Iraq, proclaiming that he had once jumped over “a pool of my buddy’s blood” while evacuating a building and that he had prosecuted heinous criminals, including a man who had videoed himself sawing another man’s head off.

“When you’re in that kind of situation, you as police officers, sworn to protect those of us in the public, need to know that the prosecutor’s office has your six,” Calvey said.

For the forum’s final round of questions, Nelson posed a critical query toward each candidate. He asked Calvey about the sometimes extreme rhetoric he has employed during his lengthy political career as a state legislator, two-time congressional candidate and now a county commissioner.

“Some have said you are quite radical in some of your statements while in public office,” Nelson said. “For example, while in the Legislature you mentioned setting yourself on fire. And in early 2019, it is alleged that you made a statement regarding an inmate’s death: ‘Guards beat inmates to death and leave them on the floor naked.’ With that preface, it was asked: ‘How would you respond to those who think you are anti-law enforcement or are just doing or saying things to get attention?'”

Calvey said his infamous self-immolation remark came while he was arguing against a pay raise for Oklahoma Supreme Court justices because they had blocked several anti-abortion laws passed by the Legislature.

“There are occasions I have exaggerated about something in order to make a political point,” Calvey said.

Regarding his statement about Oklahoma County Jail staff members purportedly beating inmates, he added that “there were in fact some guards that had been prosecuted about that.”

Gieger later said he was unaware of any such prosecution that met the details described by Calvey.

“Facts matter,” Gieger said. “You have to have a relationship with law enforcement where you are telling each other the truth.”

Nelson asked Gieger whether he planned to run the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office “just like” his controversial boss, David Prater, who has announced his retirement following the 2022 election.

“My name is Gayland Gieger, not David Prater. It is interesting that they cannot attack me, so they have to attack someone else,” Gieger said.

Nelson asked what changes Gieger might implement if elected.

“Are there things we can improve in the DA’s Office? Of course there are. There’s always room for improvement,” said Gieger, who has led the office’s sex crimes and child abuse division for the past decade. “One of the things I would strive to do that I think could be improved is the communication, currently as it exists, between law enforcement and the DA’s office. Some of that is inherent for the whole reason we’re here tonight, as you alluded to earlier because of these charges that are pending and what is at risk, for not only those officers that are charged and for the integrity of our system. That has caused a strain on the relationship. I do not have that strain with the other departments. The strain exists because of these charges.”

Nelson asked Ford about her criticisms of law enforcement officers, reading off multiple statements from her social media accounts. In reference to a pair of Tulsa Police Department officers who were shot in the line of duty, Ford posted that “those officers signed up for, got trained for, got paid for” the “assumption of risk” in their jobs.

Neither Nelson nor Ford said they were exactly sure of the context of the remark, and Nelson said it appears to have been deleted at some point. Ford said being critical of law enforcement is part of “what I’m tasked with as a criminal defense lawyer.”

“I do have a history of sometimes being critical of law enforcement, and the Oklahoma City Police Department is the second deadliest law enforcement agency in our country per capita,” Ford said. “That means something, and that is a conversation we need to be having.”

Ford said she is “here for the good guys” even though sometimes “I represent the bad guys” as a defense attorney.

“I represent victims of crimes, and I have represented a number of you,” she said. “If we’re engaging in behavior that is unbecoming or is unlike what I expect (from) the brave men and women of our agencies, you may find some criticism from me.”

Unprompted, Ford then referenced her own arrest record, which was detailed in a September article by Nolan Clay of The Oklahoman.

“I have been wrongfully accused, I have been wrongfully arrested,” Ford said at the forum. “I have faced the consequences of those actions, and I have done it with honor, and dignity and integrity.”

Although charges were not pursued against her, Ford was detained by law enforcement in 2010 at the Oklahoma State Fair. In 2009, a Craig County sheriff’s deputy arrested her after she confronted him while he was trying to arrest another person in the Grand Lodge bar parking lot in Ketchum.

“Later in the book in process Ms. Ford stated, ‘I should be drunker for spending ninety bucks,'” the deputy wrote in an affidavit.

Tuesday night’s final question from Nelson went to Gray, who briefly worked as a prosecutor before starting his practice as a defense attorney.

“How would you respond to critics who would say you don’t have enough experience to fill [the DA] role?” Nelson asked.

Gray said he simply commits to doing things the right way.

“As an attorney over the last 14 years now, I don’t meet people on their best day. I meet them on their worst day,” Gray said. “I think the DA’s office is a place that needs to be professional. It’s a place where things need to be done the right way.”

Robert Gray
Oklahoma County District Attorney candidate Robert Gray answers a question during an OKC FOP forum Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (Michael Duncan)

Watch the OKC FOP district attorney forum

Tuesday’s forum was streamed on the police union’s Facebook page. The video can be viewed here:

Oklahoma County district attorney candidate websites

District attorney candidates formally file for office during the April 2022 state filing period, with a primary election set for June 28. The announced Oklahoma County District Attorney candidates each has a website: