grand jury about David Prater
Nicole McAfee, the director of Freedom Oklahoma, speaks during a press conference Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2021, announcing an initiative petition aimed at investigating Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. (Tres Savage)

This afternoon, a group of activists seeking to remove Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater from office submitted what they say are “well over” 5,000 signatures this afternoon in support of their petition to convene a grand jury for investigating Prater.

After District Judge Richard Ogden approved the initiative petition application Oct. 22, petitioners had 45 days to gather 5,000 valid signatures from Oklahoma County voters to trigger the impaneling of a grand jury. If the Oklahoma County Election Board validates at least 5,000 of the signatures submitted today, and if all other requirements are met, the presiding district judge would be required to “order the impaneling of a grand jury to convene within thirty (30) days of the date the certification was received by the court clerk from the election board,” according to state statute. The Attorney General’s Office would appoint a special prosecutor — possibly another district attorney in the state — to lead the grand jury’s work.

Petitioners provided statements Monday saying they believe Prater has been “unchecked” in exercising his prosecutorial authority for too long.

“As a signatory, I knew I was taking a bold step towards justice with this petition, and I am grateful but not surprised that so many thousands of our neighbors made the time to sign their name to this effort as well,” said Nicole McAfee, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma. “I look forward to an expedient validation process and equally efficient effort to get an independent grand jury investigation underway.”

Activist Jess Eddy — who has been charged by Prater and who has sued him in federal court — thanked those who signed the petition.

“I’m so proud of our community,” Eddy said. “It took a lot of courage for folks to sign this thing, but Prater’s behavior demanded this extraordinary exercise of our collective power.”

Hannah Royce, the director of the OKC Pride Alliance, said “Oklahoma County deserves better.”

“Let today mark an important moment in not only our county’s history, but our state’s history,” Royce said. “Let today show DAs across the state of Oklahoma that we will exercise the rights provided to us by the state constitution and we will take every necessary step to hold those in power accountable for their actions.”

Recording artist Jabee Williams said he believes Prater has targeted Black residents of Oklahoma County in particular.

“Prater’s attacks on Black people in our community have been so painful. We had no choice but to try and get him out,” Williams said. “Julius Jones and his family — the Black community — deserves better than this man. I’m really grateful to everyone who helped.”

Prater: ‘I am never afraid of the truth’

Williams, Eddy, McAfee and Royce have advocated on behalf of Jones, saying he is innocent despite being convicted in the 1999 murder of Edmond father Paul Howell. Jones lost his court appeals, but a national groundswell of attention on his case led to monumental advocacy and demonstrations ahead of his scheduled Nov. 18 execution date.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted Jones’ sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole hours before Jones was scheduled to receive a lethal injection.

For months, Prater has publicly emphasized evidence indicating Jones’ guilt, and he filed court motions to make members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recuse from hearing Jones’ commutation and clemency requests.

Most recently, Prater angered those gathering petitions against him by filing charges against Pastor Derrick Scobey, who was arrested Nov. 17 while kneeling in prayer on a closed roadway near the Oklahoma governor’s mansion during a demonstration proclaiming Jones’ innocence.

Prater also frustrated some by pushing for the removal of now-former District Judge Kendra Coleman, who was eventually removed from office by the state Court on the Judiciary in September 2020.

During his 16 years as the county’s top prosecutor, Prater has filed several criminal charges against both Republicans and Democrats in public office, and he has prosecuted a number of police officers.

“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 will not be intimidated by any person or group of people threatening me with a grand jury. I am never afraid of the truth.”

Prater, who recently convened his own grand jury to examine matters of public corruption, has announced he is not seeking reelection in 2022.

Recently, the four declared candidates for Oklahoma County district attorney participated in a forum hosted by the Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police. The candidates clashed over whether Prater should have filed manslaughter charges in a pair of high-profile police shootings. Questions have also been raised regarding Prater’s role in the affidavit filed by an Oklahoma City Police Department investigator who initially said one of the shootings was unnecessary but then later said he did not agree with that statement.

(Correction: This article was updated at 3:45 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7, to correct reference to who verifies petition signatures.)