GOP district attorney debate
From left: Gayland Gieger, Jacqui Ford, Kevin Calvey and Robert Gray participate in the Republican portion of NonDoc's Oklahoma County district attorney debate night Wednesday, June 15, 2022. (Michael Duncan)

Assistant District Attorney Gayland Gieger and Oklahoma County District 3 Commissioner Kevin Calvey sparred over endorsements, the prosecution of law enforcement officers and who is most fit to become Oklahoma County’s next district attorney during a Republican primary debate Wednesday night at the University of Central Oklahoma presented by NonDoc and News 9.

Gieger and Calvey were joined by Jacqui Ford and Robert Gray, who are also running in the June 28 GOP primary. Gray is a former assistant district attorney who currently works for a private practice, and Ford is a former public defender who runs her own law office.

But it was Gieger and Calvey who dominated the stage, often raising their voices to make accusations or fend off criticisms from the other. The animus was present even in the opening statements, when Calvey talked about what he calls a broken relationship between the Oklahoma City Police Department and current District Attorney David Prater, who is Gieger’s boss.

When Gieger had a chance to speak, he asked more than a dozen police officers who support him, mostly from Oklahoma City, to stand up, which they did.

Video of the debate can be viewed here and is embedded below.

Past remarks spark exchange

Gayland Gieger speaks during the Republican portion of NonDoc’s Oklahoma County district attorney debate night Wednesday, June 15, 2022. (Michael Duncan)

At one point, Gieger brought up Calvey’s past remarks on an Oklahoma City radio show about jail staff in 2019 prior to the formation of the jail trust, which Calvey also sits on.

“It’s the reason sheriff deputies have endorsed me and their [union] has endorsed me, because you go on radio and you say things like guards are beating inmates to death and leaving them on the floor naked to die when it is not true,” Gieger said. “A district attorney cannot say things that are not true that inflame the public and impugn the reputation of jail employees and deputies in this county, and it’s just flat irresponsible.”

Calvey responded, saying that while there were past incidents of guards abusing inmates at the jail, the jail trust has been much more transparent than former Sheriff P.D. Taylor, who operated the jail prior to the trust’s formation.

“We had several lawsuits against the county for things involved in the jail. It’s actually worse than has been out in public,” Calvey said. “As I said, the former sheriff was not at all transparent. The current jail trust is transparent. That’s why you hear more things now than in the past. There were situations in which inmates were abused. In some cases, there were prosecutions of jail staff, and I will point out that is a small minority of people that work at the jail.”

Donations, Larue Bratcher case enter the chat

Kevin Calvey speaks during the Republican portion of NonDoc’s Oklahoma County district attorney debate night Wednesday, June 15, 2022. (Michael Duncan)

During his tense exchanges with Gieger, Calvey also touted his endorsement from current Oklahoma County Sheriff Tommie Johnson, which he said has been the only law enforcement endorsement made since he entered the race.

Gieger pointed to campaign finance reports from the 2020 campaign for sheriff.

“And you and your wife gave him thousands of dollars for his campaign,” Gieger said, raising his voice over Calvey’s. “Thousands of dollars. Let’s just talk about the facts. You gave him almost $6,000.”

The fireworks continued when the debate returned to the investigation and prosecution of law enforcement officers. After referencing the pending charges against five OKCPD officers in the 2020 shooting death of Stavian Rodriguez, Calvey criticized the prosecution of Larue Bratcher.

In 2020, Bratcher shot and killed a man who attempted to break into his marijuana grow business. It was later determined Bratcher was operating that business without proper permitting. Bratcher, a veteran, was facing a first-degree murder charge in the incident, which Calvey called unjust. However, earlier this year, prosecutors amended the charge to second-degree murder or, in the alternative, first-degree manslaughter.

When Gieger said Bratcher shot the intruder even though he was not under imminent threat of death or injury, Calvey pounced.

“That’s a lie,” Calvey said. “Just like with the prosecutors of those fine officers, Gayland Gieger is responsible for upping that to first-degree murder. That’s gun control. That’s against the rights of self-defense, and we need to stand up for the right of self-defense. Black. White. No matter what your religion is. This young man is not a threat to anybody!”

Gieger then accused Calvey of using the case to score political points based on a limited understanding of the facts.

“He knows what News 9 shows him,” Gieger said. “He stands up and says he’s going to dismiss cases based on what he sees on News 9. God help us all if the district attorney makes decisions based —”

Cavley cut him off: “God help us all if you wrongfully prosecute police officers and young combat veterans.”

In their final heated exchange of the night, Calvey accused Gieger’s office of not filing charges against staff at Mount Saint Mary Catholic High School accused of sexual assault earlier this year, as well as former Oklahoma Rep. Jose Cruz, who has been accused of sexual misconduct.

“Listen to what I’m saying, they’ve been filed!” Gieger shouted to Calvey, appearing to reference charges in the Mount Saint Mary High School case.

Calvey said that wasn’t true, while also referencing sexual misconduct accusations against Gieger’s now 20-year-old son when he was a teenager. A lawsuit was filed by three women earlier this year accusing Gieger of not adequately supervising his son. The suit was dropped eight days later.

“No you didn’t file them,” Calvey said. “You still haven’t filed them. Maybe it hits a little close to home for you — about not filing sexual assault charges. But we really don’t need a DA who ignores those things.”

When Gieger was asked about the lawsuit filed and withdrawn by the women, he gave a lengthy answer.

“Whenever you occupy a position of power like this people take shots at you. They’ve taken shots at me on many cases that I’ve tried. Right before Christmas, an unverified petition naming my family was filed. Eight business days later, it was dismissed. It was never served on me, but it was certainly served to the news media. It was dismissed without me knowing who some of these people even are, and in fact it contains many false allegations of conversations I was alleged to have had with people I don’t even know,” Gieger said. “If that doesn’t ring of political motivations, I don’t know what does. There’s not a lawyer in this room who would not question a lawsuit dismissed eight business days later with no explanation whatsoever and never being served. The false claims were investigated, and rightly so. Our office immediately recused when we learned of it. Three different law enforcement agencies — not just (Cleveland County District Attorney) Greg Mashburn — three different law enforcement agencies investigated this, and it’s now been almost four years, and they’re still trying to bring this up. It’s been looked at and re-looked at and re-looked at because of my position. Not because of the strength of the evidence.”

Candidates mostly support new jail

Robert Gray speaks during the Republican portion of NonDoc’s Oklahoma County district attorney debate night Wednesday, June 15, 2022. (Michael Duncan)

Among the hottest topics in the county heading in the June 28 election is the $260 million bond proposal that would help fund a new Oklahoma County jail. All four of the candidates raised their hands when asked if they would vote to approve the funding, though Gieger raised his only halfway.

“Because a new building will not fix the jail’s problems,” Gieger said when asked why he wasn’t quite sure. He later said he would need to have more information when asked which way he was leaning with his vote.

Calvey has repeatedly said in jail trust and county commissioner meetings that he favors a new jail.

Ford said she favors the construction of a new jail because the state of the jail and its management.

“We must rebuild the jail, period. The end. There is no conversation about it,” Ford said. “It has been a nightmare since it went up. It’s not safe for the detention officers, and it’s not safe for the inmates. It is not safe for the public defenders who spend hours in that building every single day.”

Ford recalled instances where her own safety was put at risk while working as a public defender.

“I have been trapped in attorney-client rooms where I can’t get help because the button doesn’t work,” she said. “People are dying in their cells because the emergency button doesn’t work.”

Gray said many people in the jail are guilty of only petty crimes and should not be there. He also used the topic as a chance to address bail reform.

“I think the DA needs to be very smart as far as who they recommend staying behind bars — violent criminals, I’d suggest — and who they should let out,” he said. “I think they should take the record of the offender into account before making recommendations for bonds that are so high that they can’t make and get out of their alive. And mental health support is huge. We need to be screening individuals in the county jail for mental health issues. Are we a mental health warehouse or are we a county jail?”

Gray finished by supporting the new jail.

“Do we need a county jail? Absolutely,” he said. “If you don’t believe me, go down there. I was there last week. Walk those floors. Go into the stair wells. See what it’s like.”

August runoff likely

Jacqui Ford watches Gayland Gieger during the Republican portion of NonDoc’s Oklahoma County district attorney debate night Wednesday, June 15, 2022. (Michael Duncan)

With four candidates in the race and one needing to eclipse the 50 percent threshold in the primary to win the nomination outright, it’s possible there will be a runoff Aug. 23 to see who advances to the Nov. 8 general election.

During Wednesday night’s GOP primary debate, all four of the Republican candidates committed by a show of hands to debating their Democratic opponent in the fall.

Shortly after the conclusion of the GOP primary debate, Democrats Vicki Behenna and Mark Myles also debated on the same stage.

(Editor’s note: This article was updated at 9:42 a.m. Thursday, June 16, to correct reference to the employment of Ford and Gray. NonDoc regrets the error. It was updated again at 10:40 a.m. Friday, June 17, to reflect the amended charge facing Larue Bratcher.)