Two former Pottawatomie County District Attorney’s Office employees are challenging incumbent DA Allan Grubb amid an investigation into his office’s financial condition and use of deferred prosecution agreements.
Tuesday’s Republican primary election features three candidates: Grubb, attorney David Hammer and former Pottawatomie County Assistant District Attorney Tanya Roland.
No other candidates filed for the District Attorney District 23 position, so the winner of the GOP primary will become the top prosecutor in Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote Tuesday, a runoff election will be held Aug. 23.
All three candidates agreed to interviews for this article, and vide of a recent candidate forum is embedded below.
Incumbent faces scrutiny
Beginning earlier this year, Grubb’s office came under investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office owing to alleged financial issues and questions about how some offenders were paying fees to avoid prosecution. In February, it was reported that Grubb owed the District Attorney’s Council about $679,198 last year and still owes more than $200,000.
The criminal investigation into Grubb’s office is not the only Pottawatomie County District Court story making headlines in 2022. Former Shawnee Public Schools assistant athletic director and basketball coach Ronald Arthur has been charged with soliciting sexual contact with a minor by use of technology. (Two other charges were dropped recently by Cleveland County Assistant District Attorney Abby Nathan.)
Nathan was given prosecutorial authority over the case after Grubb filed a last minute recusal in April. A day or two before the preliminary hearing was set to begin, Grubb received an email from a victim in the case requesting reassignment owing to an alleged conflict of interest between Grubb and Arthur’s attorney, Shelley Levisay.
“[The conflict of interest] was disclosed to everybody way in the beginning. But they didn’t choose to ring that bell until the last minute,” Grubb said. “That was me trying to be as ethical as possible.”
An outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform proposals, Grubb said it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money if voters to do not reelect him.
“Your first four years is a learning curve to learn what the job is and what it’s about,” Grubb said. “Now that I know how to do it effectively, efficiently and cost effectively to taxpayers, I think I still need to do it so they can get their investment out of me.”
Hammer previously worked in law enfacement and as a business owner until he went to law school in 2010. Hammer resigned from his previous position in victim’s services within the Pottawatomie County District Attorney’s Office upon Grubb’s initial election in 2018.
“I was very clear, and it’s public knowledge, that I made a decision early on that I would not work for him because I did not feel that he was the best choice for the county,” Hammer said.
Roland, who serves in the Oklahoma Army National Guard, said she has complicated feelings about Grubb. She also once served as a Pottawatomie County assistant district attorney, and she said she left the office after observing “unethical behavior.” She said Grubb was a “ghost employee” during her time in the office, which Roland said meant he often didn’t arrive until 11 a.m. or noon and would leave early.
“I don’t think the public trusts Mr. Grubb anymore,” Roland said.
‘Somebody’s got to stand up and fix this’
Grubb said he initially ran for district attorney in 2018 because of crime in Shawnee. He touted more than 2,300 convictions that have occurred since taking office.
“Now that we have what I think is a fully functional, effective office, I think it’s imperative that we keep doing the job and not let it slip back into chaos like it was when I took over,” Grubb said. “We’re caught up in both the counties in my district form the COVID backlog that occurred all across the state.”
Grubb said his office also set up a compliance docket after they were able to get back into courtrooms following the end of COVID shutdowns.
“I don’t want to say it was a fast-track to prison, but it was a fast-track to either prison or compliance,” Grubb said. “[The felony probationers] meet with either me or my first assistant once a month in the courtroom after they’ve stipulated a motion to revoke or accelerate, which means their next stop is prison, to make sure they get in compliance. It’s had a fairly good success rate, but it took a long time to get in place because of COVID restrictions.”
Hammer said that, during his time within the DA’s office, he changed the way prosecutors handle victims.
“I’m a big believer in bringing everybody to the table,” Hammer said. “I don’t think it’s fair for victims to tell their story 600 times to all these people. They have to meet me at some point as their prosecutor, so I started having everybody come. It worked out real well. The advocates just loved what we were doing.”
Hammer said community members have asked him to run for the office for years.
“Somebody’s got to stand up and fix this,” Hammer said. “[Grubbs] has unfortunately lost a lot of the grants that were good benefits to victims and people of this community. He’s lost the grant that had the violent crime and drug task force, and it’s got to be restored.”
Hammer said he would also work to restore the office’s relationship with law enforcement, something that is also important to Roland.
“There are relationships and partnerships that need to be reformed with law enforcement in the district,” Roland said. “There are relationship issues with victims that have to be fixed and public trust issues.”
Grubb said the last election cycle created a false narrative about his belief system regarding law enforcement
“It took two years to get law enforcement cooperation,” Grubb said. “I won’t say that’s fully been restored, but it’s working well at this point.”
Roland said she would also work to restore grants within the district.
“I think we need the grants, and they fund positions — very necessary positions — in the office [that are] necessary to promote law and order and protect victims rights,” Roland said “I do not see any requirements due to a grant to be ‘strings.’ They’re simply requirements that you have to account for because you’re using public money.”
Roland and Hammer have also expressed concern over Grubb’s use of deferred prosecution agreements. Under those arrangements, which Grubb said have increased in his office because they are “the easiest way to raise money,” a prosecutor makes a deal with an offender. That offender is not charged, but they do pay a fee to the district attorney’s office.
“While they are allowed in statute, I think they are a tool that should be used like 1.1 percent of the time. Very, very limited,” Hammer said. “I don’t think they should ever be used to increase the monetary value of the DA’s office, and I feel like there has been an overuse of them during his administration. I think there’s other ways to deal with people who need a break or need a deferred.”
In regards to the “unethical behavior” alleged by Roland, Grubb said he does not know what she’s talking about.
“She mentioned something about plea deals,” Grubb said. “Well sometimes whenever your docket’s stacked up 43 pages deep, you’re going to reduce charges or charge it the way it should have been charged to begin with to get stuff done.”