In Oklahoma, it can be difficult to keep up with all the times that someone of note has been under criminal investigation for one allegation or another. This summer, a number of situations that have made headlines bear watching, but the churn of the 24-hour news cycle can make it difficult to stay apprised of every development.
As such, we sometimes use the “roundup” model to chronicle a handful of key developments at once. The following stories have unfolded over the summer. Start your shortened week by making sure they are on your radar.
After passenger dies in crash, former Rep. Dan Kirby under investigation
In 2017, then-Rep. Dan Kirby (R-Tulsa) resigned while facing expulsion from the Oklahoma House of Representatives for sexual harassment allegations. Undeterred from a desire to hold public office, Kirby returned to his hometown of Eufaula and won election to Ward 4 of the Eufaula City Council in April 2021, ousting incumbent James Duty with 55.64 percent of the vote.
About 15 months later, however, Kirby’s name is back in the news for a personal tragedy that is being investigated as a potential crime.
Just before 10 p.m. on Saturday, July 23, Kirby crashed a motorcycle he was driving in Lake Eufaula State Park. Kirby, 64, was wearing a helmet and survived the crash. His passenger and significant other, 56-year-old Sheryl Bichsel, was not wearing a helmet and died after being transported to a Tulsa hospital.
In the Oklahoma Highway Patrol’s initial press alert about the crash, “odor of alcoholic beverage” was noted under “condition of driver.” But more than a month later, the crash remains under investigation while state law enforcement await the results of a test to determine the alcohol content of Kirby’s blood from the night of the wreck.
“Blood was drawn from the driver and we are awaiting the analysis,” Department of Public Safety Lt. Preston Lay said in a statement to NonDoc on Aug. 29. “Once the results are received we will determine if a case record should be provided to the DA’s office for potential charges.”
Lay said it could take “a few months” for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to process the blood test, the results of which will be sent to DPS, to Kirby and to McIntosh County District Attorney Carol Iski, who will then determine whether to charge Kirby in relation to Bichsel’s death.
Kirby, who was in a relationship with Bichsel and who changed his Facebook profile picture to a photo of himself and Bichsel on July 24, did not respond to a voicemail left for him prior to the publication of this article.
OU professor charged for lewd acts with minor
On Aug. 31, Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn filed two felony charges against University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication assistant professor Imran Hasnat: making lewd proposals to and sending obscene material to a minor.
Prosecutors alleged Hasnat attempted to meet a Cleveland County deputy sheriff who he thought was a 14-year-old girl. According to Alexia Aston of the OU Daily:
At about 10 a.m. Aug. 23, Hasnat allegedly made lewd comments to the individual electronically and sent a photograph of male genitalia and requested nude photographs in return. The comments were allegedly made after Hasnat had been told the person he was speaking with was a minor, according to the affidavit.
Hasnat allegedly traveled from his Norman residence to a predetermined location on the same day, intending to meet with and have sex with the minor, according to the affidavit.
Hasnat was arrested at 12:50 p.m. on Aug. 23 at an OnCue on Classen Boulevard on Highway 9 and was subsequently charged.
After receiving his doctoral degree from OU in 2021, Hasnat became an assistant professor of public relations at the Gaylord College in the fall. He has been placed on administrative leave, according to the OU Daily, and his OU faculty page was taken down shortly after The Daily’s story published last week.
According to that page, “Hasnat’s research focuses on the interrelationship between media and international politics in a digital age.”
A native of Bangladesh, Hasnat’s personal website also outlines his academic background, and it notes that he taught a U.S. Department of State-funded program on “new media and leadership for South Asian students” at the Gaylord College. The same website features a game titled Race to Refuge that simulates the time and bureaucratic steps required for refugees to gain entry to the United States.
After former Judge Tim Henderson not charged, second ADA resigns
On Aug. 1, Nolan Clay of The Oklahoman reported that Grady County District Attorney Jason Hicks decided not to charge former Oklahoma County Judge Tim Henderson for sexual misconduct allegations made against him last year, but Hicks did say Henderson “preyed on young women” and “should never be allowed to practice law again.”
Henderson resigned in March 2021 after two Oklahoma County assistant district attorneys alleged Henderson made unwanted sexual advances and engaged them in unwanted sexual interactions. Henderson’s attorney argued that his relationships with the two assistant district attorneys were consensual.
Hicks was assigned as the special prosecutor for the Henderson investigation, which involved the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the state’s 19th multi-county grand jury. Ironically, Henderson was the presiding judge for the 18th multi-county grand jury at the time he resigned.
“In this investigation, it is crystal clear that Henderson preyed on young women whom he believed would respond in his favor. His actions generally started with emails, text messages, and an acknowledgment that he was willing and could help them with their careers,” Hicks said in a statement reported by The Oklahoman. “It is obvious that he violated the trust of the public, and our profession, and as such should never be allowed to practice law again.”
From Clay’s article in The Oklahoman:
At least five women came forward during the investigation. Two were prosecutors assigned to his courtroom. A third was a sheriff’s deputy.
Henderson — who is married — denied sexually assaulting anyone. He acknowledged he had been in sexual relationships with the two prosecutors but insisted both were consensual.
Hicks said the numerous emails, testimony and other evidence suggested “there was a cordial relationship between Henderson and all of the women presented through the investigation.” Hicks said that “certainly leave (sic) doubt in one’s mind as to whether any touching between Henderson and the women was not consensual or invited.”
“As such, no criminal case can be pursued.“
The two prosecutors interviewed during the investigation were assistant district attorneys in Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater’s office, and both have now resigned from their positions. Carson Turner was the first ADA to report the situation to Prater, in the early spring of 2021. Kelly Collins then also reported her encounters with Henderson. Turner left Prater’s office in 2021, while Collins submitted her resignation near the end of August 2022, Prater said.
Court records have previously identified both Collins and Turner as having sexual relationships with Henderson. Defense attorneys have appealed convictions from cases tried in Henderson’s courtroom by Collins and Turner. Collins did not respond to a voicemail and a text message seeking comment prior to the publication of this article. Through her attorney, Turner declined to comment. Turner accepted a job as an assistant district attorney in Logan County in October 2021.
The connections between Henderson and the two former prosecutors have raised questions about more than a dozen convictions and plea agreements. A drug trafficking case handled by Turner has already been ordered for a new trial, and the murder conviction of Robert Hashagen — a case handled by Collins — is under appeal.
Questions also remain about whether the Oklahoma Bar Association and the Oklahoma Supreme Court will suspend or revoke Henderson’s license to practice law. It also remains unclear whether official action might be considered against the two former Oklahoma County prosecutors. Complaints have been filed against both Collins and Turner with the Oklahoma Bar Association.
Suspended Rogers County ADAs face multiple accusations
Questions regarding the behavior of assistant district attorneys have also arisen in Rogers County, where District Attorney Matt Ballard suspended Isaac Shields and George Gibbs Jr. in July and requested an investigation into their use of a courthouse security room to watch jury deliberations. In a letter Ballard wrote about the suspensions of Shields and Gibbs, he suggested that their actions could constitute a felony.
Since suspending Shields and Gibbs in July, Ballard’s office has faced additional scrutiny regarding the two assistant district attorneys. In an Aug. 4 filing with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, the attorney for Micah Turner — who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison — alleged that Gibbs and Shields both played a role in committing a Brady violation regarding his client’s case. (A Brady violation occurs when a prosecutor fails to provide potentially exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys as required by law.)
In Turner’s case, a member of Ballard’s staff realized that Turner’s mother had called the District Attorney’s Office the day of the shooting to say she was “scared” of William Wilkins, whom her son later shot and killed.
Turner’s attorney filed a brief requesting a new trial, and he included emails between Ballard and his staff members regarding the situation. According to the emails, a member of Ballard’s staff alleged that she told Gibbs of the call prior to Turner’s conviction. Asked about the matter months later, Shields expressed skepticism that the call occurred.
OSBI serves search warrant on former Swadley’s VP
Also last week, an OSBI search warrant regarding the investigation into Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen’s now-terminated state contracts became public. The warrant seeks access to all communications sent and received by a phone number associated with Curt Breuklander, a former executive vice president at Swadley’s who has also been sued for defamation by Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen LLC.
In its June lawsuit, the company alleges that Breuklander has made defamatory statements about Swadley’s and that, if allegations are true that the company padded contracts and over-billed the state, Breuklander was “at all times in charge” of the operation. (Swadley’s Emergency Relief Team, a separate company led by Brent Swadley, also sued Breuklander in October 2021 for defamation, misappropriation of trade secrets and other claims related to allegations that Breuklander illegally took items from Swadley’s after voluntarily ending his employment with the company.)
In its Aug. 31 application for a search warrant, OSBI asked for all data and information regarding Breuklander’s cell phone and IP address from Oct. 1, 2019, to March 25, 2022.
From Wayne Stafford of Fox 25:
According to the search warrant, OTRD Director Jerry Wincherster, Deputy Director Gino DeMarco, President of Swadley’s Brent Swadley and Vice President of Swadley’s Curt Breuklander began discussing the contract between OTRD and Swadley’s back in October of 2019.
The report states that on April 13th, 2022 OSBI agents interviewed Breuklander, who was identified as the anonymous source of information, meaning he was the whistleblower of the operation.
“Breuklander confirmed how Swadley and his company obtained the OTRD restaurant contract,” the affidavit reads. “According to Breuklander, Swadley’s company was guaranteed the contract by Winchester and DeMarco.”
In the search warrant, OSBI says Breuklander informed agents about Swadley “over billing OTRD during the contract and selling OTRD used equipment and billing for the cost of new equipment.”
OSBI agents conducted interviews of employees at OTRD where they discovered the information Breuklander provided in his interview was correct.
OSBI’s investigation into Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen and current and former state employees remains ongoing.
(Update: This article was updated at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, to remove a reference to a state retirement system.)