(Editor’s note: The following article includes details about an alleged rape.)
MIDWEST CITY — Members of the People’s Council for Justice Reform held a press conference today calling for the municipalities of Midwest City, Edmond and Oklahoma City to sever their interlocal agreements with the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council and stop sending detainees to the beleaguered Oklahoma County Jail.
“It’s time for this city to do its due diligence and begin looking into another county detention center that (…) meets constitutional norms, state laws and human dignity,” said Sara Bana, a member of the Midwest City City Council who has a long history of advocating for criminal justice reform.
Bana and other advocates made their demands on the same day as a major criminal case filing that involves apparent negligence on behalf of jail staff. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater’s office filed a first-degree rape charge against an unsupervised male detainee who attacked a female detainee while she was handcuffed to a wall inside the Oklahoma County Jail.
“This is yet another example of the jail trust’s complete disregard for those they are responsible for protecting,” Prater said in a statement, referencing the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, which governs the troubled facility.
So far this year, 14 people have died in the jail. According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, 14 people died at the facility in 2021. Over the past year, the jail has also seen escape attempts and the arrest of jail employees.
In the July 19 attack that drew the rape charge today, Donta Ramone Thomas, 44, allegedly raped a female inmate while she was handcuffed to a bar on a wall in the receiving area of the jail. Prosecutors charged him with first-degree rape or, in the alternative, attempted rape in the first degree.
Thomas — who has four prior convictions for theft and assault and battery between 2007 and 2018 — had been fingerprinted and photographed during processing after he was brought into the jail, according to court documents. Afterward, he was instructed by jail staff to stand with his back against a wall and wait for other detainees to finish their processing. Thomas disregarded those instructions and instead walked to the area where the woman was handcuffed to a rail. He began groping her before pulling down her pants and attempting to have sex with her. The two were apparently not being supervised by jail staff for more than seven minutes of the attack, which was recorded on surveillance video.
Bana said the July 19 attack is yet another example of why those arrested should not be sent to the Oklahoma County Jail.
“I’m glad the district attorney is prosecuting folks who are violating other people’s rights, bodies and dignity,” Bana said after learning of the charge against Thomas. “But at the same time, it goes back to a maximum security facility that lacks maximum security for those inside. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen when someone is in the custody of the state.”
Calls to sever ties with CJAC
The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, otherwise known as the jail trust, took over management of the Oklahoma County Jail in July 2020. Previously, the jail had been managed by the county sheriff’s office. The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council, known as CJAC, formed in 2018 and advised county officials to create the jail trust.
“The evidence showcases that since the day the jail trust took over, conditions have continued to deteriorate,” Bana said. “We have done a straight nosedive. Who decided to create the jail trust and usurp the operation and management of the jail? The Criminal Justice Advisory Council chaired by Mr. Clay Bennett paid for by municipalities like this one to fund the executive director, Mr. (Tim) Tardibono, who advised our county to transition power and management to a jail trust that has failed.”
The jail has seen troubled inspections in the past from private consultants brought in to evaluate it, as well as from the U.S. Department of Justice, which visited the facility late last year.
The Midwest City City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to renew its agreement with CJAC at its Sept. 27 meeting. Bana, who was elected to the council this year, said she would like to see people arrested in Midwest City taken to other jails, such as Cleveland, Canadian or Comanche counties. Midwest City currently operates a small jail facility but is not equipped to handle maximum security detainees.
Reform advocate Cherisse Baker said sending residents arrested in Edmond, Oklahoma City or Midwest City to the Oklahoma County Jail is bad business for those municipalities given the many problems the jail has seen.
“That’s a waste of money and our resources at a time of inflation, at a time when the community is hurting in the midst of a pandemic,” she said. “It’s important to make fiscally responsible choices. This is not fiscally responsible. This is putting your money down a toilet and expecting a return.”
Oklahoma County has been sued numerous times for detainee deaths and other events, with settlements costing the county millions of dollars. On Wednesday, attorneys for a man who was severely beaten and orally sodomized by his cellmate filed a federal failure to protect lawsuit against county commissioners, the jail trust and its members. The attorneys allege that Johnny Alstatt sustained “serious and permanent injuries” in March 2021 after Joseph Defreeze attacked him for alerting jail staff that Defreeze was eating his food and had threatened to beat him to death. After Alstatt was released from the hospital and recovering from severe head injuries, he was placed back into the same pod with Defreeze, who allegedly beat him again, according to the federal court filing.
People’s Council for Justice Reform member Mark Faulk said the group will continue to be vocal about the Oklahoma County Jail as long as cities support its management.
“Understand this: We will never be quiet about this,” Faulk said during the press conference at Midwest City City Hall. “We will never back down. And we are asking directly for Midwest City — for the safety of their own citizens and for the liability for the numerous deaths in literally the deadliest jail in America — why do they want to fund that? Not just Midwest City. We’re telling (OKC Mayor) David Holt: Do the right thing. Sever your ties with the jail trust. We’re telling Edmond: Do the right thing. Sever all your contracts with the jail trust and with CJAC. It’s time for responsible municipalities to do what the county refuses to do.”
‘We value each of our community partners’
CJAC executive director Tim Tardibono said his organization has worked to reduce the jail’s population since it was formed in 2018. The jail’s daily population averaged about 2,200 inmates in 2017. Today, that number is 1,653, according to the most recent data provided by CJAC.
Tardibono also credited diversion programs for a dramatic reduction in the number of people taken from the Oklahoma County Jail to prison following a conviction. In 2018, there were nearly 2,400 inmates transferred from the jail to a Department of Corrections facility following sentencing. This year, that number has dipped to 1,449.
“CJAC is a partnership, not just with government partners, but service providers and nonprofits,” he said. “We value each of our community partners and have had tremendous contributions from Midwest City. We value their partnership and look forward to many future years of shared collaboration and productivity. As our website illustrates, there are numerous organizations CJAC works with, all with the common goal of a more fair and effective justice system for the residents of Oklahoma County. We intend to continue that important mission.”
In June, Oklahoma County voters approved $260 million in bonds to support the construction of a new county jail. Bana, Faulk and other members of their group opposed the bond owing to their ongoing concerns about the existing jail management structure.