Oklahoma County district attorney candidates Kevin Calvey and Vicki Behenna debated on Oct. 11 in Oklahoma City at an event hosted by NonDoc and News 9. Calvey, a Republican, and Behenna, a Democrat, will compete to replace outgoing Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater in the Nov. 8 general election.
The full event is available to watch on YouTube. The staff of The Frontier used public records, interviews and other sources to fact-check some of the candidates’ claims from the debate.
If you missed the debate, you can read a recap or watch a video of the full event below.
Claim: Calvey has no experience as a prosecutor.
Behenna said: “I am the only person running for district attorney who has experience as a prosecutor.”
Fact check: Mostly false
Calvey served as a prosecutor for about a year between 2007 and 2008 while serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq, according to a campaign spokesperson. Calvey was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for his service as a senior prosecutor and “team leader for high-visibility and special operations cases,” according to documents provided by Calvey’s campaign.
Behenna’s campaign said Calvey has not been a prosecutor in state or federal courts and pointed to Calvey’s lack of experience with jury trials.
“Vicki Behenna has been involved in state and federal courts for over 30 years, as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney. No other candidate has that type of experience,” said Kaylee Rains-Saucedo, Behenna’s deputy campaign manager.
— Kayla Branch
Claim: Most people who die at the troubled Oklahoma County Detention Center die because they are in bad health when they arrive at the jail.
Calvey said: “The reason most people who die in the jail do is because they’re about on death’s door when they’re brought to the jail.”
Fact check: False
As of mid-October, 14 people have died in custody this year at the Oklahoma County jail. One was beaten to death by another prisoner, four are believed to have died by suicide and at least another four are believed to have overdosed on drugs, according to jail and media reports. Of the five remaining deaths, two were found dead months or nearly a year after being booked in.
Mark Opgrande, a spokesman for the Oklahoma County Detention Center, said the jail used to do only partial medical screenings during booking but now gathers information on detainees’ medical histories and prescription and illicit drug use. If police don’t take arrestees with medical issues directly to the hospital, jail staff refer them there, Opgrande said.
The jail didn’t track medical bond requests until this year, according to Opgrande. Since April, there have been 21 medical bond requests for prisoners at the jail, but only seven have been granted.
— Clifton Adcock
Claim: Women in Oklahoma who seek abortion cannot be prosecuted under state law.
Behenna said: “Oklahoma law doesn’t provide for a DA — even the AG has said that women who seek an abortion are not going to be prosecuted under these new laws.”
Fact check: True
State laws that went into effect this year after the overturn of Roe v. Wade prohibit any person from performing or assisting with the performance of an abortion, but “do not allow for the prosecution or punishment of any mother for seeking or obtaining an abortion,” according to an Aug. 31 memo from the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office.
Oklahoma previously had a law on the books that allowed for women who had abortions to be prosecuted, but it was repealed.
— Kayla Branch
Claim: Stavian Rodriguez, a 15-year-old who was fatally shot by Oklahoma City police in 2020 during an attempted armed robbery, was a “known violent felon.”
Calvey said: “That guy, who was a known violent felon, provoked officers.”
Fact check: Mostly false
The Frontier could not find any record that Rodriguez had ever been charged or convicted as an adult in Oklahoma for any crime. Any juvenile criminal records are sealed from public view. Rodriguez’s mother, Cameo Holland, told The Frontier that her son had been involved with the juvenile justice system for minor, non-violent infractions before his death.
Rodriguez was allegedly involved in an armed robbery just before police shot him. Trapped inside a small convenience store surrounded by officers, Rodriguez exited through a small window before dropping his firearm and placing his hands in the air, surveillance footage showed. Officers ordered him to the ground and shot Rodriguez multiple times as he made a motion toward his pants, the video showed. Officers later found a cell phone in a rear pocket.
— Reese Gorman and Dylan Goforth
Claim: There have been more deaths and more contraband at the Oklahoma County Detention Center this year than previous years.
Behenna said: “Quite honestly, more people have died this year alone in the Oklahoma County jail, and there’s been more contraband introduced in the jail just in the past year.”
Fact check: Mostly false.
As of Oct. 17, 14 people have died in the Oklahoma County jail in 2022, compared with 14 deaths for the entirety of 2021. So while the jail is on pace to have a higher number of deaths since last year, that grim statistic is currently tied with last year’s.
According to numbers supplied by spokesman Mark Opgrande, there were 220 special investigations opened for contraband in the jail in the 2021 fiscal year, compared to 201 in the 2022 fiscal year, about a 9 percent decrease.
— Clifton Adcock
Claim: Behenna submitted fake documents in federal court in the Courtney Wells case and two people may have been murdered.
Calvey said: “Two Oklahomans are missing and may have been murdered because Vicki Behenna was willing to submit fake documents to a federal court to get her crooked client out of prison.”
Fact check: Mixed
The Frontier rates this claim as mixed because Calvey’s statements are unproven and many facts of the case remain unknown.
Courtney Wells was one of three owners of the Norman-based Big Red auto dealerships who were convicted in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud in 2021. A federal grand jury indictment alleged Wells and co-defendants Bobby Chris Mayes and Charles Gooch made false statements to lenders about borrowers’ down payments or vehicle trade-ins in order to obtain millions of dollars in loan money.
The defendants haven’t been sentenced yet, but they potentially face decades in federal prison. They are seeking a new trial, alleging prosecutors withheld evidence in the case, among other claims. Wells disappeared in May after she and her husband went on a camping trip, according to a missing person report a family member filed with Norman Police.
Behenna is part of Mayes’ defense team. After Wells went missing, Behenna and Mayes’ other attorneys filed a motion asking for a new trial based on what they claim is a trove of new evidence. Mayes’ attorneys say Wells sent him an email around the time of her disappearance that absolves their client of guilt. In the email, Wells confessed that she had secretly conspired with a key witness for the prosecution to steal money from the Big Red business, according to the court filing. A folder filled with old printed email correspondence between Wells and the witness was also discovered at the dealership, detailing a scheme to falsify information for loans, take money from the business and conceal it all from Mayes.
Behenna and Mayes’ other attorneys could not authenticate the emails with Google or a computer forensics company, but a hired forensic document expert has said they would be difficult to falsify.
The U.S. Attorney’s office disputes the authenticity of the emails.
“The only person who benefits in any way from Ms. Wells’ inexplicable disappearance is Mr. Mayes,” federal prosecutors said in a court filing.
Robert Gifford, an attorney for Wells, said he didn’t know what had happened to his client. He said he has only seen some of the emails and couldn’t say if they were authentic.
Norman police are investigating Wells’ disappearance as a missing person case, an agency spokeswoman said.
— Brianna Bailey
- True: A claim that is backed up by factual evidence.
- Mostly true: A claim that is mostly true but also contains some inaccurate details.
- Mixed: A claim that contains a combination of accurate and inaccurate or unproven information.
- True but misleading: A claim that is factually true but omits critical details or context.
- Mostly false: A claim that is mostly false but also contains some accurate details.
- False: A claim that has no basis in fact.