OMES changes, McCall SJR 34
A crepe myrtle blooms in front of the Oklahoma State Capitol in 2022. (Megan Prather)

Reporting on the news can feel like drinking from a fire hose, and the last few weeks ahead of an important election only exacerbates the situation.

Our team has mostly been focused on publishing our final election previews ahead of the Nov. 8 Election Day, and you can find all of those pieces here.

But several other developments have occurred over the past month that warrant reference and recording. The following blurbs summarize some of those news items and provide links to additional information.

Co-defendant found in Big Red Sports case, says emails faked

The bizarre sentencing phase of the Big Red Sports and imports racketeering case featured a new development last week when court documents revealed that co-defendant Courtney Wells had been captured in Mexico by Mexican authorities on Oct. 24, more than five months after she and her boyfriend disappeared.

Wells’ disappearance had led to court filings from co-defendant Bobby Chris Mayes, who claimed he found new emails from Wells that said she had orchestrated the criminal plot without Mayes’ knowledge or involvement. Upon being captured in Mexico, according to a new filing by prosecutors, Wells insisted that the emails submitted by Mayes’ defense attorneys had been fabricated.

In their Oct. 25 filing, prosecutors wrote:

Both Wells and (her boyfriend Brandon) Landers confirmed they left on May 2, 2022, which is corroborated by their phone records. They travelled to Texas that day and crossed the border on May 3, 2022. The plan was for Mr. Mayes to follow them. Mr. Mayes contacted them on the afternoon of May 3 to confirm they had made it to Mexico. Following that, they maintained contact with Mayes via email. As recently as last week, he led them to believe he may have also been in Mexico at that time. Mr. Mayes at times helped arrange to get them money to assist in their flight. Wells and Landers have both indicated the e-mails serving as the basis of Mr. Mayes’s motion are fake. At least with regards to the May 3, 2022, emails allegedly from Wells, this is corroborated by the phone and Google records, which show that Wells and Landers left on May 2 and that the emails were sent from Native Harvest Dispensary or Oklahoma Motor Cars, where Mr. Mayes works, on May 3, 2022.

Prosecutors said Mayes may face additional charges as a result of the revelations, and the judge granted their motion for a new arrest warrant.

According to an Oct. 27 Nolan Clay article in The Oklahoman, the judge pointed out that prosecutors have not alleged that Mayes’ attorneys — including current Oklahoma County district attorney candidate Vicki Behenna — had any involvement in their client’s illegal activity.

During an October debate co-hosted by NonDoc, Behenna’s opponent, Republican Kevin Calvey, suggested that Wells may have been murdered, and he criticized Behenna for submitting the dubious emails.

Audio from Tulsa PD training spurs investigation

Controversial comments by a Tulsa Police Department supervisor that were recorded during an Oct. 18 Citizens Police Academy have spurred an internal investigation after the recording was released by Dylan Goforth of The Frontier.

The 80-second recording features TPD Sgt. M. Griffin referring to “people who hate this country and want it to look more like the old Soviet Union or China” before mentioning the policing-related protests that developed around the country in the summer of 2020.

“I’m not going to lie to you. It was fun,” Griffin said. “When the anti-police riots started and they hit Tulsa — this is not Oregon or Seattle. If you act retarded here, we will smoke your ass.”

The clip concludes with Griffin rhetorically referring to a “dumb white kid that thinks playing video games with purple hair is his life’s goal.”

“He’s the biggest problem,” he said. “I’m not just saying this to you. Nothing is more dangerous to America than a liberal white person.”

Griffin was placed on restrictive duty pending the investigation, and TPD Chief Wendell Franklin issued a statement.

“We take an oath as Tulsa police officers to respect the dignity and rights of every individual and any violation of that oath will be closely scrutinized and corrective action taken if appropriate,” Franklin said. “I am aware other police personnel may have been present. If the investigation reveals any police personnel failed in their duties, they will be held accountable.”

SCO says state can issue protective orders involving tribal citizens

Over the two years since McGirt v. Oklahoma changed the law of the land, Chris Casteel of The Oklahoman has led the charge chronicling court cases over questions of tribal and state jurisdiction, and his Oct. 27 recap of a key Oklahoma Supreme Court hearing warrants a read.

The article outlines an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling in the case Milne v. Hudson, which involved Andrea Milne’s McIntosh County application for a civil protective order against Howard Hudson Jr. Milne is a citizen of the Muscogee Nation, and Hudson is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

A McIntish County judge had granted Milne’s application, but Hudson challenged that order by arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court’s affirmation of the Muscogee Nation Reservation meant the state of Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction to consider a protective order application involving tribal citizens.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court disagreed, unanimously affirming the McIntosh County ruling that granted Milne’s application and reinforcing the Stitt administration’s argument that the McGirt decision does not apply to matters of civil law.

“Our holding is narrow,” Justice Dana Kuehn wrote in the majority opinion’s conclusion. “As we said in [Lewis v. Sac and Fox Tribe of Oklahoma Housing Authority in 1994], ‘Today’s pronouncement is not to be understood as a broad declaration that all litigation of Indian rights lies within the inherent constitutional cognizance of Oklahoma state courts.’ Here, the tribe’s interest in its citizens’ health, safety and welfare exactly coincides with the state’s interests. Where jurisdiction is otherwise proper, a citizen of Oklahoma may seek a civil protection order in a tribal court or in state district court.”

Other justices concurred with separate writings.

Former Department of Health contractor charged

On Oct. 17, an attorney who had held a sometimes confusing number of roles in the Stitt administration was charged in Garvin County with 13 criminal counts related to his efforts to help out-of-state individuals establish medical marijuana grow operations in Oklahoma.

While working in the marijuana industry, Matt Stacy also became a contract employee of the Oklahoma State Department of Health in June 2020, working on pandemic-related matters and receiving more than $78,000 in payment between June 26 and Aug. 31, according to Nolan Clay of The Oklahoman.

He did almost 700 more hours of work under the contract through October 2021, according to records his attorney provided that detailed the services. Those records reflect he was due another $204,600. The Oklahoman has not determined yet if that also was paid.

A lieutenant colonel in the Oklahoma National Guard, Stacy was a member of the Governor’s Solution Task Force in 2020, and an October 2020 media advisory referred to him as an “OSDH surge plan advisor.”

According to Clay, the OSDH contract prohibited Stacy from providing any advice to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, which was under OSDH control at the time.

From the article:

Stacy is accused in his criminal case of helping out-of-state clients illegally establish marijuana grow operations by finding them “ghost” owners in Oklahoma. He denies wrongdoing.

Stacy “has acted as a consigliere to international drug trafficking organizations engaged in industrial-scale black-market marijuana manufacturing and trafficking,” a state narcotics investigator alleged in an affidavit filed with the charge.

“On multiple occasions, Stacy created and/or facilitated the creation of business entities through the use or recruitment of Oklahoma residents to operate as ‘straw owners’ to facially satisfy the Oklahoma residency requirements.”

State law requires a licensed grow operation to be at least 75% owned by Oklahoma residents.

The great agency shuffle continues

Ah yes, feel the churn … of state government! It can be hard to keep track of who holds what position and for how long, particularly within and around the overarching agency called the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

So, for the benefit of the historical record, here is a bulleted list of recent OMES-related leadership changes within the sprawling executive agency:

  • Steven Harpe, who had been Stitt’s chief operating officer and the director of OMES, was appointed Oct. 13 to become the new director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, succeeding Scott Crow;
  • On the same day, Stitt named longtime oil and gas executive John Suter to be Harpe’s replacement as chief operating officer and OMES director. According to a press release, Suter most recently worked as CEO of Sandridge Energy and has 31 years of management experience “in senior leadership roles with a focus on profitability, productivity and efficiency”;
  • OMES’ chief information security officer Matt Singleton departed the agency Oct. 19 to pursue a private sector job;
  • In early August, OMES director of grants management Clay Holk departed the agency.

Stitt names Adam Panter as DA for Lincoln, Pottawatomie counties

Adam Panter was appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, to serve as district attorney for Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties. (Provided)

On Oct. 20, Stitt announced his appointment of Oklahoma County assistant district attorney Adam Panter as the new district attorney for Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties.

The District 23 District Attorney Office had been led by controversial DA Allan Grubb, who resigned at the end of September amid an ongoing inquiry into his office’s finances and his use of deferred prosecution agreements.

Grubb had lost his reelection bid during the June Republican primary, but DA-elect David Hammer died unexpectedly days after the election.

“I am excited and prepared to restore citizen’s faith in the Office of District Attorney for Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties. Although this appointment is bittersweet, as it comes as a result of the tragic passing of David Hammer, I am resolved to see his vision for integrity and professionalism returned to this office,” said Panter. I am especially grateful for the opportunity bestowed on me by Governor J. Kevin Stitt, granting me the ability to continue to seek our shared passion for justice, tempered with mercy.”

Stitt’s appointment of Panter runs through the end of Grubb’s unexpired term on Jan. 2, but it’s possible Stitt will reappoint Panter to continue serving as district attorney until a special election is set to fill Hammer’s term.

Strother Public Schools employee arrested, fired for alleged murder on school grounds

Strother Public Schools cancelled school on Monday and Tuesday, suspended extracurricular activities for the week and offered grief counseling after a shooting on school property left one person dead.

Seminole Lighthorse Police arrested a custodian Oct. 23 after he allegedly shot and killed his wife at their residence on school property. The couple had three children enrolled as students at the district.

The district held an emergency board meeting Wednesday night during which members fired Douglas Switch, Jr., owing to the alleged murder of Kim Switch.

“To all Strother parents, students, and community members, an unfathomable tragedy occurred late Sunday evening at the residence premises located on the Strother School campus,” Strother Public Schools said in a statement posted to Facebook. “The tragedy resulted in the death of an adult female, who is also the mother of three Strother students. A criminal investigation is ongoing surrounding the unspeakable tragic events leading to the death. The alleged perpetrator has been taken into custody.”

According to News 9, some parents in the district expressed concern that Switch had been employed and allowed to live on district property despite a criminal record that includes domestic abuse. Switch is being held on no bond and is due in Seminole tribal court Nov. 1, according to News 9.

Wewoka Middle School principal arrested for alleged groping

Special agents with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation arrested Wewoka Middle School principal Cody Barlow, 33, on Oct. 27 and charged him with one count of lewd acts with a minor.

According to a press release posted to OSBI’s Facebook page, Barlow allegedly had multiple inappropriate interactions with a student at the middle school this year.

“The OSBI investigation began at the request of the District Attorney’s Office after being notified that a student was assaulted by Barlow in his office,” said OSBI in the press release. “The male child reported to authorities that Barlow had inappropriate contact with him on multiple occasions this school year. The behavior escalated in September when the child was sexually assaulted.”

The district placed Barlow on leave Oct. 12.

Barlow has also served as a youth pastor of First Baptist Church in Wewoka. He is not listed on the church’s staff website page. At a Wewoka school board meeting in May, members voted to approve a request from Barlow and the church’s lead pastor to use a bus to transport kids to Falls Creek camp.

De Coune, Sadler participate in State Treasurer candidate forum

On Friday, Oct. 28, The Bethany Tribune hosted a brief forum for candidates seeking to become Oklahoma’s next state treasurer. Only Democrat Charles de Coune and Libertarian Greg Sadler attended. Republican Rep. Todd Russ (R-Cordell) was not present.

The discussion with de Coune and Sadler lasted about 13 minutes and is embedded below.

Former OSU President, Sen. Jim Halligan dies

On Oct. 25, former Oklahoma State President Jim Halligan died at the age of 86. After serving as OSU’s president from 1994 to 2002, he ran for and won election to the Oklahoma State Senate, representing the Stillwater area. Halligan served two terms in the State Senate from 2008 to 2016.

Current OSU President Kayse Shrum issued a statement praising Halligan’s influence on the university.

“He faced and overcame many challenges as president of our beloved university, reversing a trend of declining enrollment and resetting our future on a more positive track. Jim and his wife, Ann, led with compassion and strength,” Shrum said. “Their kind leadership was most evident when they led our Cowboy family through the devastating loss of 10 basketball team members in 2001.”

Originally from Iowa, Halligan served in the U.S. Air Force and spent 10 years as president of New Mexico State University before coming taking the OSU job.

Sen. Tom Dugger (R-Stillwater) succeeded Halligan in SD 21 and call

“I met Jim Halligan when he was president of OSU and I was doing volunteer work for the university. I remember he was very soft spoken, a consummate professional and competent in every way. My admiration for his character and professionalism grew through the years, and when he decided to run for the Oklahoma Senate, he asked me to be his campaign treasurer, which I did. When Jim came to tell me he’d decided against seeking a third term, he suggested I run for the seat,” Dugger said. “Jim was both a mentor and trusted friend.”

Longtime Modoc Nation Chief Bill Follis dies

Bill Follis, who helped fight for federal recognition of the Modoc Nation and who served as the tribe’s chief for nearly 50 years, died Oct. 14 following complications from COVID-19. He was 89 years old and did not seek reelection this year.

Molly Young of The Oklahoman chronicled Follis’ life in an article:

“He did an awful lot of good for the Modoc people and Indian Country, even despite the federal government who at times would refuse to work with him,” Citizen Potawatomi Chief John “Rocky” Barrett said in a statement. The two worked alongside each other for decades as the top elected leaders of their tribes.

Follis led the Oklahoma Commission on Indian Affairs in the early 2000s and served on a nationwide task force that worked to fix systemic problems at the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in the 1990s. As a leader, he believed in direct answers and short conversations — “If you can’t say it in five minutes, write a letter.”

“We would joke when he was the chairman of the Oklahoma Commission on Indian Affairs that we were a small tribe, but we carried a big stick,” Blake Follis said. “But that was all due to his ability to politically work with people and get things accomplished.”

Bill Follis was raised in Miami, in the corner of northeast Oklahoma where his Modoc ancestors were forced to move from the Pacific Northwest in 1873. Federal officials appointed his great-grandfather, Long Jim, to serve as second chief after relocation. Follis became chief a century later and remained in that role until earlier this year, when he decided not to run for reelection.

In recent years, the Modoc Nation has faced controversy regarding a disenrollment dispute and federal lawsuits regarding a tribal purchase of the Tulelake Municipal Airport in northern California.