Embattled Oklahoma County jail administrator Greg Williams will keep his job after new jail trust member Rev. Derrick Scobey’s motion to terminate Williams failed to receive a second from the other eight members of the body that governs the troubled county jail.
Scobey’s motion came after the trust had met in executive session for about 70 minutes. After presenting a Powerpoint presentation that chronicled troubling news stories from Williams two-year tenure as jail administrator, Scobey said it was time for new leadership.
“The best time to take action is the time that falls between yesterday and tomorrow. That’s today,” Scobey said. “This CEO and jail administrator, Greg Williams, he is a kind person. I know he doesn’t think it, but I like him personally. But Greg Williams needs to be terminated. The messaging within the power point clearly articulates this fact, especially when you conjoin it with the famous and true quote that everything rises and falls on leadership.”
Following Scobey’s remarks, several trust members defended Williams’ tenure and his employment. Trust member Chad Alexander read a letter in support from Oklahoma County public defender Robert Ravitz, who praised Williams’ responsiveness and efforts to reduce overcrowded cells at the facility.
Trust member Ben Brown said the jail has come along way since the trust took over the jail in July 2020. At that time, Brown said roaches and bed bugs plagued the facility, and that fire and safety equipment was in disrepair.
“We’ve made significant progress, and the reason we’ve made that progress is because we hired Greg Williams to lead us through that,” Brown told his fellow trust members.
Trust member Sue Ann Arnall said it’s too soon to fire Williams, in part because she said the trust has not established clear expectations.
“I believe it’s premature at this point, because we’ve never ever told Greg as a group what we expect,” Arnall said. “He’s cleaned the building. He’s rehabilitated it. He’s hired more staff. But we’ve never told him exactly where we want to be. We’ve talked about how well it’s gone in some respects when it comes to the building especially, and hiring more staff, but we’ve never told him where we want to be.”
Jail trust Chairman Jim Couch echoed the praise of Williams.
“We don’t have enough people, but he’s improved a lot,” Couch said. “He’s improved the training. He’s improved the morale of his staff over there. The people care about the inmates more than they used to. Bringing up the fire system. He’s done a lot over the last two years, but he’s been in a crisis mode. Now we’re able to move from the crisis mode into a strategic mode of specific projects and improvement ideas. We need to reduce deaths. We know that. We need to get the detainees out of the cells more. But we can’t snap our fingers and make all of that happen.”
Former jail employee criticizes practices
Earlier in the meeting, several people criticized Williams’ work during the day’s public comment period.
Former jail employee Charity Howard painted an altogether different picture during the public comments portion of the meeting. Howard worked at the jail from March to October, but she has 17 years of corrections officer experience. She said conditions at the jail for employees and detainees is often difficult.
“As an officer working 12-hour shifts in the jail, a lunch break is in our contract, but it is not afforded to us,” Howard said. “When we’re sick ,we are berated and belittled to come to work. If we don’t to come to work, by the time we get back to work, we are made fun of on the radio by higher ups, and we are told when we ask for time off we won’t be able to get it. It will be denied as well.”
Howard also said the jail remains in disrepair, and she said established protocols aren’t always followed by staff.
“Safety checks are not being conducted,” she said. “While I worked at the jail, I’ve seen for myself the administration put cadets who have not graduated from training on the floors with mental health inmates that were able to get out of their cells. The conditions that inmates are made to live in are inhumane. There is a mass infestation of bed bugs and lice in the jail that inmates are not allowed to be treated for. Hygiene products are given out sporadically. Inmate mail is not given to them when it is clear to be given out. Also, I’ve seen officers throwing inmates’ outgoing mail in the trash.”
Fairview Baptist Church Pastor John Reed, who led an Oct. 21 press conference at his church calling for Williams’ termination, told the trust that no matter why people are incarcerated in the jail, they should be respected.
“Instead of the problems getting better, it seems to us that it’s getting worse day by day,” Reed said. “Periodically, and quite often now, we are hearing about various problems, and it makes no difference why those people are confined in our jail. I understand some of them are criminals. But some of them are just waiting for their court date. But whatever it is, they are human beings, and they needed to be treated as human beings. That’s our concern. We understand that the jail administrator has the privilege of taking care of the daily operation of the jail ,but he is responsible for that.”
Minister Donna Compton said that what happens at the jail is reminiscent of conditions at jails and prisons around the country before reforms were instituted more than a century ago.
“Have any of you read what jails were like in the 19th century that led to reform all across the county and around the world?” she asked. “We’re back there, people. This is painful. And it’s even more painful to pay taxes and watch it happen. I can tell you that people shouldn’t die there. They shouldn’t escape and hurt people. Their food shouldn’t be what it is. They shouldn’t be subjected to lice and bed bugs. That’s 19th century pre-reform. I ask that you take a new tact.”
Williams’ tenure has been controversial
The jail has seen a record number of deaths during Williams’ more than two years as its chief administrator. Last year, 14 detainees died in the facility. That number has been matched in 2022, bringing the death toll at the jail to 28 in less than two years.
Additionally, sexual assaults inside the jail have also stirred calls for Williams’ removal. In September, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater filed rape charges against a detainee who allegedly sexually assaulted a female detainee while she was handcuffed to a wall in July.
In October, another detainee told jail officials he was sexually assaulted by a man in his cell.
Also last month, three male detainees were caught having sex with a female detainee inside the jail. Jail officials called the incident consensual.
Williams came under fire in February after NonDoc published a voicemail in which Williams and jail public information officer Mark Opgrande can be heard discussing several topics. During the voicemail Williams said, “COVID is our friend” because of the CARES Act and ARPA money the jail was set to receive. Opgrande said COVID-19 had been useful in keeping the media out of the troubled jail.
Scobey takes Williams to task for communication issues
Scobey challenged Williams several times during the early portion of Monday’s meeting. In his remarks prior to the executive session, Scobey questioned why Williams had not been quick to follow up on a case of a female detainee suspected of having cancer. Scobey told the trust he had reached out to a doctor at the OU Stephenson Cancer Center to evaluate the detainee’s case.
“You said it wasn’t going to do any good. The NAACP is still going to continue to gripe at me about it, and I explained to you that I’m trying to alleviate some stress and pressure from you because I believe we are on the same page with regards to this specific detainee,” Scobey said. “And I just thought you might have followed through when Dr. Robert Mannel said I will schedule the appointment and you all transport her. That would have alleviated a lot of problems, but you said it wouldn’t do any good.”
Later, Scobey accused Williams of blaming Prater for a delay in charging the detainee in the October detainee sex incident, and Scobey also questioned why he had to hear about the incident from a member of the news media.
“I got phone calls from news media asking to interview me about what I did not know,” Scobey said to Williams. “So I went to Twitter, and I found out about it on Twitter. That’s where I found out about it. I’m asking what happened. Why did I find out about it on Twitter and not from Mark (Oprgrande) or you?”
Scobey later relayed what Williams had told him and others regarding delays in the investigation of the alleged rape in July and the October sex incident involving three male detainees and a female detainee.
“You said it was DA Prater’s fault because he asked for all these packets, and that the reason it took so long is because of some type of conspiracy with DA Prater,” Scobey said to Williams. “As it relates to the three male detainees and the one female detainee, I want you to tell how that happened, and please keep in mind that you told us in the Monday morning meeting it was Sherriff Tommie Johnson’s deputies’ fault because they dropped the people off and left.”
Williams said that’s not what he said to Scobey.
“You’re putting in a lot of words that I didn’t really mean to say,” Williams responded. “Again, I don’t really remember that exact conversation. We have a huge communication gap, I can tell you that.”
Williams later clarified his remarks to Scobey regarding Prater, who was present at the trust meeting.
“I didn’t mean to communicate that if that was what was communicated,” Williams said. “Mr. Prater files the charges. When those charges are filed, that is his decision to do that, so if I implied or communicated to you that it was his fault, then I apologize for that. It was not his fault.”
Prater later addressed the trust after his name had been brought up by Scobey and Williams. Prater said he had met with jail investigator Curtis Whittington, who requested that Prater review video of the alleged July rape incident.
“They said, ‘We’re not sure if this is consensual or not, but we’ve got some video we want you to watch,'” Prater told the trust. “Within two seconds, it was clear to me that what I saw was a forcible rape on a woman chained to a wall by an inmate who had been left to roam the receiving area. I said I don’t know what you saw, but I saw a damn rape.”
Prater said he told Whittington he wanted to charge the detainee involved in the July case as soon as possible.
“I said, ‘You bring me a probable cause affidavit and a charging packet immediately,” Prater said. “I know you’ve got an investigation that is going to continue, that’s fine. But we need to get this guy charged immediately. I want you to get back to me as quickly as you can. Three days go by. A week goes by. Another week goes by. A month goes by. Almost two months go by, when I instructed Gayland Gieger, the chief of my sex crimes unit, to call Whittington. We called him no less than six times, and he said we’re continuing to look at the matter.”