Greg Williams resigns
Oklahoma County Jail administrator Greg Williams speaks to county employees during a meeting of the jail trust Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. (Matt Patterson)

Oklahoma County Jail administrator Greg Williams resigned today after nearly two years leading management of the long-troubled correctional facility. His departure, which includes a $95,000 severance agreement offered by the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, follows increasing community calls for change and an ongoing grand jury investigation into operations and deaths at the jail.

“I’ve just made the decision that it’s time for me to go,” Williams told media while members of the OCCJA, also known as the county’s jail trust, met in a lengthy executive session. “It’s a relay race, and I ran my leg, and I’m ready to give that torch to the next person. It’s really that simple.”

Asked if he was leaving on his own accord, Williams said “absolutely” and that his decision was independent of the criticisms lodged against him by local activists and a new member of the jail trust.

“There’s been talks about me leaving or wanting me gone since before I got here,” Williams said. “So again, what other people are asking or what other people are saying really didn’t weigh into that because I’ve heard that over and over.”

Stipulations within Williams’ employment contract mean the earliest his resignation could take effect is Jan. 19. He will be required to offer consultation and other information as needed following his resignation, jail trust Chairman Jim Couch said.

“I personally want to thank Greg for his service. He took a hard job under very challenging circumstances, and he made demonstrable, meaningful improvements in conditions and outcomes at the jail,” Couch said in a statement. “Although he has decided to move on from his position, he deserves to take pride in the positive impact he made.”

Deaths, reports and an accidental phone message

Williams’ tenure has seen its share of turbulence since he was hired by the jail trust to be their chief administrator and run day-to-day operations.

There have been numerous deaths over the past two years. So far this year, there have been 15 detainee deaths, ranging from suicide to causes like heart attacks and drug overdoses.

This year’s pattern follows last year’s. In 2021, there were 14 detainee deaths at the jail, including one detainee who was shot to death by OKC police during a hostage situation in March.

More recently, a string of sex-related incidents has drawn headlines about the jail. In July, a female detainee was allegedly raped by a male detainee while she was handcuffed to a wall in the receiving area of the jail after they were both left unsupervised by staff.

In October, four detainees were found engaging in sex acts while unsupervised by staff at the jail. Williams said that incident was consensual.

“We immediately halted the activity which, according to our investigation, was consensual among all participants,” Williams said in a statement.

There also have been escapes and escape attempts. A detainee stole keys and a gate opener from a detention member’s backpack and drove away last year. In 2020, a detainee fashioned a rope ladder out of bed sheets and climbed out of his cell.

Earlier this year, Williams himself stirred controversy after he inadvertently recorded a conversation between himself and jail media spokesman Mark Opgrande on a voicemail.

During that discussion, Williams can be heard saying, “COVID is our friend” in reference to CARES Act money the jail had secured for improvements.

“COVID has been the greatest thing that ever happened to us,” Williams said.

Williams later apologized for the remarks.

“I regret the insensitive nature of our comments recorded in an unguarded moment and recognize the hurt and pain this pandemic has caused,” Williams said in a statement to NonDoc at the time. “I apologize for any offense or discomfort our words caused.”

Trust member lashes out at media, activists

On Monday, Williams said he and his team have done a “very good job,” and he couched COVID’s effect on jail operations differently.

“When we got to the jail, it was in the midst of a COVID — a pandemic, a national crisis, and those circumstances have certainly complicated a lot of the things and the deaths and a lot of the things that have happened,” Williams said. “But really none of that’s neither here nor there. The staff has done a really good job. The jail is in better shape now than it’s ever been. The staff are positive. I think there’s a clear direction.”

Williams said neither he, staff members, nor the jail trust could have done anything to prevent the deaths and other crises that have drawn considerable attention.

“We look at is there anything that we could have done or anything that could have happened to change that outcome, and we have yet to find a case that we feel like we could have changed much,” Williams said.

But The Rev. Derrick Scobey, who was appointed to the trust in September, said plenty needs to change about the troubled jail, which has been under a U.S. Department of Justice agreement not to house federal inmates there since 2008.

Scobey said if the jail trust can’t correct the problems at the detention center, then the trust is not the best organization to do the job.

“If we don’t get it right and get it right quickly, it should be dissolved,” Scobey said. “We cannot keep passing the buck.”

Some justice reform activists have called for a federal takeover of the facility. Scobey said a DOJ takeover will be inevitable if changes are not made, but he added that would not be a panacea for the jail’s problems.

“If the DOJ comes in, you do realize there is a price tag that comes along with it,” Scobey said. “Whatever the DOJ deems necessary to improve the conditions of the Oklahoma County Detention Center, they will do it (…) and they will pass on the cost to the Oklahoma County taxpayers.”

Following the meeting, Scobey told NonDoc that even though he said in November that Williams should resign, the administrator’s departure should not be a moment for celebration.

“I’m not jumping up and down for joy,” Scobey said. “Greg is a good man. I don’t know. There are mixed emotions that I’m feeling today. I understand offering and tendering his resignation is something that needs to be done. I’m grateful for the work that he has done because everything was not bad.”

Scobey’s remarks came after trust member Ben Brown defended Williams and lashed out at activists who have often criticized Williams’ tenure at the jail trust. In some cases, meetings have become chaotic, with insults hurled at trust members and Williams.

“We’ve heard the people today so rudely say the same thing they’ve said for a year or two,” Brown said. “It started that way with a hostile work environment. When Greg came on amid calls then for the resignation of the entire trust, there were insults, there were threats, just a lot of stuff that I find very offensive.”

Brown said media members have sensationalized stories.

“We also know, among all the things that we’ve talked about and the deaths that we hear about — and I want to point out something,” Brown said. “Woodward and Bernstein (…) defined good journalism as the efforts to determine nearest to reality and truth. That’s not what the press has done.”

Thorp: Grand jury work continues into 2023

M.T. Berry and The Rev. Derrick Scobey, members of the Oklahoma County jail trust, exit a lengthy executive session Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, at the Oklahoma County Courthouse. (Tres Savage)

A prosecutor has been using the state’s multi-county grand jury to investigate the jail and the jail trust for about a year. Although Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater requested the inquiry, Cherokee County District Attorney Jack Thorp has been overseeing the effort after Prater recused. Thorp said Monday that his work in front of the grand jury is still in progress.

“I’ve taken the appointment by the attorney general seriously. My investigation has been ongoing for a year, and my investigation will continue onto the new year,” Thorp said.

Thorp declined to discuss the substance of his investigation, and he offered no theory as to the timing of Williams’ departure.

“I can’t say why he’s made the decision to resign, but I do look forward to a new administration,” he said.

The search for Williams’ replacement will also extend into next year. Scobey said an interim administrator will likely be appointed.

We don’t know when,” Scobey said. “Obviously we will need an interim quickly, but as far as a permanent — who knows.”

Scobey said he hopes it will be a national search.

“That was outlined in the request from the Concerned Clergy for Spiritual Renewal, that there would be a national search and I would think Chairman Couch would certainly adhere to that request,” he said.