follow up roundup
Members of the State Board of Education could see a number of teacher certification actions before them in the coming months with multiple investigations into teachers ongoing. (Bennett Brinkman)

Across Oklahoma, a number of criminal investigations and cases are ongoing involving local school administrators, teachers and coaches.

To keep track of these matters, the following summaries offer a quick refresher on where some ongoing cases stand in the justice system.

An Epic prosecution

Ben Harris, David Chaney, Josh Brock, Epic charges
Ben Harris, David Chaney and Josh Brock were arrested Thursday, June 23, 2022, on charges related to alleged criminal conspiracy while they ran Epic Charter Schools. (NonDoc)

The case against Epic Charter School co-founders Ben Harris and David Chaney and former chief financial officer Josh Brock has hardly gotten out of the starting blocks after the three men were arrested on charges of embezzlement, racketeering and conspiracy 10 months ago.

Although the state’s largest virtual charter school cut ties with the men and their management company months before the arrests, reports of their alleged use of public funds for personal use while running the school have continued to make headlines.

The three men were charged with 11 criminal counts in June 2022 by then-Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. Shortly after he was sworn into office in January, new Attorney General Gentner Drummond assumed prosecution of the case. Several preliminary hearing conferences have been delayed in recent months, with the next one scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 16.

Woman charged with impersonating Clinton teacher

clinton public schools
In a letter sent Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, Clinton Public Schools Superintendent Tyler Bridges called a the controversy surrounding allegedly fraudulent messages sent from a teacher’s Facebook account “unusual and upsetting.” (Screenshot)

After a screenshot of a racist message allegedly sent by a Clinton Public Schools teacher made the rounds on social media in October, the Custer County educator contacted law enforcement to say her account had been hacked or impersonated.

Following a lengthy investigation, a separate woman, Casee Hughes, was arrested and charged April 5 with two separate felony counts of computer fraud and falsely impersonating another to create liability.

Hughes, an acquaintance of the teacher, had been named as a suspect in the Clinton Police Department investigation into the matter that began in October.

The incident drew a HB 1775 complaint from Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice executive director Colleen McCarty and Okmulgee attorney Brenda Golden, who said that though they disagreed “with the very premise” of the law that bans teaching certain concepts of race and gender, they filed a complaint in an attempt to trigger an independent OSDE investigation.

That investigation was quickly closed, however, owing to a lack of evidence and the ongoing criminal investigation, according to then-communications director for the department Rob Crissinger.

A preliminary hearing conference is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, May 19, in Custer County District Court.

Former Moore Public Schools teacher still has certificate

Nicholas Garrison, Moore Public Schools
Photos of Snapchat messages from now-former Moore Public Schools teacher Nichols Garrison allegedly sent to an eighth-grade girl were turned over to the district in November 2022. (NonDoc)

Despite resigning from Moore Public Schools in November after district leaders learned of inappropriate communications with an eighth-grade girl via Snapchat, Nicholas Garrison still has an active teacher certificate, according to Oklahoma State Department of Education records.

Garrison resigned shortly after the district became aware of the correspondence. OSDE staff filed an application to revoke Garrison’s teaching certificate during the final months of Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister’s tenure, but no action has been taken on the application by the State Board of Education since new Superintendent Ryan Walters assumed office in January.

When Garrison resigned, he was also under a Moore Police Department investigation regarding the correspondence, which included several comments regarding the girl’s appearance and a stated desire of Garrison “to date” her. No charges were filed against Garrison, and an MPD official said this week that the investigation has been closed.

Tulsa Public Schools considers litigation against former admin

On Monday, April 3, 2023, members of the Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education voted to authorize litigation against a former TPS employee. (Screenshot)

On April 3, the Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education authorized its attorneys “to investigate the option of pursuing civil litigation against Devin Fletcher and other entities or individuals involved in the diversion of funds.”

Fletcher resigned from his position as chief talent and equity officer in June. However, Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton of the Tulsa World reported earlier this month that the TPS board has not actually voted to accept his two-sentence resignation letter.

The vote to potentially pursue litigation comes after district administration became aware of $20,000 of contract management irregularities within Fletcher’s department around the same time as his resignation.

In July, Gov. Kevin Stitt requested a special audit of the district, citing the discovered contract irregularities, concerns about the district’s use of federal funds and possible HB 1775 violations.

The State Board of Education downgraded TPS’ accreditation status owing to HB 1775 complaints later that month and doubled down on that action during its next meeting in August.

A criminal investigation into Fletcher’s activities is ongoing, according to law enforcement.

Motion to compel discovery filed in Kingfisher football case

A photo of a teenager identified as John Doe No. 1 in a lawsuit against Kingfisher Public Schools and its head football coach shows significant bruising. (Provided)

With a recent football hazing controversy involving Ringling football coach Phil Koons now under criminal investigation, another historically successful football team is still dealing with its own hazing allegations that yielded a federal lawsuit.

Kingfisher Public Schools, head football coach Jeff Myers and others are facing an ongoing civil lawsuit from an unnamed plaintiff regarding hazing that, according to the court petition, amounted to “torture.” The identity of the alleged victim is widely known in Kingfisher, although his attorney has filed the case with the pseudonym John Doe. The status of a related Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation inquiry remains unclear.

In addition to the civil case, former Kingfisher assistant football coach Micah Nall also faced a criminal investigation in 2020 for enabling child abuse and obstructing an officer regarding his use of a drill during a practice. As part of a plea deal, the Kingfisher district attorney’s office dropped the enabling child abuse charge, and Nall pleaded guilty to the obstruction charge.

In March 2022, the Kingfisher Board of Education voted to reject a $1.5 million settlement offer from Cameron Spradling, the attorney representing the plaintiff. The suit had been moved from Kingfisher County District Court to U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma the month prior.

This week, Spradling filed a motion to compel discovery in the case, complete with various documents, recordings and other damning materials that involve how some Kingfisher High School football players were treated by their coaches and other players, as well as the culture created by Myers.

Spradling said in the motion that his plaintiff has evidence that the coaching staff at Kingfisher knew about the alleged abuse, encouraged it and participated in it. Spradling also said that the plaintiff has evidence that the district was warned of the abuse and did nothing to stop it.

Former Wewoka Middle School principal charged

Former Wewoka Middle School principal Cody Barlow was charged with two felony counts of lewd or indecent acts to a child under age 16 on April 13, according to reporting by Nuria Martinez-Keel of The Oklahoman.

The district had placed Barlow on leave Oct. 12, and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation arrested him Oct. 27.

Through his attorney, Barlow denied the charges.

Cameron Spradling, who represents an unidentified plaintiff in a civil suit against both Barlow and the district, alleged that multiple students have reported misconduct from Barlow.

Barlow still has five active teacher and administrator certificates, according to OSDE records.

Maryetta Public Schools reaches settlement

Maryetta Public Schools in Adair County has reached a settlement with the American Humanist Association over the district’s “missionaries” program, according to an April 20 press release.

As part of the settlement, the release states that the district will permanently suspend the program, which had brought Christian missionaries into classrooms monthly for a class.

Also as part of the settlement agreement, the district will issue a statement recognizing the program’s violation of the First Amendment. The district also agreed to pay damages to a Cherokee Nation citizen who attended the class as a student.

Chattanooga Public Schools

Chattanooga Public Schools
Members of Chattanooga’s school board head to executive session at a meeting on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2022. (Bennett Brinkman)

As outlined in a January story, two separate incidents involving a pair of brother coaches allegedly causing harm to students left the 400-person community of Chattanooga on edge. The brothers, Billy and Tyler Karr, are still listed on the staff directory for Chattanooga Public Schools’ secondary school.

One incident involved an alleged assault among members of the eighth-grade basketball team when they were left unsupervised by teacher and coach Billy Karr.

The other incident involved a student receiving a fractured ankle after horseplaying with Tyler Karr, a coach at the school.

While the alleged assault has been under investigation by the OSBI, students still seem to be unhappy with Tyler Karr. A recent social media video shared via Snapchat depicts the coach using his phone while driving a bus of students to a vocational-technical school in the area.

Former Peckham superintendent facing arraignment

Gary Young Peckham
Peckham Public School Superintendent Gary Young is facing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. (NonDoc)

More than three years after charges were filed in Kay County District Court against a former Peckham Public School superintendent for “lewd or indecent acts to a child under 16,” Gary Young faces an arraignment scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday, May 1.

The case has featured a great deal of turmoil, including a magistrate’s ruling that the state had not met its probable cause burden against Young, who was accused of sexual misconduct by his daughter. A judge overruled the magistrate, and the state is proceeding with the case. (A civil lawsuit, meanwhile, was terminated.)

OSDE suspended Young’s teacher and superintendent certificates in 2019 after the department received multiple complaints of sexual misconduct involving minor students.

Family retains counsel regarding Talihina Public Schools case

talihina public schools
Three Talihina Public Schools board members and Superintendent Jason Lockhart conduct a board meeting on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. (Bennett Brinkman)

After revelations about an adjunct teacher’s alleged bullying of a student and his use of a homophobic slur in the small LeFlore County town of Talihina, the family at the center of the controversy has retained counsel and is considering legal action against the district.

The family pulled their children out of the district and are homeschooling them after administrators allegedly ignored their complaints.

Additionally, a four-year-old investigative audit into the public school district is still ongoing, a significant delay that has frustrated some community members.

“We don’t comment on investigations that are ongoing,” State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd said March 9.