Pittsburg County Sheriff Chris Morris was booked into his own county jail Tuesday, May 14, 2024, on a felony embezzlement charge. (McAlester News Capital)

(Update: On Friday, May 31, District Attorney Jack Thorp filed a second felony criminal charge — bribery by public official — against Pittsburg County Sheriff Chris Morris. The following article was updated slightly at 12:45 p.m. May 31 to reflect the new charge and the assignment of judges.)

Citing neglect of duty, corruption in office and willful maladministration, the Pittsburg County Board of County Commissioners is seeking the immediate removal of Sheriff Chris Morris, who was charged earlier this month with a felony count of embezzlement of state property.

Morris, who faces a reelection for his third term June 18, is alleged to have falsified records as part of a scheme to have the county buy a $29,000 utility vehicle he had purchased months earlier. On Friday, May 31, he was charged with a second felony: bribery by public official.

After an executive session and vote at their May 20 meeting, Pittsburg County commissioners filed an accusation for removal (embedded below) against Morris, saying his scheme was “inexcusably reckless in performing/failing to perform official duties: all of which constitute maladministration.” 

All three commissioners — District 1 Commissioner Charlie Rogers, District 2 Commissioner Sandra Crenshaw and District 3 Commissioner Ross Selman — signed the document. Cherokee County and Wagoner County District Attorney Jack Thorp, who is prosecuting the criminal case against Morris because Pittsburg County District Attorney Chuck Sullivan recused, also signed the document and is representing commissioners in the removal proceedings.

“Everybody’s wild and crazy thinking we fired the sheriff, but we did not,” Selman, who is chairman of the Pittsburg County commissioners, told NonDoc on May 20. “I hate it for the county, but [the district attorney] had the evidence laid out to us during our executive session. It was tough, but we didn’t have a whole lot of choice.”

Morris issued a statement on his Facebook page responding to the board’s action.

“Very disappointed in the commissioners who made their decision after only hearing one side of the story,” Morris said. “I’ve done nothing wrong and I am concentrating on winning the election June 18 and my day in court. The sheriff is elected by the people, the people elected me and the people should be the only ones to be able to remove me. Whether it’s by trial or election!”

Morris is accused of selling his personal 2023 Polaris utility vehicle in December to the Pittsburg County Sheriff’s Office by falsely presenting it as new to bypass state bidding requirements.

Morris’ attorney, Jeremy Beaver, filed a motion for discovery in the criminal case May 23.

‘Upcharge’ on Pittsburg County vehicle repairs also alleged

A sign supporting Sheriff Chris Morris stands along a road in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma, on Monday, May 13, 2024. (Michael Duncan)

All three legal reasons for removal — willful or habitual neglect of duties, corruption in office and willful maladministration — were listed in the board’s accusation. Commissioners, in their document, detailed Morris’ alleged actions which led to their decision.

The cited allegations include Morris’ misrepresentation of the Polaris UTV’s value, his removal of accessories that increased its value, his role in causing the county clerk to purchase a used vehicle, and falsified odometer reports.

Beyond the details first alleged in the May 14 probable cause affidavit recommending the criminal charge against Morris, additional accusations were revealed in the board’s May 20 removal filing. On May 31, those accusations spurred the bribery charge.

“Morris asked Advantage Truck and Auto to upcharge the repairs of two Pittsburg County sheriff vehicles in order to receive a discount for a lift kit on his personally owned Polaris UTV,” according to the document.

Commissioners also accused Morris of receiving free repairs from McAlester Auto Collision for his personally owned Toyota 4Runner in exchange for having Pittsburg County Sheriff’s Office vehicles repaired there.

The commissioners alleged that Morris’ acts constitute an unlawful and wrongful use of his public office to procure a benefit for himself. They wrote that he willfully and habitually, “with bad or evil purpose,” neglected the duties of his office by acting in “an inexcusably reckless manner.”

Commissioners requested that Morris be immediately suspended from office pending the investigation and conclusion of a trial, which has not been set and almost certainly would not occur before the June 18 Republican primary.

“I just want it to be clear that it wasn’t the board that ousted the sheriff,” Selman said. “We followed advice from our legal counsel, the DA from District 27, and moved forward with the accusation to take it to a judge. That’s all we’re allowed to do.”

In their petition, commissioners cited Title 22, Section 1194 as statutory authority to seek Morris’ removal. All Pittsburg County judges have excused themselves from Morris’ case, and Creek County District Court Judge Kelly Hake, the presiding judge in the 18th Judicial District, recently assigned judges to the matters:

At a hearing in the removal action on May 31, Farris set a June 6 court date to decide the interim suspension requested by county commissioners. The judge also set the full removal action for a jury trial on the July docket.

Morris’ charges mark the second time in slightly more than a year that an employee in the Pittsburg County Sheriff’s Office has come under scrutiny. In March 2023, a deputy sheriff, David Woody, was placed on unpaid suspension after District Judge Tim Mills ruled that Woody “lacks credibility” due to body camera footage contradicting a sworn affidavit.

Morris, an aspiring country musician who released an album in October 2022 titled Crazy Comin’ On, spoke last year about Woody’s suspension to the McAlester News-Capital.

“If that’s the case, we can’t have officers lying on affidavits,” Morris said. “Your word is your credibility and when you fill out an affidavit you’re signing under oath, swearing that’s the truth and if you don’t, you’ll never be able to testify in court and can’t be a police officer.”

Read the bribery charge filed against Sheriff Chris Morris

Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?
Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

Read the accusation for removal of Sheriff Chris Morris

Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?
Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab