Charges against seven men who were allegedly involved in the deadliest prison fight in Oklahoma history have had the charges against them dropped or dismissed, according to court records.
Steven Ray Thompson, Johnathan Richard Whittington, Phillip Wayne Jordan, Jr., Jordan James Scott, James Augustine Placker, Gage Broom, and Korey L. Kruta were each charged in 2017 by the Payne County District Attorney’s Office with participating in a riot, a felony that carries a penalty of up to life in prison.
The charges were filed two years after the Sept. 12, 2015 fight between the Irish Mob and Universal Aryan Brotherhood prison gangs at the privately-owned Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing left four prisoners dead. Anthony Fulwider, 31, Kyle Tiffee, 23, Christopher Tignor, 29, and Michael Edwin Mayden Jr., 26 were all killed during the melee.
At the time the charges of participating in a riot were filed, Payne County District Attorney Laura Thomas said those charges were filed because there was not enough evidence to charge any of the men with murder. Surveillance video from the prison was too low-quality to establish who exactly stabbed who, and reliable witness statements were also hard to come by, Thomas said at the time.
However, on April 18, a judge granted a request by defense attorneys that the participating in a riot charge against Jordan be dismissed due to lack of evidence after questions were raised about the prison’s employees who identified the alleged assailants.
On Friday, two days after the judge dismissed Jordan’s case, Thomas filed motions to dismiss the charges against the other six men as well.
“At the time of the filing of the charges the investigative report confirmed each defendant could be identified as a participant by employees of the correctional facility,” Thomas’s motions to dismiss state. “Some defendants have had preliminary hearings at which the ability of employee/witnesses to identify individuals became questionable at best.”
One “critical witness” — Terrance Lockett, who was the only correctional officer on duty in the unit at the time the fight erupted — had later been arrested for attempting to bring drugs into the prison, Thomas’s filing states.
The District Attorneys Office also discovered last Wednesday that it was prosecuting a second prison employee who was listed as a witness in the case, Thomas said.
“Each of the riot cases stand on the same evidence as the other,” the filings states.
At the time Jordan’s case was dismissed by the judge, the Thomas’s office was already preparing motions to dismiss all of the cases, Thomas said.
During Jordan’s preliminary hearing, correctional officers could not identify Jordan actively participating in the riot in surveillance video of the fight, according to a motion to dismiss filed by Jordan’s attorney.
“From the preliminary hearings that were held, the witness testimony on identification was not good at all,” Thomas said.
In the Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ investigator’s report, witnesses had said they could identify with certainty the defendants coming down the stairs in a group and what some of those defendants did, Thomas said.
“However, on the witness stand identification was not only not clear, there was testimony that it was a group effort to identify participants and the witnesses couldn’t even say who all was in the room, much less whose handwriting was on the photo or who identified who,” Thomas said. “In short, the evidence of identification disintegrated to the point that our collective decision was that we did not have enough credible evidence to make it past the ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard we would have at trial.”
Meanwhile, the company that owns the prison, CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America), is still facing three civil lawsuits, two by family members of prisoners who died and one from an injured prisoner who survived, stemming from the fight.
In one of those cases, involving Mayden’s estate, CoreCivic joined several prisoners, some of who had been charged in connection with the riot, as third party defendants, meaning they could be held financially liable as well if the case is decided in the plaintiff’s favor.
Attorney J. Spencer Bryan, who is representing a deceased prisoner’s family and a surviving prisoner in the civil litigation, said that after learning that the criminal charges were being dismissed because a lack of credible witnesses, he requested that an affidavit filed in one of the civil cases by CoreCivic’s attorneys be unsealed for the sole purpose of providing it to Thomas’s office. Bryan said he could not divulge the contents of the affidavit because it is sealed.
CoreCivic’s attorneys rejected the offer, Bryan said.
The affidavit by a “key staff member at the Cimarron Correctional Facility” which is filed under seal in one of the civil cases and therefore not publicly available, was mentioned in a June 16, 2017 court filing by CoreCivic in support of the company’s motion to deny consolidation of two of the civil cases against it.
“In the affidavit, the staff member will discuss the incident of September 12, 2015 and the actions of the inmate gang participants during the incident,” CoreCivic’s filing states.
A phone message late Tuesday afternoon to CoreCivic’s attorney in the case was not immediately returned.