The odds are stacked against Kelli Weimer.
Every day she wakes up, eats breakfast, places her nearly 2-year-old daughter in a stroller and starts walking. She carries with her a stack of papers: voter registration forms, a grand jury petition and a sign-up sheet.
If the man who killed her boyfriend is going to be charged with a crime, she’s going to need to pound a lot of pavement.
James Coale, according to an autopsy report, was shot in the back of the head in November by Okfuskee County Deputy Blake Frost. Frost said that Coale, who was not a suspect in a crime but was driving a vehicle that matched the description of a suspect’s vehicle, attempted to run him over.
Frost, who resigned from the Sheriff’s Office not long after the shooting, emptied his clip into the back of Coale’s pickup, killing him.
Okfuskee County District Attorney Max Cook announced in February that Frost would not be charged with a crime. But Oklahoma is one of a handful of states that allows grand juries to investigate potential crimes, if certain criteria are met.
In this case, Weimer needs to collect 500 signatures of registered Okfuskee County voters.
But there are only 12,000 or so residents in Okfuskee County, and of those, only 5,501 are registered voters. That means that if Frost is going to be investigated for the shooting, Weimer and Coale’s mother, Jo Kathryn Reavis, need to find about 10 percent of the county’s registered voters and convince them to help her investigate the former local deputy.
“It’s not easy,” Weimer said. “It’s difficult because of the weather, it’s difficult because we go out during the week and most people are at work, so we’re just knocking on doors and no one answers. But we won’t stop until they tell us we have to stop. He (James) deserves that.”
The deadline for signature collection is June 30. Weimer said she believes she’s collected “about 200 or so” as of June 13.
There will likely always be a dispute about the events that led up to Coale’s being shot and killed. Frost, according to the Okfuskee County Sheriff’s Office, said Coale attempted to run him over. Coale’s friends and relatives describe him as a “giant teddy bear” and say that whatever issues he may have had, he was never violent.
Cook and the Okfuskee County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing litigation. Frost could not be reached for comment.
There is no video of the incident — OCSO doesn’t have body cameras or dashboard cameras — so the exact details of that night will be a source of debate perhaps forever.
But what’s not in dispute is that the shots were fired at Coale as he was driving away — the autopsy report states one bullet struck Coale in the back of the right arm while the fatal bullet shattered his skull from behind. The report also states Coale had methamphetamine in his system at the time of the shooting.
The whole incident was, at best, a case of mistaken identity. An Okemah man named Justin Dodson had been stabbed earlier in the day, and told deputies that a man named Joshua Dean Williams had been responsible for the assault.
Williams had stabbed Dodson in the back of the left arm so hard that the large hunting knife remained lodged there until hospital personnel removed it hours later. An affidavit filed in the stabbing case states that Dodson told authorities Williams was driving a “mid-90s, Black, Chevrolet, short bed pickup towing a flat bed trailer containing scrap lumber.”
As fate would have it, Coale was driving a black 1994 Chevrolet pickup when he and Frost encountered each other.
Frost alleged Coale tried to run him down, a charge Coale’s family has since denied. In a federal lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Oklahoma, Coale’s family alleges that Coale was driving home and just happened to pass Frost, who was standing in the road.
The lawsuit describes Coale as nonchalantly driving past Frost, who emptied his duty weapon at the pickup, and claims witnesses described Frost as laughing following the shooting.
The lawsuit asks for damages in excess of $75,000, a typical request in federal lawsuits that represents the bare minimum the plaintiff is seeking in financial compensation. It also asks for a judgment of $1,725,000 in compensatory damages against Frost, Derrell Summers (who was sheriff of Okfuskee County at the time of the shooting) and Steven Worley (who was elected as sheriff following the shooting).
Frost, in a court document, has argued the shooting was in self defense.
With just two weeks remaining until the signature collection deadline, Weimer said she is ramping up her efforts as much as possible.
But still, most days are the same — miles of walking in the morning, then returning home so her and Coale’s daughter can take a nap. More walking in the afternoon and evening heat, then dinner, then sleep, then she’s back at it.
“I take the petition to my kids’ ballgames; basically, wherever I go,” Weimer said.
She was told by town officials that there were no public easements for her to stand on, so she would need to ask landowners for permission to set up shop and ask for signatures. But she said her efforts have generally been met with support, though many business owners and landowners have not wanted to appear to take sides.
“Mostly everyone knows that we’re not even saying (Frost) is guilty, or that all cops are bad,” Weimer said. “We just want it to be looked at by a jury. If they say there should be no charges, that’s fine, but we want someone who is not law enforcement to look into it.
“Most people ask what we’re doing, and they realize they knew James in some way. It’s a small town, so everyone knows everyone.”
She said one business, Okemah Coffee Company, 501 South Wood Guthrie St., has allowed her space to ask for signatures.
“They actually have the petition there for anyone who wants to read it,” Weimer said. “You can literally drive through and get a coffee and ask to read the petition, and they’ll let you read it. You can sign up there, too.”
Grand juries are rare, though they can be successful. A grand jury petition that circulated in Tulsa in 2015 following a deputy-involved shooting resulted in the removal of longtime Sheriff Stanley Glanz, as well as charges and convictions against him for withholding public documents and misusing a county vehicle.
“It’s doable,” Weimer said. “We just have to keep trying.”