After Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado was inaugurated on Tuesday, he took time to let out a little laugh. It seemed odd and anti-climactic, he said, that he was only now beginning his four-year term as sheriff, given all the strife, campaigning, and past elections he went through in 2016.
“It’s still a privilege,” he said following Tuesday’s Tulsa County Commissioners meeting. Regalado, court clerk Donald Newberry and county clerk Michael Willis were inaugurated before the meeting.
“The honor of it doesn’t escape me at all,” Regalado said.
He first took over as sheriff last year after winning a hotly contested special election to replace departed former sheriff Stanley Glanz, who left office after being indicted by a grand jury. And though Regalado said on Tuesday he feels there is “a lot of positive change, and a lot of positive momentum going forward,” there is still plenty of heavy lifting to do.
“We’ve made a lot of strides in terms of the budget, and morale, and getting internal things in order, and I want to continue that,” he said. But he also offered some more detailed plans for his first full year as sheriff.
Regalado said the mental health pods, part of a nearly $16 million project, should begin filling up with inmates at some point in 2017. The pods are an addition to the Tulsa Jail, which, like many jails across the country, has began to double as a mental health treatment facility as more and more mentally ill people are arrested.
Once operational, the pods will allow the jail to house more than 100 mentally ill inmates, and should expand treatment options as well.
The Sheriff’s Office faces numerous federal civil rights lawsuits over prisoner injuries and deaths in the jail, including several inmates with mental illnesses. Three of the suits are set for trial early this year, beginning with a lawsuit over the death of Elliott Williams.
Williams, a 37-year-old U.S. Army veteran and businessman, died in the jail after days without food, water or medical attention with a broken neck. In a ruling allowing the case to move forward, U.S. District Judge John Dowdell noted that the jail’s psychiatrist at the time failed to order medical care and “
In a ruling last year allowing the case to move forward, U.S. District Judge John Dowdell noted that the jail’s psychiatrist at the time failed to order medical care and “ordered jail staff to place Mr. Williams in Medical Cell number 1, which would be his burial crypt.”
Aside from improved care and more space for the mentally ill, the Sheriff’s Office will likely continue its partnership with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office and the Tulsa County Public Defenders Office to streamline the booking and incarceration process for non-violent offenders.
“It’s important (because it) keeps them from spending a lot of unnecessary days in jail (and) affords them the same privileges in terms of legal counsel that someone who is economically sound would have,” he said.
Regalado said TCSO did not receive a grant it had sought in order to expand its community engagement.
“But we’re going to move on and find a different way to fund a community engagement director,” he said.
Lastly, Regalado said he still hopes to have all his field deputies outfitted with body cams by the end of 2017. Last December, he said he thought the sheriff’s office would be able to announce “creative” funding for the purchase of body cameras and equipment needed to store the recordings by the end of 2016, but the calendar turned without that announcement.
“We do think we’ve found a way to fund those, because obviously right now with our budget constraints it would take longer than we want to equip our deputies,” he said. “And we’ll be announcing the funding source shortly. Hopefully by the end of the year — hopefully — we’ll be able to equip those deputies.”
Willis, 36, said he was excited to finally take office. He was elected in June when he defeated Nancy Rothman in the Republican primary. No Democrat ran for the office.
Willis was a chief deputy for the county commissioners and public information officer for the county before running for county clerk.
He succeeds Pat Key, who served four years as county clerk.
“I got about 38 people that I’m excited to go to work with,” Willis said after the swearing-in ceremony, “and we’re going to get to work on making a few small changes and provide the best public service we can for the people.”
A first step in providing better service will be to extend the hours of County Clerk’s Office, Willis said. Beginning Monday, the office will open at 8 a.m. — the same time the courthouse opens — rather than 8:30 a.m.
“If you have ever gone to a shopping mall and you walk up to a store you really wanted to go to, and the mall opens at 9, and the store doesn’t open till 10, it’s kind of a pain,” Willis said. “So we wanted to try to streamline that a bit and make that a little more user-friendly.”
Newberry, 49, is not new to county government. He spent the last six years as title research manager in
the Assessor’s Office. He defeated Democrat John Andrew in the general election.
He succeeds long-time Court Clerk Sally Howe-Smith, who did not seek re-election.
“I have been anxious to start — not nervous,” Newberry said. “Everyone has been helpful in the transition, so it’s been good.”
Like Willis, Newberry plans to focus on improving his office’s service. He’s already begun opening the Court Clerk’s Office at 8 a.m., rather than 8:30 a.m., and he plans to continue modernizing the office and looking for ways to reduce paperwork.
“We’re trying to improve the morale of the people (in the office) so that customer service picks up,” Newberry said. “We want to innovate and continue the modernization.”
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