“If my picture caught your eye, let me tell you about myself real quick!” Vest writes on conpals.com, a website for inmates trying to find penpals to write letters or emails.
On the site, Vest lists his dimensions — 5-foot, 9-inches, 180 pounds “with an athletic build” — and asks for a women to “splash some ink my way.”
Vest, a former Hollis, Okla., assistant police chief, pleaded guilty in 2013 of second-degree rape and forcible sodomy. But you wouldn’t know that from his Conpals page, where he lists his conviction as being for “aggravated assault.”
In fact, outside of a handful of news stories, it can be difficult to find much information about Vest’s criminal record at all. He is one of a handful of Oklahoma law enforcement officers convicted of sex crimes found by The Frontier to have had their information removed from the state’s online prison database.
Vest, who court records show had been accused of prior on-duty rapes before his arrest in 2013, has no listing on the Oklahoma Department of Corrections site. The site contains a searchable database where current and past inmates have publicly available mugshots and conviction information, such as what they were sentenced for, the length of their sentence, and the facility where they are located.
In Vest’s case, not only is his information gone from the DOC page, it is difficult to find on the state’s databases of criminal charges. Searches for “Jayson Vest” on both ODCR and OSCN do not return Vest’s 2013 Harmon County rape case. Why? It turns out there’s a string of numbers (#0106670) next to Vest’s name that throws off both sites’ search engines.
In Vest’s case, the information sinkhole may have already had an affect. Since his conviction, the former Hollis Police Department assistant chief has been transferred out of state, first to Kansas about two months after his conviction and now to Oregon via Interstate Compact transfer, a program where states effectively “trade” at-risk inmates.
However, as a side effect, Vest’s conviction information doesn’t appear in either Oklahoma or Oregon’s prison registry. A mugshot of his does exist on a Kansas State Bureau of Investigation sex offender website, though it is difficult to find.
So when Vest lists his conviction on Conpals.com as for “aggravated assault” rather than “second-degree rape,” there is little publicly available information to contradict the misinformation.
Perhaps not coincidentally, a listing for Vest on “The Knot” — a wedding website where users can post pictures of registry information as they near their wedding date — appears to show him engaged to a North Carolina woman. The date for the wedding is in 2023, the same year Vest could be paroled.
In court documents filed since his conviction — and on his pen pal profiles — Vest states that he is in the Oregon facility on an interstate transfer.
In 2014, there were 82 prisoners from Oklahoma who were being housed in other states through the interstate compact agreement, while Oklahoma Department of Corrections housed 83 prisoners from out of state in its facilities through the compact.
Matt Elliott, a spokesman for DOC, said Friday that he was unable to immediately obtain the number of Oklahoma prisoners currently being held in out of state facilities.
Elliott told The Frontier that interstate prisoner transfers like the one Vest received are typically done for the inmate’s safety, and information is often removed in order to keep the inmate’s location secret. But it would appear that Vest is worry free, given that he offers the name (TRCI or Two Rivers Correctional Institution) and mailing address of his current prison facility on his Conpals profile.
“Generally speaking if you can’t find them on the public side of the website, then … the location, we’re trying to keep that secret because if it gets out, they could get hurt at the facilities they’re being housed,” Elliott said. “I don’t know how he signed up for it, because they’re not supposed to be on the Internet. None of our inmates are allowed on the Internet.”
Interstate transfers can also be requested by inmates for compassionate reasons, such as being closer to family or certain types of medical treatments, according to Department of Corrections policy.
In a 2015 letter to the Harmon County district attorney requesting a sentencing modification hearing, Vest’s attorney wrote that Vest had been a model inmate, “although his time being incarcerated as a former law enforcement officer has not been easy” and that the Department of Corrections had to take additional precautions to protect him, including transporting him out of state.
The missing information could also affect VINElink, the state’s victim information network. In Oklahoma, anyone can sign up through VINElink to be notified of when an inmate is released from prison or transferred to a new facility. That information can come in handy for victims who would like to keep tabs on their victimizers.
However, VINElink gets its information from the DOC, so it’s possible that a suspect who has been taken off the DOC site could be released without their victim being notified. A search of offenders on the VINElink system for Vest — and other prisoners who have had their information removed from DOC’s public site — does not turn up any matches.
In 2016, when Daniel Holtzclaw, a former Oklahoma City Police Department officer convicted of rape, had his information removed from the DOC site, then-spokeswoman Terri Watkins said DOC would notify Holtzclaw’s victims if he was ever released from prison.
Watkins, who has since left to a post at the state Attorney General’s Office, told Fox 25 at the time she was unsure if DOC had statutory authority to remove inmate information from public view.
Vest is not the only Oklahoma law enforcer convicted of a sex crime to disappear from DOC’s information portal.
Holtzclaw’s information was removed from DOC’s public mugshot and information database in early 2016.
Gerald Nuckolls, a former Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office deputy convicted of sexual battery in 2015, does not appear on DOC’s website, nor does former Custer County Sheriff Mike Burgess, who was found guilty in 2009 of 13 felony charges for sexual misconduct for kidnapping, forcible oral sodomy and rape for allegedly running a “sex slave ring” out of the Custer County Jail.
The mugshot of former Woodward police detective Patrick Gandara, convicted in November on two counts of child sexual abuse, appears on the DOC website, but no information about Gandara’s sentence or what he was sentenced for is available. Gandara, according to court records, pleaded guilty and received a 35-year prison sentence.
Contrast that with the fates of Oklahoma law enforcement officers recently convicted of fatal shootings. Former Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office reserve deputy Robert Bates, who has finished his sentence for the 2015 fatal shooting of Eric Harris, has seven mugshots available on the DOC website. Shannon Kepler, the former Tulsa Police Department officer sentenced to 15 years for killing Jeremey Lake in 2014, has his mugshots and conviction information available, as does former Del City officer Randy Harrison, who received a four-year sentence for manslaughter in 2014.
It’s unclear how the distinction is made between at-risk inmates whose information is cleared from DOC’s website — being placed in protective custody does not automatically cause an offender’s information to be removed from public view, Elliott said. Elliott told The Frontier that “it’s rare” that someone’s information is removed, “but it does happen sometimes.”
“Sometimes … we have someone who, for one reason or another, their safety usually, where we might not want to have their location (be public.)
“It’s an exception we make for any inmate where we have a good reason why we might not have their location because we don’t want them to get killed.”
Your financial support for our investigative journalism is now tax deductible. Click here to become a Friend of The Frontier.