Gov. Kevin Stitt may be called to testify if a former Oklahoma Highway Patrolman’s claims that the Department of Public Safety launched a retaliatory investigation after he raised concerns about cheating in the agency’s promotional process go to trial next month.
Attorneys for former Oklahoma Highway Patrol Capt. Troy German plan to call on Stitt to testify about his knowledge of a blackmail investigation the Department of Public Safety launched against German when he confronted former agency head Rusty Rhoades about alleged improprieties in the promotional process. German claims a favored trooper received promotional exam questions in advance.
The case is scheduled to go to trial in federal court in Oklahoma City on Jan. 11.
Charlie Hannema, a spokesman for Stitt, said there have been no formal arrangements laid out for the governor to testify if the case moves forward.
“We are not a party to the litigation, have not been provided a witness list and have not been contacted about anyone on such a list,” Hannema said.
German’s attorneys have also listed other high-ranking state officials as potential witnesses at trial, including Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat and current Department of Public Safety Commissioner Tim Tipton.
Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed Tipton as Commissioner of Public Safety in September. The Oklahoma Senate still has to confirm the appointment during the 2022 legislative session.
Documents The Frontier reviewed indicate that Oklahoma Highway Patrol investigators interviewed Tipton about his knowledge of German’s conversations with Rhoades about the alleged cheating, and Tipton was placed on administrative leave during the investigation. Court records indicate some of the testimony in the upcoming trial in German’s lawsuit will center around an alleged retaliatory investigation that OHP also conducted against Tipton.
German’s lawsuit claims former Chief of Patrol Michael Harrell gave Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. Brian Orr the questions in advance for a promotional exam to help Rhoades curry favor with state lawmakers.
Orr, who is now a captain, is probably one of the best publicly known members of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol in the state. For years, he served as the personal bodyguard on gameday for University of Oklahoma head football coaches, including Bob Stoops and Lincoln Riley.
Tipton would later tell investigators Rhoades had told him legislators were always asking him when he would promote Orr.
Tipton and the Department of Public Safety declined to answer questions about the pending litigation.
An attorney for Rhoades, Harrell and former DPS General Counsel Megan Simpson declined to comment on German’s allegations in the lawsuit.
The former leaders of the Department of Safety all lost their jobs soon after the promotional dust-up. They’ve filed their own lawsuit that contains among other claims, the allegation that Tipton hid German’s personal cell phone at his home “in what is believed an effort to hide evidence and interfere with an investigation” into German’s alleged blackmail efforts.
The Oklahoma Multicounty Grand Jury indicted German in February 2019 on a charge of blackmail, for allegedly threatening to expose improprieties in OHP’s promotional process unless Former Department of Public Safety Commissioner Rusty Rhoades promoted him or helped him secure a political appointment.
In a deposition, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said Rhoades asked Prater to prosecute German for blackmail, but Prater did not believe the trooper had committed a crime.
When Prater learned the case had been sent to the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office to secure a grand jury indictment, he believed Rhoades and the others had been shopping what he believed were flimsy allegations against German to an agency that would prosecute, according to court records.
The day before German’s scheduled preliminary hearing in June 2019 in Oklahoma County District Court, an agreement was reached for German to immediately retire. The charge against German was subsequently dropped and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office issued a statement saying that the Department of Public Safety had determined dismissal was in the best interest of the agency. Rhoades and other former agency leaders deny they ever asked for the charges to be dropped, according to court documents.
After his retirement, German filed a federal lawsuit against Rhoades, Harrell and Simpson claiming the top Department of Public Safety officials concocted a false story of blackmail to discredit his valid concerns about cheating. Orr is also named as a defendant.
Rhoades, Harrell and Simpson claim in their lawsuit against the Department of Public Safety, Stitt and other state officials, claiming they were later wrongly terminated — not because of allegations of cheating or blackmail — but after they discovered improprieties in the agency’s civil asset forfeiture procedures, including the failure to “effectuate proper service in the majority of asset forfeiture cases” and that some civil asset forfeiture money was improperly used to implement the state’s compliance with the REAL ID ACT.
According to court documents, Simpson asked the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to launch an internal investigation into other violations of law and policy that had been uncovered as a result of the German investigation, but Stitt’s former cabinet secretary for public safety Chip Keating ordered them to scuttle the matter.
On Aug. 30 2019, Keating accused the Department of Public Safety of not meeting REAL ID benchmarks to issue driver’s licenses and identification cards in compliance with the federal law, according to court filings, but Rhoades, Harrell, and Simpson claim the accusation was a pretext for their firings, which came over Labor Day weekend three days later.
Keating did not respond to a phone message from The Frontier.
In court documents, Keating denies he forced the Department of Public Safety to drop any investigation into corruption, and Keating and Stitt claim they had valid concerns about the agency’s implementation of the REAL ID ACT before Rhoades, Harrell and Simpson lost their jobs.