The two men vying to be Tulsa County’s new sheriff say the agency should improve protections for young girls in the jail by requiring female detention officers to supervise them, placing cameras in blind spots and taking other measures to avoid future lawsuits that cost taxpayers.
The Frontier and our media partner, NewsOn6, interviewed the Republican and Democratic candidates for sheriff following a jury verdict against the sheriff’s office in a federal civil rights lawsuit last week.
Vic Regalado, a Tulsa police sergeant who won the Republican primary for sheriff, said the way underage girls are held in the jail creates “the perfect storm” for abuse and lawsuits against the county.
“You’ve got a female juvenile, which in my opinion … they are probably the biggest risk, so you’ve got to use common sense,” Regalado said.
“I suspect at the bottom of this had they abided by having a female DO (detention officer), we would probably not be here today.”
Rex Berry, a retired Tulsa Police Department corporal, said the conditions that girls are held under in the Tulsa Jail are unacceptable. He said claims that the sheriff’s office lacks enough money to assign only female officers to supervise girls or install cameras near their cells to ensure they are safe are “lame.”
“The last couple of lawsuits that we have coming through here have cost us in the millions of dollars. To say we don’t have the money for a camera or to put a female detention officer in there is absolutely ludicrous.”
Tulsa County Commissioners voted Monday to appeal the jury’s verdict in favor of a woman who claimed she was repeatedly raped in the jail, an action the woman’s attorneys called “a waste of time and money.”
Attorney Clark Brewster, who represents the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office in the lawsuit, said commissioners decided to appeal the verdict because a jury should not have been allowed to decide the case.
“Frankly I don’t think there’s a high degree of probability of this verdict” surviving an appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Brewster said.
The plaintiff, Ladona Poore, sued then-Sheriff Stanley Glanz and his office in 2011, claiming she was repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted by a detention officer during four months she was held in the jail’s medical unit. Poore was 17 at the time of the alleged sexual assaults.
The Frontier and NewsOn6 do not use the names of victims of alleged sexual assault without their permission. The news organizations interviewed Poore about her case last week and she granted permission to use her name.
Girls and boys under 18 can be held in the adult jail if they are charged with one of 18 crimes. Though the list includes violent crimes such as murder, rape and robbery, it also includes several drug crimes, burglary and assault.
The jury trial began Feb. 19 and lasted eight days. Six jurors deliberated more than nine hours before returning a verdict finding Glanz liable in his individual capacity and his official capacity of violating the plaintiff’s civil rights.
Testimony during the trial revealed that girls under 18 are held in lockdown in their cells in the jail’s medical unit 23 out of 24 hours each day, except for visitors and showers. Meanwhile, underage boys have their own pod with a common area where they can socialize and watch television.
Because the jail doesn’t apply the same rules to girls as boys, male detention officers are allowed to supervise girls whether they are in the shower, changing clothes or using the bathroom in their cells.
The detention officer accused of sexually assaulting Poore, Seth Bowers, resigned one day before he was scheduled to take a polygraph test. During a deposition in the case, Bowers repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked whether he had intercourse, oral sex or other forms of sexual contact with Poore.
Though the sheriff’s office recommended charges to the district attorney’s office, the DA declined to file charges against Bowers.
Jurors awarded Poore $25,000 and unless the verdict is overturned, the county will also have to pay all fees and costs for her attorneys. Legal fees are expected to total hundreds of thousands of dollars over the six year period, not counting fees paid to Brewster’s firm.
Records show the sheriff’s office has paid about $400,000 to outside law firms in the past year, including almost $180,000 to Brewster & De Angelis.
The county paid about $30,000 to another law firm for an unsuccessful effort by Glanz to derail a grand jury investigating his office. The longtime sheriff resigned in November after he was indicted by the grand jury on two misdemeanor counts relating to corruption in office.
About $200,000 has been paid to the law firm of Scott Wood during the past year to represent the sheriff’s office in civil and criminal cases involving deputies.
Wood represented former Reserve Deputy Robert Bates after he shot an unarmed man to death during a gun sting April 2, 2015. Bates has been charged with second-degree manslaughter in the death of Eric Harris.
In a written statement, Poore’s attorneys said they were disappointed that the county was appealing the verdict.
“Any appeal of that verdict, which was based on a significant evidentiary record, has little chance of success. This proposed appeal is a waste of time and taxpayer money,” said the statement by the Smolen, Smolen and Roytman law firm.
The attorneys said the county commissioners’ action show they have “learned little from the Bob Bates scandal” and a recent report that found pervasive and widespread failures at the sheriff’s office.
“It is time for BOCC to accept the uncomfortable truth that the last years of Sheriff Glanz’s regime were a total disaster,” the attorneys said.
“Under Sheriff Glanz, there was a culture of indifference to the constitutional rights of citizens, and many were injured and died as a result. Rather than continuing the unsuccessful scorched earth litigation of these cases, the BOCC should focus compensating the victims and moving the County forward.”
Brewster disagreed with the jurors’ finding that the sheriff’s office showed deliberate indifference. He said the sheriff’s office acknowledged the possibility that the detention officer, Seth Bowers, had improperly touched the plaintiff.
“I don’t think the jury bought into that she was being raped down there. What we took issue with was the fact that if it did go on, that we would not promptly put a stop to it and stay in front of it.”
Assistant District Attorney Doug Wilson, who advises the county commissioners, could not be reached for comment Monday regarding the decision to appeal the verdict. Neither Wilson nor any of the commissioners attended the trial in federal court.