Jurors listened to a taped interview in federal court Monday of a teenage girl describing how a detention officer repeatedly groped her and exposed himself while she was an inmate in the Tulsa Jail.
Billy McKelvey, a former captain at the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, described his interview with the girl, then 17, after allegations surfaced in 2010 that a detention officer had sexually assaulted her. McKelvey’s testimony came on the second day of a trial in the Northern District of federal court to determine whether former Sheriff Stanley Glanz and the sheriff’s office violated the girl’s civil rights.
The civil lawsuit alleges the plaintiff, now 23, was repeatedly raped, sexually assaulted and forced to perform oral sex on the detention officer over a four month period in 2010. However during her taped interview with McKelvey, the girl did not make those same allegations.
The girl told McKelvey the officer repeatedly grabbed her buttocks and breasts, watched her showering, exposed his penis to her and asked for oral sex but denied other sexual contact.
The Frontier is withholding the plaintiff’s name because she is a victim of alleged sexual assault.
Allegations surfaced that the officer, Seth Bowers, had sexually assaulted the girl about one month after she was released from the Tulsa Jail. McKelvey said he began to gather information for a report, which was turned over to detectives for further investigation.
Bowers resigned from the sheriff’s office one day before he was scheduled to take a polygraph test, records show. The sheriff’s office recommended charges to the district attorney’s office, which declined to file them.
In 2012, Bowers repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment about a dozen times during a 2012 deposition when asked questions including whether he raped the girl or forced her to perform oral sex. Bowers was initially named as a defendant in the girl’s lawsuit but was dropped.
U.S. District Judge John Dowdell, who is presiding over the trial, said Monday that Bowers was “settled out of the case, perhaps based on his deposition testimony.” Dowdell’s statement was the first indication that the plaintiff had reached a settlement with Bowers in the case.
To prevail in the lawsuit, the plaintiff must show that Glanz and Acting Sheriff Michelle Robinette displayed “deliberate indifference” to the risk the plaintiff would be sexually assaulted in the jail.
In depositions, Glanz has said cameras were not placed in the medical unit until 2011, years after a male nurse was discovered watching a girl showering in 2008. Robinette said in depositions that the unit was frequently single staffed despite policies requiring at least two staff members.
In a 2014 opinion, Dowdell refused to dismiss the lawsuit.
“A reasonable jury could infer that Glanz’s and TCSO’s policy and practice of housing juvenile female inmates in a wing of the medial unit — which was not under direct supervision, had no cameras, and was frequently single-staffed — placed those inmates at a substantial risk of sexual assault by Jail staff,” the opinion states.
Brewster’s ‘troublesome’ statements
Before testimony got underway Monday, Dowdell criticized defense attorney Clark Brewster for violating several orders not to mention the plaintiff’s prior criminal record. During Brewster’s opening statement, he asked jurors why the plaintiff was in jail “in the first place” and described her as “violent” five times, Dowdell noted.
“There were two orders and two discussions before Mr. Brewster referenced the charges in which he stated the plaintiff was ‘accused of violent acts,’” Dowdell said.
The judge called Brewster’s vague references to violence “even more troublesome than if he had referenced the conviction itself.”
Dowdell acknowledged that a “curative instruction” to jurors to ignore Brewster’s comments “would complicate and highlight” the issue.
Records show about two months after she was released from the jail in 2010, the plaintiff received a deferred sentence after pleading guilty to assault with intent to commit a felony.
Brewster said following the hearing that the judge was “mistaken” about the matter. Brewster also repeatedly emphasized the sheriff’s office has a “zero tolerance” policy for sexual assaults.
Under questioning Monday by one of the plaintiff’s attorneys, Tom Mortensen, McKelvey described his investigation into the sexual assault allegations. McKelvey said he interviewed Dolan Prejean, a material witness in a murder case being held in the medical unit for his own protection.
The jail holds female juveniles in solitary confinement in medical unit cells because it has no dedicated pod for them. Male juveniles have a pod that includes a common area so they can leave their cells to watch television and socialize.
Prejean’s cell window was obscured by curtains but he told McKelvey he could reach through a feeding slot in the door and move the blinds.
“Dolan told me that there were some inappropriate relations going on,” McKelvey said. He said Prejean told him Bowers would open the girl’s cell door and stay for up to 20 minutes.
“He knew that Seth had left because he heard the cell door slam,” McKelvey said.
McKelvey also talked to two female detention officers who worked in the medical unit about whether they were aware of sexual assault allegations.
“One looked at the other and said, ‘Should we tell him?’” he testified.
An inmate working as a trustee in the medical unit, Christopher Blunt, told one of the women that a male detention officer was having sex with an inmate in the unit, McKelvey said.
The girls’ cells were separated from the rest of the medical unit by a locked metal door. A view of the cells would normally be possible through glass windows on either side of that door.
However the windows were covered by curtains at the time to obscure any view of Prejean, reportedly targeted by other inmates due to his expected testimony in the murder case.
McKelvey said Blunt told him he often had to wait on Bowers for 20 minutes while Bowers passed out meals to the girls in the medical unit’s north end. McKelvey said it should have taken Bowers about five minutes to pass out meals.
Some officers walk ‘thin blue line’
Another detention officer heard about the allegations from a girl whose cell was next to the plaintiff’s cell. However, the officer was reluctant to make a report when McKelvey asked him.
The sheriff’s office has a “zero tolerance” policy regarding sexual abuse of inmates, which requires staff members to report any concerns, McKelvey said. However, that policy isn’t always followed, he said.
“I have found that employees in general do not like to tell on each other.”
He explained that the phrase “thin blue line” refers to law enforcement officers’ reluctance to report wrongdoing by other officers.
Bowers was interviewed by two investigators for the sheriff’s office, McKelvey said. Though TCSO policy requires a guard of the same gender as the inmate to be present when a cell door is opened, Bowers acknowledged opening the girl’s cell door alone, McKelvey said.
“He says he has to in order to give the inmates water because the cup wouldn’t fit through the door,” McKelvey testified.
Female juveniles receive their meals on trays through an opening in the door known as the “bean hole.” McKelvey said Bowers’ claim was “inaccurate because the cups at the jail fit through the bean hole.”
While the tape of her discussion with McKelvey played for the eight-member jury, the plaintiff hung her head.
“I don’t want to get in trouble for talking about it,” she states several times on the tape.
McKelvey said he picked the girl up for the interview and took her to an office in the jail. He was in uniform, informed her that she may have to take a polygraph and told her not to tell anyone, even her mother, about what had happened.
In hindsight, McKelvey said, “I am now of the opinion that I should not have interviewed her. I should have taken her to a place called the Justice Center, which specializes in interviewing sexual assault victims.”
He added that “I picked up a victim and brought her back to an area where she was victimized. I’m aware now that was inappropriate.”
During cross examination, Brewster asked McKelvey about statements he has made about Glanz since leaving the sheriff’s office.
“You’ve been pretty angry with him since you were asked to resign from the sheriff’s office, correct?” Brewster asked.
“That is true,” McKelvey answered.
Brewster pointed to a pamphlet provided to all inmates by the sheriff’s office about sexual assault, providing inmates a phone number to call to make reports. He also noted a 2006 policy requiring employees to report any signs of abuse.
Under questioning by Brewster, McKelvey agreed that none of the witnesses he interviewed told him that the officer had intercourse or oral sex with the girl, claims that are included in her lawsuit.
The report McKelvey wrote following his investigation states that the girl’s “body language” indicated she was withholding information from him during their interview. The report states that the second girl held in the medical unit at the same time “did not feel comfortable revealing details to me.”
“I took both of them … to be embarrassed about what was going on,” he testified.
McKelvey said that the second girl, who said she witnessed Bowers expose himself, filed a grievance at one point. The girl “turned it in and it said there was something going on in medical and Seth Bowers intercepted it,” he said.
McKelvey said Bowers went to the girl and held up the grievance, asking, “Is this about me?”
Under questioning by the plaintiff’s attorney, McKelvey said Bowers’ action appeared to be an attempt to silence the girl from reporting any allegations.
McKelvey: ‘Loyalty misplaced’
Following Monday’s hearing, McKelvey spoke to The Frontier about his opinion of the former longtime sheriff, who resigned after being indicted in September.
“I do not like Stanley Glanz but that does not mean I do not love the sheriff’s office,” said McKelvey, who now works as a police officer at Tulsa Community College. “I still have close friends who work for the sheriff’s office and my daughter works there.”
He said he has a few other trials he expects to be called to testify in, adding, “I just want to get this event in my rear view mirror.”
“I was very loyal to Stanley Glanz. I think that loyalty was misplaced,” he said.
McKelvey said he is following the current race to replace Glanz closely and that he was concerned that one candidate, Tulsa Police Sgt. Vic Regalado, had raised money from wealthy benefactors including Brewster and Hastings Siegfried, a reserve sheriff’s deputy.
“Do they want another Stanley Glanz and his rich friends or do they want something new and something bold?”
In a response to The Frontier, Regalado said McKelvey is supporting another candidate “so I would expect nothing less.”
“I would welcome any questions or scrutiny of my donations and donors,” he said in a text message. “The donations were made by meeting with everyone I could, often leading to 16-hour days. Raising campaign donations takes hard work and persistence.”