Sex-related offenses were the most common reasons for revocation of Oklahoma law enforcement officers’ peace officer certifications between 2014 and 2018, according to records reviewed by The Frontier.
More than 40 law enforcers in the last five years have been banned from police work after being convicted of sex-related crimes, according to the records. Though that number makes up only a small fraction of the more than 8,500 full-time sworn law enforcement officers in the state, it accounted for more than a quarter of the 130 total law enforcement officers who were cited or had their peace officer certification revoked during the past five years, the records show.
Earlier this month USA Today published a project in which they attempted to identify officers from all 50 states who had been investigated for misconduct. Further, the paper tried to determine how many officers had been banned from police work.
Records obtained from Oklahoma by the outlet seem to be somewhat incomplete. The spreadsheet published by USA Today lists officer names but not agencies. It also includes the disposition of the officer’s case, though it’s unclear if the various outcomes are final.
Further, a follow-up story identified Oklahoma as one of a handful of states that “wouldn’t release the identities of any (banned) officers, saying that because some of them could be working undercover at some point,” and the release of their identities could pose “a threat.”
There is no single repository of the names of officers accused of crimes. However, the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) in Ada is responsible for maintaining records of peace officer certifications in the state.
The agency is also responsible for taking those certifications away when necessary.
During CLEET’s quarterly meetings, the agency handles disciplinary actions against officers, deputies, reserves, jailers, bondsmen and security guards. Some of the accusations are for relatively minor offenses, such as reserve officers who work more than 140 hours in a calendar month — which often ends in a letter of reprimand — or an officer who was cited for public intoxication, which often ends in a fine.
But within those disciplinary documents lies a disturbing fact: Dozens of Oklahoma law enforcers have been convicted of sex crimes in the last five years.
At CLEET’s most recent meeting last month, more than one-third — 12 of 34 — of the names appearing on the final dispositions document were individuals convicted of sexual offenses.
When CLEET is notified of a pending felony charge against a law enforcement officer, the agency will suspend the officer’s peace officer certification until the case is resolved. A conviction for a crime involving “moral turpitude or a domestic violence offense” will result in the peace officer status being revoked.
“Our position is that revocation is forever,” CLEET General Counsel Gerald Konkler said. “They aren’t getting that (ability to work as an officer) back.”
Alexander Sinclair Edwards, 38, was an Oklahoma City Police Department lieutenant when he was arrested and accused in 2018 of not just tipping off a woman about an upcoming prostitution sting but also of trying to hire her for “sex acts.”
Edwards had been with the police department for nine years at the time of his arrest. He was fired and later pleaded guilty, receiving a five-year deferred sentence. CLEET revoked Edwards’ “peace officer certification,” a permanent action that will make it impossible for him to return to law enforcement.
The same fate befell Gerald Nuckolls, a Tulsa County deputy who was convicted of sexual battery for inappropriately touching a woman whose house he had been dispatched to. Nuckolls spent eight months in prison and was released late last year. CLEET revoked his peace officer certification.
The studyIn 2014, researchers at Bowling Green University conducted a study on police sexual misconduct that looked at arrests of 398 officers between 2005 and 2007. It found that by affording “unique opportunities for rogue police officers” to engage “in acts of sexual deviance and crimes,” that “police work is conducive to sexual misconduct,” the researchers stated.
The study mentioned that “sex-related misconduct and crime” are often “hidden offenses” that go unreported, making it difficult to document and study them. Oklahoma faces some of these same issues — many of these cases were reported separately, yet outside of a manual search of somewhat obscure CLEET disciplinary records, there’s little way to tell which officers are committing what crimes.
A search of those CLEET records showed that more than a quarter of all officers who were cited or had their peace officer status revoked over the last five years came before CLEET’s disciplinary board because of a sex crime accusation.
The Bowling Green University study into police misconduct found that “victims of sex-related police crimes are typically younger than 18 years of age.”
Similarly, almost half of the Oklahoma officers who had their license revoked due to a sex crime involved crimes against juveniles. These crimes included molestation, rape, lewd acts with a minor and child pornography charges.
Robert Farrill, a former Okmulgee County deputy, pleaded guilty in May 2014 to multiple counts of possession and distribution of child pornography as well as to charges of lewd acts with a minor. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and his peace officer status was revoked the following October
Patrick Gandara, a detective for the Woodward Police Department, was arrested in 2017 and later pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual abuse of a child. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison in October 2018, and his peace officer certification was revoked last January.
Sometimes the revocation of an officer’s peace officer certification is the most serious punishment that person receives.
In 2016, Perry Police Department officer Matthew Vassar was arrested for allegedly molesting a 12-year-old girl after the girl told a friend Vassar had been touching her for “for several years.”
The girl told investigators that she was so young when Vassar began touching her — the alleged abuse began when she was in the fourth grade — that she didn’t realize it was wrong. It was only when she was old enough to receive sex education at school that she realized what “Vassar was doing to her was wrong.”
An arrest affidavit filed in 2016 offers graphic descriptions of the alleged abuse. The girl told investigators that she was scared to tell Vassar “no,” and that she had seen him be violent before. The alleged abuse only came to light because the girl told a friend, who told an adult who contacted police.
In August the following year, Vassar appeared in court for his preliminary hearing where a judge found probable cause to bind the now-former police officer over for trial on a lewd molestation charge.
But less than four months later, the charge against him was amended to aggravated assault and battery. Vassar pleaded no contest — a legal move that allowed him to avoid a guilty plea while admitting that there was enough evidence against him that a jury would likely find him guilty — and received no prison time.
Instead, he received a deferred sentence of three years. Court minutes show the judge informed Vassar that during that period of time he should “commit no further law violations.” Vassar’s probationary period is set to end in December of 2020, at which point he is supposed to have paid $960 in supervisory fees to the Kay County District Attorney’s office. His criminal case can be expunged at that point, and since the charge was amended to only aggravated assault and battery, he will not have to register as a sex offender.
His peace officer certification was revoked in the October 2018 CLEET disciplinary hearing.
However, Vassar currently advertises himself on LinkedIn as a “senior security consultant,” and says he supervises “a team of security officers who’s (sic) function is to protect property from theft or damage…”. His profile mentions his time as a police officer in Perry from June 2014 to October 2016.
It does not mention why he left the department or his criminal conviction, but does state that his role at the agency was to “ensure public safety.”
Attempts by The Frontier to reach Vassar for comment were unsuccessful.
How many are listed on DOC’s website
Information on former police officers who have been sentenced to prison can be scarce. Last year The Frontier reported on officers who had been sentenced to Oklahoma prisons, but whose information had been removed from the public eye and whose location is a closely held secret by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
Jayson Vest, a former Hollis police officer, pleaded guilty in 2013 to second-degree rape and forcible sodomy for the rape of a female Harmon County Jail inmate. Though sentenced to prison in Oklahoma, the state department of corrections does not list online any information showing that Vest is incarcerated, including his location or conviction, as it does for other inmates. Requests for information on Vest’s incarceration — or other former-officers-turned-inmates, such as former Oklahoma City Police Department Officer Daniel Holtzclaw — are not fulfilled by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
Matt Elliott, spokesman for DOC, told The Frontier last year that information for former officers is often removed in order to keep the inmate’s location a secret.
“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.
In Vest’s case, the secret got out. The former officer has an account on Conpals.com, a penpal-type website for prison inmates, in which he states he’s being held in a prison in Oregon on an interstate compact. Oklahoma at times “trades” sensitive inmates to other states in return for other inmates who need to be held in secret. Elliott said at the time that more than 80 Oklahoma inmates (such as Vest) were being held in other states on interstate compacts. The DOC would not identify which inmates were being held in other states.
The side effect of the secrecy surrounding Vest’s incarceration is that the former officer has attempted to woo female penpals while hiding the seriousness of the crime he was convicted of. Although Vest was convicted of second-degree rape, he lists his conviction on the Conpals site as being “aggravated assault.” Anyone who sought to verify his conviction by searching the DOC website would come up empty.
A review by The Frontier found at least 10 former officers convicted of sex crimes who do not appear on the DOC website.
Trever Blackwell, a Wewoka police officer, was accused of having sex with a 15-year-old member of the police explorer’s program. He pleaded guilty to second-degree rape in 2015 and was sentenced to five years in prison followed by 10 years of supervised probation. His information is not listed on DOC’s website.
Gerald Nuckolls, the former Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office deputy convicted in 2015 of sexual battery and indecent exposure, does not appear on DOC’s website even though he has been released from prison (the DOC website stores information for the majority of inmates who have served their prison sentence.) However Nuckolls’ information does appear on the state’s sexual offender registry.
Also absent from the Department’s online public records is former Custer County Sheriff Mike Burgess, who was convicted in 2009 of, among other crimes, multiple sex abuse charges for allegedly using numerous female Custer County jail inmates as “sex slaves.” Burgess was sentenced to 79 years in prison.
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