A grand jury convened earlier this week in Okfuskee County returned no indictments following three days of interviewing witnesses about a fatal 2016 officer-involved shooting.
The grand jury was empaneled by a grassroots effort following the shooting of James Coale by Okfuskee County deputy Blake Frost. Coale’s girlfriend, Kelli Weimer, along with members of Coale’s family, collected 502 signatures — two more than the 500 signature minimum — in order to seat the grand jury.
Frost shot Coale last November during an investigation into a non-fatal stabbing that happened in Okemah. Coale, it turned out, was not involved in the stabbing (someone else was later arrested for the crime) but was driving a pickup that looked similar to the vehicle the actual suspect was reportedly driving.
After the shooting (Coale was shot in the arm and back of his head), Frost said the the shooting was in self defense and told investigators that Coale had tried to run him down in the street.
Coale, who an autopsy report showed had a small amount of methamphetamine in his system, died from the headshot.
Erik Grayless, a Tulsa County District Attorney who led the grand jury after Okfuskee County DA Max Cook recused himself, told The Frontier that although the jurors did not file an indictment against Frost, they did “request a legislative change.”
“One of the things grand juries can do is make a recommendation or recommendations for changes,” Grayless said. “In this case, they recommended that all officers who are involved in a shooting while on duty should have to go through a (urinary analysis.”)
State law in Oklahoma does not require officers undergo a drug or alcohol test following on-the-job shootings.
Grayless said the grand jury, which was seated on Tuesday, heard from six witnesses and looked at 63 (evidentiary) exhibits. They also toured the county jail (grand juries always tour the jail in the county where they are seated and can recommend changes).
“They found everything at the jail was normal,” Grayless said.
The grand jury was also asked to investigate the Okfuskee County Sheriff’s Office, but declined to do so, Grayless said.
“They referred that request to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation,” he said.
Weimer could not be reached for comment following the outcome of the grand jury. Her personal Facebook page, as well as a “Justice For James” page she set up and updated with facts about the case, had both been deleted as of Friday.
Though the autopsy showed Coale was shot from behind, Okfuskee County District Attorney Max Cook declined to file charges against the deputy, announcing about three months later that the shooting was “regretful,” but that Frost was not guilty of any “cognizable criminal action.”
Grayless was tabbed by Oklahoma’s Attorney General to lead the Okfuskee County grand jury following Cook’s recusal.
Frost resigned from the Okfuskee County Sheriff’s Office not long after the shooting. Prior to working there, Frost worked for the Henryetta Police Department, the Okmulgee County Sheriff’s Office, and served as the Dewar police chief.
Records requests sent by The Frontier to all three agencies have yet to be fulfilled.
Grand juries are rare occurrences (records show only two in Oklahoma in 2017), and convictions against police officers involved in shootings are even rarer. Only one Oklahoma officer has been convicted recently in connection to an on-duty fatal shooting — Reserve Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Robert Bates was convicted of second-degree manslaughter in 2016 after killing Eric Harris during a botched sting operation the year prior.
Following Bates’ arrest for the Harris killing, former Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz was indicted by a grand jury here for two misdemeanors. He resigned immediately following the unsealing of the misdemeanor accusations and later was found guilty of misuing a county vehicle and of withholding public records.
Your financial support for our investigative journalism is now tax deductible. To become a Friend of The Frontier, click here.