Out of control: Shuttered Oklahoma City halfway house had numerous problems before closure

Carlton Franklin. Illustration by DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

It was just past 4 a.m. on Nov. 11 when emergency workers were alerted to the burning vehicle sitting in front of a house in Ardmore.

Inside the car, investigators would discover the charred bodies of a man and woman: Justin Ray Sullivan, 28, of Midwest City and Karlie Clearman, 23, of Ardmore.

Both had been shot dead prior to the fire starting. Sullivan, an Oklahoma Department of Corrections inmate, was supposed to be in an Oklahoma City halfway house, though that facility wouldn’t notice he was missing until 16 hours later.

He had been shot in the head and neck.

Clearman had been shot multiple times in the back.

The double homicide was the beginning of what police believe may have been a nearly week-long crime spree across the state involving escape, armed robbery, rape and homicide by a man who was supposed to be in Oklahoma Department of Corrections custody at an Oklahoma City halfway house. The escapee, 31-year-old Carlton Franklin — has not been charged in connection with the double homicide, although investigators say he is a person of interest.

Operated mostly by private contractors, halfway houses are meant to help ease prison inmates back into society through work release and occupational training.

The double homicide played a role in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ decision to cancel its contract later that month with the Oklahoma City facility, operated by the nonprofit Catalyst Behavioral Services, and remove the more than 100 state prisoners held there.

But it was by no means the only reason for cancelling the contract, DOC officials said.

Records show a pattern of problems with the Catalyst facility, located at 415 NW 8th St., before it closed, including a number of escapes and an alleged sexual assault of a mentally disabled woman there just days before the facility was shut down.

Catalyst had been warned numerous times about its management of the Oklahoma City halfway house, said Joe Allbaugh, director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. The facility did not have enough night supervision staff, the staff was not properly trained and it had very little in the way of programs for inmates and did little to help inmates there find a job,

Management at the Oklahoma City facility also seemed to show little regard for those issues, he said.

“You’ll find that inmates have a proclivity of, they’ll push on a system and if they find the system management is weak, they’ll poke holes through it and take advantage of it,” Allbaugh said. “These guys became experts at that. No. Not when you’re paying taxpayer money for that. We were supposed to be getting X and we got Y.”

However, the Department of Corrections did not issue any formal warnings to Catalyst within the last year about any contract violations at the halfway house, records show.

The headquarters of Oklahoma City-based Catalyst Behavioral Services is shown. BRIANNA BAILEY/The Frontier

Catalyst Behavioral Services executives did not respond to requests for comment from The Frontier.

Problems at the halfway house

It was early morning on Monday, Dec. 4, when Oklahoma Department of Corrections vehicles pulled up to the Catalyst facility and began removing the inmates.

The double homicide that had occurred a few weeks prior was still fresh, but since that time another serious incident had occurred at the facility that turned out to be the final straw.

“I had one of those ‘enough is enough’ moments,” Allbaugh said. “That was the final straw for me. We did it in short order, we told them we were going to do it. We kind of gave them one last chance, though we knew they weren’t going to make it, given the parameters.”

What was the serious incident that finally spurred DOC to cancel the contract?

“I can’t talk about that particular straw,” Allbaugh said.

DOC records show only one other serious incident was documented at the facility following the Nov. 11 Ardmore double homicide and Franklin’s Nov. 12 walkaway.

On the morning of Nov. 22, days before DOC abruptly closed the halfway house, a mentally-disabled homeless woman was found by Catalyst employees in the facility.

The woman told Catalyst employees and police that three of the halfway house inmates raped her in the facility.

No women were allowed to be in the halfway house. However, the woman said inmates lured her into the the facility around 8 p.m., after the facility was supposed to conduct an inmate count, she told police.

The woman told police she danced and stripped for the inmates there and stayed the night in the facility, drinking and having sex with some of the men, investigators said.

The woman described herself to investigators as “mentally retarded” and a police officer reported it was difficult to interview her.

“[She] kept getting distracted or would have a meltdown,” the officer wrote in a report.

The woman allegedly told police she was “so drunk she may have been into it” and that she kept drinking throughout the night “because she just wanted to get through ‘it.’”

The Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office declined to file charges in the case. Although the woman requested a sexual assault exam, one was not completed “due to her diminished mental capacity,” according to a police report. Police could not reach a person with power of attorney over the woman to authorize the exam.

The alleged sexual assault has never been made public before now, but the Department of Corrections began posting its own security at Oklahoma City’s Catalyst halfway house the day after the incident.

The now-closed Catalyst halfway house in Oklahoma City is shown. The Department of Corrections moved all of its inmates out of the facility in December. BRIANNA BAILEY/The Frontier

Department of Corrections officials declined to comment on the alleged sexual assault.

In the months before it closed, Catalyst’s Oklahoma City halfway house also had problems with inmates going missing from the facility, DOC records show. While walkaways from halfway houses are considered escapees by DOC, they are generally not considered as serious as escapees from a prison facility.

Between April and November 2017, at least 13 inmates were reported missing from the Catalyst halfway house according to DOC reports.

Most men were only gone for a few hours or days before turning themselves back in — some confessing to using drugs or drinking while away.

At least one inmate, Colton Beisley, who ran away from the Oklahoma City Catalyst halfway house in August, is still a fugitive.

Inmate David McLean ran away from the halfway house in April, but came back the next day after he said he went to a local casino and did methamphetamine, according to corrections records.

Inmate Joel Timmons failed to return to the halfway house from work one afternoon in April.

Halfway house contractors are required by the Department of Corrections to verify inmates’  employment and work schedules, but when Catalyst staff contacted Timmons’ purported employer, the company said it had no recollection of Timmons and that he had never even filled out a job application there.

Though a major point of sending prisoners to halfway houses is to help them find a job to help them land on their feet after release, overall inmate employment at Catalyst was low.

During the month the facility closed, only 41 percent of the 107 prisoners in the facility were employed — the lowest employment percentage of any halfway house in the state, according to DOC records.

The halfway house also had major issues with its security, DOC officials said.

The Catalyst halfway house property consists of an old motel and apartment complex, as well as an adjacent old white two-story house in Oklahoma City’s rapidly gentrifying Midtown neighborhood.

There’s trendy coffee shops and several bars nearby, as well as residential neighborhoods.

A portion of Catalyst’s now-closed Oklahoma City halfway house is shown. BRIANNA BAILEY/The Frontier

The halfway house property is bisected by a busy street, making it hard to track who comes and goes. Only one small part of the property is fenced in.

The layout made providing adequate security at the facility a difficult prospect, Allbaugh said, but the security problems there were exacerbated by supervisors and employees providing sub-par oversight and management. Inmate possession of contraband at the facility was rampant, he said.

“These guys are walking around all over the neighborhood,” Allbaugh said. “Beyond the fact that the contractor was not paying attention to the staff, just think if you were living in this neighborhood with young children. That’s not what we’re about.”

On the morning the DOC cancelled the contract, Allbaugh said he discovered that employees at Catalyst did not even have master keys to more than a dozen rooms at the facility

“I didn’t find out about that until I showed up that morning,” Allbaugh said. “It was lazy. It didn’t have to be that way.”

He felt the situation at Catalyst had gotten out of hand.

Trying to turn things around

Carlton Franklin is seen in an undated photograph. Before coming to the Oklahoma City halfway house, he had spent the past 10 years in and out of prison. FACEBOOK

Before walking away from the Oklahoma City halfway house in November and allegedly embarking on a violent spree that spanned three counties, Franklin was making an effort to turn things around.

He came to the Catalyst halfway house after spending the last 10 years in and out of prison on multiple drug possession and distribution convictions.

A little more than a year after being sentenced to nine years in prison on a drug conviction from Carter County, Franklin, who did not have any misconducts during his latest sentence, was placed in the Catalyst halfway house in Oklahoma City, meaning he was nearing release.

Once at the halfway house, Franklin said he began to attend workshops and meetings at The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM), and that made him want to turn his life around.

Franklin, who spoke with The Frontier while being held at the Tulsa County Jail, said TEEM had given him hope for his future.

“From this last time I was incarcerated I had a change of heart,” Franklin said. “But, dealing with the circumstances, the environment you’re accustomed to, it’s hard.”

Franklin and his friend, 28-year old fellow halfway house inmate Justin Sullivan, were enrolled in the TEEM program together. The nonprofit program provides training and job placement services to people reentering the workforce after being incarcerated.

Both men entered TEEM at the same time—about three weeks before running away from the halfway house, said Kris Steele, executive director of the program.

In the limited time Steele knew both men, he said he believed both Franklin and Sullivan had the ability to turn their lives around.

Justin Sullivan is seen in an undated photograph. FACEBOOK

“Justin was very respectful and appeared to be full of potential,” Steele said. “He was really focused on his future.”

Franklin was following all the rules of the program and also seemed poised for success, Steele said.

“He exhibited the desire to take the necessary steps to put together the pieces of the puzzle and overcome a troubled past,” he said.

One day in November, Franklin and Sullivan didn’t show up for the TEEM program.

Later, Steele would attended Sullivan’s funeral.

Franklin’s account

Justin Ray Sullivan, a 28-year-old from Midwest City had his share of run-ins with the law. In 2008 Sullivan was charged with the murder of Larell Kemp, a 16-year-old boy, who was shot to death during a brawl involving more than 30 people at a Midwest City apartment complex. However, prosecutors later dropped the charges against Sullivan after witnesses changed their stories on what happened.

Sullivan later served time on convictions for leaving the scene of an accident and false declaration to a pawnbroker. At the time of his death, he was serving a five-year sentence given in 2016 out of Oklahoma County for drug possession.

Karlie Clearman is shown in an undated photograph. FACEBOOK

Likewise, Clearman had also been in trouble with the law for drugs prior to her death. Clearman was facing charges of drug possession filed in April 2014 in Murray County and drug trafficking charges in Carter County filed in October 2017, about a month before her death.

Ardmore Police, who are investigating the double homicide, have thus far released few details about Franklin’s possible involvement in the murders.

Ardmore Police Capt. Keith Ingle said Franklin is a person of interest in the case, and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections has publicly linked Franklin with the deaths, though no charges have yet been filed in the case.

During his interview with The Frontier Franklin denied any involvement in the double homicide and said the deaths may be linked to a drug distribution network that had recently been uncovered by authorities in Ardmore.

Ingle said police don’t believe that was the case, however.

Franklin said he and Sullivan were able to leave the halfway house without being stopped by security on the night of Nov. 10 and walked to a couple of nearby clubs, where they ordered drinks.

Franklin said Sullivan had asked him to hook him up with some females. Franklin said he called Clearman to set her up with Sullivan.

When the bars closed at 2 a.m., Franklin said he and Sullivan walked back to the halfway house to wait on Clearman. After she arrived, according to Franklin’s account, he and Sullivan again left the halfway house and the trio went riding around Oklahoma City for awhile.

Franklin said the two then dropped him off back at the halfway house and left. He said he called his girlfriend to pick him up after being dropped off.

“We get in the car, and I’m really a third wheel,” Franklin said. “We drive for a little bit, and I’m like ‘just drop me off, I’ll call my girl. Whatever yall are doing, go on and do that.’”

Franklin told The Frontier he could not recall how long after 2 a.m. Clearman arrived at Catalyst to pick him and Sullivan up, approximately how long the three spent driving around Oklahoma City, or at what time Clearman dropped him off again at the halfway house. He said only that it was still dark outside when he was dropped off.

“We were both a little bit tipsy, so I’m not sure,” Franklin said. “I can’t recall.”

At 4:35 a.m., authorities discovered Clearman’s car on fire in the yard of an Ardmore home located about 103 miles away from the Catalyst halfway house — a drive of about 1 hour and 34 minutes, according to Google Maps.

Karlie Clearman in an undated photo from her Facebook memorial page. FACEBOOK

The medical examiner found Clearman had meth in her system at the time she died and Sullivan had PCP in his system. However, investigators did not find evidence of alcohol present in either Sullivan’s or Clearman’s system, the reports state.

“That was my buddy. We were together every day. I have no reason to bring him any harm,” Franklin said.

“I loved Justin. He became a very close brother of mine,” he said. “I never wanted to do him any harm.”

However, others are not sure that was the case.

Allbaugh said it was his understanding that Franklin and Sullivan “turned on each other” and Franklin shot Sullivan and Clearman to death before returning to the halfway house to be present for bed-count that night.

Ardmore police said they are still waiting on evidence analysis from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation before sending the case to the district attorney. Investigators told KTEN that they had questioned halfway house staff who told them they had been checking beds throughout the night Sullivan and Franklin went missing, but that turned out to be false.

Whatever happened in the early morning hours of Nov. 11, Franklin would not stay much longer at the Catalyst halfway house. According to investigators, the following night he fled the fled the facility.

So why did Franklin run?

“Because my life was in danger,” Franklin said. “There were four guys up there, armed. I didn’t know until one of the guards locked me in central control. I asked ‘why am I in here?’ He said this is for your safety.”

Franklin said he was told by guards that armed men were looking for him, though he did not know how the guards knew that the men were looking for him. Franklin said the halfway house was locked down and two other armed men who were looking for him were discovered in an alleyway.

“Being at that facility, was endangering my life,” Franklin said. “I was a sitting duck.”

DOC officials said the halfway house was never put on lockdown during that time, and that it is impossible for such a facility to go through a lockdown procedure.

Franklin said his girlfriend picked him up and that he later fled to Tulsa, where he was arrested on an armed robbery complaint four days after fleeing the halfway house.

However, police suspect Franklin may have stayed in the Oklahoma City area for a few days after his escape prior to heading to Tulsa.

Franklin is also a suspect in an alleged rape committed in Del City four days after Sullivan and Clearman’s bodies were found in Ardmore.

Del City police investigating the rape case obtained a search warrant to obtain Franklin’s DNA after he was arrested for armed robbery in Tulsa.

According to the search warrant affidavit, a woman claims Franklin held her at gunpoint and raped her around 4 a.m. on Nov. 15.

The woman knew Franklin because they both previously lived in Ardmore, according to the affidavit. Franklin allegedly forced his way into the woman’s home, and said he had to to use the bathroom because was on his way out of town.

At one point during the alleged sexual assault, Franklin ordered the woman to pray aloud, according to the affidavit.

No criminal charges have been filed yet in the case.

Carlton Franklin in his November 2017 mugshot from the Tulsa County Jail. Franklin was facing robbery charges, but those charges were later dropped. TULSA COUNTY JAIL/Courtesy.

At 2 a.m. on the morning of Nov. 16, a man was walking in the 6100 block of West 11th Street in Tulsa when a masked man wearing a puffy tan camouflage jacket and driving a bluish-grey sports utility vehicle pulled up near him, according to a police report.

The man behind the wheel pointed a gun at the man who was walking and demanded his money. The victim then gave the man all of the money he had — $1. The suspect then demanded the man’s wallet, which the man gave him and the suspect drove off westbound toward Sand Springs, police said.

As a Tulsa police officer was completing a report from the victim, a Tulsa County Sheriff’s deputy alerted the officer that he had pulled over a vehicle and person that matched the robbery suspect and vehicle description in the 200 block of South Adams Road, police said.

The victim identified the vehicle and the camouflage jacket, which was found in the back seat, as belonging to the suspect. The suspect gave officers a fake name, though at booking it was discovered his real name was Carlton Franklin, police said. According to a search warrant filed in the rape case, Franklin told officers that he too was a victim of robbery when questioned by officers.

Officers also found a .45 caliber handgun, a mask, a ball cap, and some clothing in the trash can of a nearby gas station. After pulling surveillance video, it was discovered that Franklin had put the items in the trash can, according to a police report.

The following day, Sullivan was positively identified by the State Medical Examiner’s Office, DOC records show.

Franklin was charged on Nov. 22 in Tulsa County district court with robbery with a dangerous weapon, driving without a license and false impersonation. However, on Feb. 1, the Tulsa County charges against Franklin were dropped after the robbery victim failed to show up to court as a witness.

Franklin is now being held at the Tulsa County Jail for Oklahoma County, where he faces a charge of escape.

Meanwhile, the Catalyst halfway house in Oklahoma City sits empty.

While the prisoners who were at the facility were either moved to other halfway houses or to other facilities in the state, the organization still contracts with DOC to operate a halfway house for women in Enid. Allbaugh called the work done at the Enid halfway house “spectacular.”

“Same upper management, but it goes to facility management,” Allbaugh said. “That’s a perfect example of how the caretaker makes a difference.”

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Clifton Adcock

Senior Staff Writer

A veteran investigative reporter who has covered eastern Oklahoma for more than 15 years, Clifton joined The Frontier in April 2017. A native of southeastern Oklahoma, he has covered numerous issues from criminal justice to politics for publications including the Tulsa World, the Oklahoma Gazette, and Oklahoma Watch. Clifton holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. Clifton can be reached at clifton@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @cliftonhowze