Pryor woman hopes for return of vehicles seized in former deputy’s drug investigation

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The 2013 Jaguar and yellow 2006 Ford F-250 once owned by Pryor resident Shelley Dodson sit behind a fence near the Mayes County Fairgrounds, after being forfeited to the Mayes County Sheriff’s Office. CLIFTON ADCOCK/The Frontier

Shelley Dodson was waiting at a stoplight in Pryor one day when she saw her former car stopped on the other side of the intersection, driven by a woman she didn’t recognize.

It had been months since she had seen the 2013 Jaguar now sitting across the intersection from her, as well as the bright yellow Amarillo Edition 2006 Ford F-250 her father had left to her after he died a couple of years prior.

The Mayes County Sheriff’s Office had seized both vehicles, claiming Dodson’s ex-boyfriend had used them to sell drugs. In the six months since a judge awarded the vehicles to the sheriff’s office, neither one of the vehicles have been auctioned or sold, but had been used for undercover drug operations, Mayes County Sheriff Mike Reed said.

Dodson lost the vehicles after sheriff’s deputies searched her home and her ex- boyfriend Aaron Dale Conway was arrested on drug and firearms charges for allegedly selling meth.

Dodson was never charged with a crime in connection with the investigation into her ex-boyfriend and said she does not use meth, but law enforcement still had the power to legally seize her property. Dodson’s main source of income is a trust fund established for her by her late father, a former executive at an Oklahoma oil company.

Dodson and her attorney believe her vehicles were improperly seized at the behest of a sheriff’s deputy who was later fired for allegedly stealing meth from the county’s evidence locker for his own use. When she tried to get the vehicles back, the deputy wrote a report focusing on her that both she and her attorney took as a warning that she might be prosecuted in connection with her ex’s case unless she let the vehicles go.

After seeing the report, Dodson dropped her attempt to get the vehicles back in January, and a judge awarded them sheriff’s office in April.

However, after the Mayes County deputy who headed the sheriff’s office’s drug interdiction program, Lt. Brett Mull, was fired in July, the charges against Conway were dropped. He later received all of his vehicles and seized property back.

Dodson was not so fortunate.

“It was excruciating for me,” Dodson said of seeing the Jaguar at the intersection that day. “They were trying to say I had got them through drug activity, which is why they were going to keep them, which is stupid.”

Mayes County Sheriff Mike Reed said both of Dodson’s cars had been used by Conway to sell meth, and that Dodson was complicit in the alleged drug trafficking scheme. Dodson said Conway would sometimes use her vehicles without her permission, that she had been trying to make him leave her house for some time prior to his arrest. Dodson’s only crime, she said, was “bad taste in men.”

Mayes County resident Shelley Dodson, who had two vehicles taken by former Mayes County Sheriff’s Deputy Brett Mull. CLIFTON ADCOCK/The Frontier

On Feb. 28, 2017, Dodson’s home in Pryor was the subject of a search warrant requested by Mull after investigators received information that Dodson’s now former live-in boyfriend Conway had been selling meth.

Conway, who had a previous felony conviction for drug possession and possession of materials used to make meth, and another man who was later charged separately with possession of meth, were the main targets of Mull’s drug trafficking investigation, according to one of Mull’s reports. Investigators had gone through the trash outside of Dodson’s house, where they said they found a straw with meth residue on it.

During the search of the residence and a search of a nearby storage unit used by Conway, who has a previous felony conviction for drug possession and possession of materials used to make meth, Mull states in an affidavit that investigators found baggies containing 6.4 grams of meth, glass pipes and other paraphernalia in center console of one of Conway’s pickup trucks. They also state they found a Mossberg “.22 caliber assault rifle” in Conway’s other pickup truck, an aluminum can with a white powdery residue on it in a drawer in the garage, as well as paper listing ammo prices and digital scales.

In the probable cause affidavit, Mull wrote that Conway and others were responsible for dealing and moving more than 200 grams of meth in the county, or a little less than half a pound.

Dodson said she and Conway’s relationship was already falling apart by the time officers showed up at her house. She had asked him to leave and said she had photographed drugs of his she had found and planned to send the photos to his mother. She had also made audio recordings of some of her and Conway’s fights that included accusations of Conway using and being involved in the drug trade and using her vehicles.  While being questioned, she shared those photos and some text messages she had discovered with investigators.

“They could tell from my phone I was trying to get rid of him, it was obvious. There’s no conspiracy here with me,” Dodson said. “At the time this is going down, I was thinking everything was going to be OK for me. I had nothing in the house.”

Conway was arrested and taken to jail shortly after the search began, and investigators searched the house for most of the day, Dodson said. By that evening, most of the officers left the house except for Mull and another Criminal Interdiction Unit investigator, who stayed for hours afterward, she said.

Dodson says she was never given an inventory showing what items were taken from her house.

“When I asked for one, and I had talked to him (Mull) because he repeatedly came to my house every day afterwards, he told me I didn’t get one because I wasn’t charged,” Dodson said.

As the night wore on, Mull continued to question her, Dodson said, and she tried to give as much information as she could. Sometimes, she said, that was not enough.

“He would start screaming at me ‘I know you know something!’” Dodson said. “He was so crazy that day. He would get bright red in the face, start shaking and stuff while he’s talking. I’m thinking ‘I think you might be on something, because you act just like my boyfriend.’”

The search warrant return shows that investigators seized rifle scopes, a scanner, GPS devices, cellular phones, mail and as well as both of Conway’s trucks. However, the return also shows that both of Dodson’s vehicles — the 2013 Jaguar and 2006 Ford F-250 were also “seized for forfeiture” from the residence.

Dodson, Conway’s mother Jean Conway and Sheriff Reed all agreed that Dodson’s 2006 Ford F-250 was not at the residence when the search warrant was executed.

Dodson had loaned her truck to Conway’s mother and father after theirs had broken down, so on the day of the search, it was at the Conways’ rural residence near the town of Rose in Delaware County.

Dodson said Mull asked her numerous times where the truck was, and each time she told him it was at Conway’s parents’ house.

Around 11 p.m., Dodson said, Mull got up, and without telling her what he was doing, took the keys to her Jaguar and drove off in it. He returned about five minutes later, told her the vehicle was impounded as part of the investigation and began asking what Conway’s parents’ address was, she said.

She could not recall the address, Dodson said. But shortly after 11 p.m., two Mayes County deputies showed up at the Conway residence in Rose and said they were taking the truck, Dodson and Jean Conway said.

Neither the search warrant return filed in the case nor a later report by Mull mentions deputies’ making a trip to a different county to seize the vehicle, but instead both documents state that the vehicle had been seized from Dodson’s residence.

The next day, Mull showed up at her house again, Dodson said. She said she consented to take a drug test for him and passed. For days after the initial search, he and other deputies continued to show up at the house, Dodson said. She voluntarily let them take her cell phone and some laptop computers, look around her garage, and tried to answer their questions, she said.

“If you have anything to hide, you don’t really care,” Dodson said. “It was really stupid of me, but I was trying to prove my point that nothing was there.”

About four days after the initial search, Mull told her drugs had been found in both of her vehicles, she said. Dodson insists that there were no drugs in her Jaguar, which she said Conway rarely drove, or in her truck, which his parents had been using.

Sheriff Reed said officers told him the Jaguar and the truck had been used by Conway to sell drugs, though, he said, none of that information was in a probable cause or search warrant affidavit. Reed also said he personally saw drugs in the floorboard of the Jaguar shortly after it had been seized.

“That was enough to seize it, when push comes to shove,” Reed said.

The search warrant return does not mention any drugs being found in Dodson’s Jaguar or truck, only in one of Conway’s own vehicles. However, a supplemental report by Mull written several months after the vehicles were seized states that the passenger side floorboards in both Dodson’s Jaguar and her truck had tested positive for meth residue.

After months with no word about whether she would get her vehicles back, Dodson hired Pryor attorney Mark Antinoro.

Antinoro said he made repeated attempts to contact the district attorney’s office to check on the status of the vehicles, but never heard back. So on July 10, 2017, about four months after the vehicles were seized, Antinoro filed a civil suit to have the property returned. About a week later, the district attorney’s office filed a civil forfeiture action against the vehicles.

Two days after the forfeiture case was filed, Mull filed a “supplemental report” in connection with Conway’s case, though the report was focused on Dodson, a move Antinoro called “highly unusual.”

Unlike previous reports, the new report had Dodson’s name listed throughout it, Antinoro said.

Though nothing was explicitly said by the district attorney’s office about charging Dodson with a crime, Antinoro said he thought that was implied.

“When I read this, as her lawyer, I thought ‘this feels like someone is trying to send me a message,’” Antinoro said. “None of these 17 pages existed prior to our filing the (civil suit). In other words, this document was put together and created for one purpose and one purpose only — and that is to deter us from trying to get the vehicles back. That’s my opinion, but that’s what I’m telling my client.”

The supplemental report by Mull, titled “Shelley Dodson Case Report” and dated July 20, 2017, details the lead-up to the search of Conway and Dodson’s residence, Dodson’s willingness and efforts to cooperate with investigators, and evidence from the phone Dodson gave to investigators, including texts, photos and audio recordings.

But the report also goes into detail about Dodson and Conway being arrested in 2005 for possession of meth and a subsequent Department of Human Services investigation that resulted in Dodson temporarily losing custody of her children.

The report also states that Dodson had admitted to doing meth in an interview with a DHS worker. However, Dodson said the drugs were Conway’s, and she had lied to the DHS worker about using drugs after denying to her numerous times that she used meth.

“She told me I could get my kids back when I’m out of denial. I didn’t think anyone would see it (the DHS report),” Dodson said, adding that a subsequent drug assessment showed no indication of drug dependency. “I would have done it again just to get my kids back.”

She did eventually get her children back and charges against her were later dropped, Mull’s report states.

The supplemental report concludes by stating Dodson was a drug user whose money and resources were used to help Conway’s alleged drug trafficking operation.

“This is a scenario where they intimidate people, get them to cooperate, and then she cooperates, and they say ‘by the way, we’re going to take those cars too,'” Antinoro said.

After telling Dodson about the supplemental report, Antinoro said, she decided to drop her attempt to get the cars back.

“Ultimately, my client was very afraid of being charged with a crime,” Antinoro said. “I want to be clear — they never said ‘we’re going to charge your client with a crime if you do this,’ that was never said, I think it was a subtle signal that if you’re going to proceed with this, you need to be aware.”

Dodson said the supplemental report made her think she was about being charged with conspiracy in connection with Conway’s arrest even though she had cooperated with investigators, a charge she said would have been untrue.

“At that point, I thought ‘walk away. Lesson learned, walk away.’ I felt like I was going to be scrutinized, that I was going to be in the paper,” Dodson said. “I signed them over thinking I just needed peace of mind. I couldn’t take it anymore. My nerves were shot. I needed closure and needed to move on.”

The cost of trying to get her vehicles back was also becoming an issue, Dodson said.

In January, she withdrew her challenge to the forfeiture action and dropped the civil suit. In April the vehicles were signed over to the Mayes County Sheriff’s Department.

And that may have been the end of it, until Mull was fired for drug use a few months later.

About a month after Mull’s firing in July, the district attorney’s office dropped all charges against Conway, as well as the charges against the other man who was the target of Mull’s drug trafficking investigation. About two weeks before Mull was fired, a judge had found that there was no lab report in that other man’s drug possession case, court records show. The charge against him was dropped by the district attorney’s office after Mull’s departure.

After Conway’s case was dropped, both of the seized trucks belonging to him were returned, as was his other property taken by investigators.

“As far as I’m seeing it, I’m the only one paying any consequences,” Dodson said.

Antinoro said he too was frustrated by what happened.

“If you go back to 2017 when they’re filing this, at what point did they become aware that Brett Mull was dirty? He’s obviously discredited now, but I’ve got to believe they would have some hints about that,” Antinoro said. “If they were pursuing this forfeiture with some degree of knowledge that he was a crooked or dirty cop, that is highly illegal.”

“The obvious point is – what did they know and when did they know it?”

Reed said neither of Dodson’s vehicles were used until they had been signed over to the sheriff’s office, and though he knew both had been used for undercover operations afterwards, he said he could not definitively say whether use of the vehicles had been limited strictly to undercover law enforcement operations — the sheriff’s office does not keep logs for who accesses or uses its vehicles.

“Could somebody have done something I’m not aware of?” Reed said. “Evidently. He’s done some meth. But not by … my knowledge or any of my supervisors’ knowledge, because it won’t be tolerated.”

For Reed, the idea of Conway walking free was infuriating. He said he saw the evidence against Conway, and there was a lot of it.

“I seen the meth in there,” Reed said. “Don’t give me that crap that you’re innocent and you want your stuff back. You were a friggin’ drug dealer and that’s all you are. You just got out on a technicality because a deputy had his head up his butt. Because if that deputy wouldn’t have been there, Conway would have been in the pen.”

He also accused Conway of tipping off The Frontier about the case, and openly worried that a subsequent story would cast Conway as an innocent victim of corrupt law enforcement.

“This whole thing got started because of him (Conway), you getting involved and coming down here and asking ‘what’s going on?’ I know how this game is played,” Reed said. “You’ve got a maggot manipulating you to try to get what he wants.”

Later, Reed offered to help The Frontier on subsequent stories involving Mayes County, if the story was truthful. However, “you throw me under the bus and spin it to where I look like a piece of crap, we’re done,” Reed said.

Reed said mistakes by Mull does not abdicate the responsibility of those who might walk free as a result.

“This guy made bad decisions that is letting people go and walk,” Reed said. “You can’t put their actions of being dopers and shooting at people and dealing dope on Brett Mull. Brett Mull did wrong too. He’ll be held accountable. But that don’t clear them.”

For her part, Dodson said she hopes to one day get her vehicles back and to move on.

“I would like to see my vehicles returned of course. I wasn’t charged with anything and it’s not fair that on a technicality, the rest of them, who are guilty, didn’t lose their stuff. They get their stuff back,” Dodson said. “As far as I’m seeing it, I’m the only one paying any consequences.”

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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
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