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Monday, December 27, 2010

Oklahoma - Police corruption probe to deepen in 2011

World Staff Writer
More than one year after a police corruption probe became public, eight police officers and a federal agent have been implicated in a grand jury probe, while numerous people have been freed from prison and some have filed lawsuits against the city of Tulsa, a Tulsa World investigation shows.
Two police officers remain jailed while they await a criminal trial that could be rescheduled for June, U.S. District Court in Tulsa records show. The officers, Jeff Henderson and Bill Yelton, were jailed July 20 on a federal indictment.
While Henderson, 37, and Yelton, 49, were indicted together, the officers filed motions Wednesday to separate their case and to seek separate trials, court records show.
Two additional defendants, retired Officer Harold R. Wells, 59, and Officer Bruce Bonham, 53, indicted July 20 in a separate case, have asked the court to delay their trial until March, records show.
Nick DeBruin, 38, a third officer indicted with Bonham and Wells, does not oppose the motion, records show. These officers remain free on bond.
The trial date for all the officers is Jan. 31 unless it is moved by U.S. District Judge Bruce Black of New Mexico.
On Nov. 1, 2009, the World first reported on a grand jury meeting in a secret location, taking testimony from inmates being brought in from various federal prisons.
Since the investigation began, police officials have established a no-tolerance policy on police dishonesty and revamped guidelines for officers who handle drug money and manage informants.
Guideline changes are still pending, but progress has been made, Police Chief Chuck Jordan said.
"This is obviously a lengthy process and we want to be thorough and establish a fix that will last," he said. "We have sent the policies for review by the district attorney and the city auditor and we hope to have something to release soon."
Jordan said the outcome of the criminal trial against five current and former police officers also must be considered for possible corrective measures by the Tulsa Police Department.
"We still have a trial and adjudication to wait on, so some things could be addressed by the trial and its outcomes," he said. "That could take months."
U.S. Attorney Jane W. Duke of the Eastern District of Arkansas is leading a federal investigation of police misconduct that involves allegations of stolen drugs and money, falsified search warrants, nonexistent informants and witness intimidation. The federal investigation covers a time period between 2004 and 2009.
In 2004, Tulsa police officers recorded a spike in the number of "John Doe" search warrants, apparently in response to gang violence and a record number of killings in 2003, the World investigation shows. In that year, 69 homicides took place, records show.
Although 25 people have been freed from prison, had cases dismissed or sentences reduced, the number of cases involving alleged police corruption continues to mount.
District Attorney Tim Harris' office is reviewing cases involving eight officers whose names have surfaced in the investigation.
City plans for lawsuits
City officials are bracing for lawsuits by individuals whose civil rights allegedly have been violated through police misconduct, records show. Three lawsuits have been filed with two more expected, records show.
The federal indictments name 34 people whose civil rights were allegedly violated by law enforcement officials, records show.
Many of the named individuals have former arrests or convictions on drug or drug-related crimes.
The City Council recently accepted a donation of $1.2 million in legal services from the law firm headed by Clark Brewster to defend the city in police corruption-related lawsuits. The donation figure will likely change as more lawsuits surface.
In response to the city's strategies to fight potential lawsuits, Angie Pitts of Tulsa spoke out.
"You hear all this talk about the money to fight these cases, but someone needs to speak for the victims," Pitts said. "My son and these other people have been harassed, arrested or sent to prison falsely.
"Don't make it sound like these people asked for this. They have been humiliated. What about the victims and their time away from family? What about all they have been through?"
Pitts' son, Kewon Newton, is one of the people who had a felony case dismissed because of Henderson's involvement, records show.
The state requested the dismissal of Newton's drug-trafficking charge Sept. 1, Tulsa County District Court records show.
Pitts said she was not criticizing the council and its decision to enlist Brewster's legal talents.
"Don't get me wrong. I am not speaking against the city, but we all need to work together to talk about the issues of these victims," she said.
The first lawsuit against the city was by Larry Wayne Barnes Sr., who was freed from federal prison July 2, 2009, after an informant in his case said that he lied about a drug buy involving Barnes and his daughter, Larita Annette Barnes. Barnes filed his lawsuit April 19 in state court.
The informant, Ryan Logsdon, said the alleged fake drug buy was orchestrated by Henderson and Brandon McFadden, 34, a former federal agent who has pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy. McFadden is cooperating with Duke's office while he awaits sentencing.
Larry Barnes filed an additional tort complaint against the city Nov. 11, claiming that Tulsa police officers have aided Henderson in his defense by allegedly orchestrating drug buys and trying to link them to Barnes.
Larita Barnes filed suit Aug. 6 in U.S. District Court against the city of Tulsa, McFadden and Henderson, records show.
Patrick Neil London and DeMarco Deon Williams recently filed tort-claim notices, which means they are expected to file lawsuits against the city.
London's claim letter says he is seeking $13 million. He spent 435 days in jail before his drug trafficking case was dismissed in April by Judge Carlos Chappelle, who stated that police officers lied about the facts of his arrest, court records show.
Federal officials threw out two life sentences against Williams on April 30, court records show. Williams had served about six years in jail and prison as part of his convictions.
Release on bond asked
Henderson's defense attorney, Stephen Jones of Enid, has asked Black to reconsider his decision to keep Henderson and Yelton incarcerated while they await trial.
Jones filed a motion Dec. 16 asking the court to reconsider the officers' detention because of possible new evidence.
In a previous ruling, Black left open the door to reconsider the detention if there could be testimony by key government witnesses known as Rochelle Martin and McFadden, records show. Martin is a former informant who said she lied for Henderson and Yelton in the conviction of Bobby Wayne Haley Sr., who was convicted of drug charges Sept. 30, 2005, and released from federal prison in May, records show.
Jones' motion suggests that Martin is dodging the person trying to serve her a subpoena for the requested hearing to free Henderson and Yelton, records show.
Guilty pleas, cooperation
In addition to McFadden, others involved in the case include John K. Gray, 44, Eric J. Hill, 32, and Callison Kaiser, 29, all former Tulsa police officers. Gray pleaded guilty June 14 to stealing U.S. funds during an FBI sting. McFadden pleaded guilty May 6 to drug conspiracy, implicating himself and Henderson in the alleged fabricated drug buy involving the Barneses.
Hill was fired Aug. 18 after he admitted that he planted drugs on individuals and stole drug money during arrests, records show. Kaiser has admitted stealing money during a drug bust, records show.
Hill and Kaiser have prosecutorial immunity and are cooperating with federal prosecutors in the investigations.
Original Print Headline: Progress noted in probe of officers

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