Lawsuits looming after officers sentenced in Tulsa

AP News
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Posted: Dec 07, 2011 8:34 PM
Lawsuits looming after officers sentenced in Tulsa

The worst police scandal to roil this law-and-order town of 390,000 in more than a generation could continue to haunt the city even after four officers sentenced on corruption-related charges this week head to prison.

Tulsa still faces at least eight civil lawsuits filed by people who claim they were wrongfully locked up based on made-up informants, bogus search warrants and shoddy police work. Some of the lawsuits name officers who were indicted by federal prosecutors in the two-year probe as defendants. A spokeswoman for Mayor Dewey Bartlett said he could not comment because of the pending litigation.

The embattled police department is also under heavy scrutiny. While Police Chief Chuck Jordan has declined to comment because of the pending litigation, Capt. Jonathan Brooks said Wednesday the scandal is not completely behind the department, which has about 750 sworn officers on the force.

"We have an ongoing internal investigation and internal disciplinary matters we're dealing with as a result of what's transpired," Brooks said. "So the issue is not behind us."

A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced four officers to prison for their roles in corruption probe, bringing partial closure to a series of police trials that were strung out for months this year.

U.S. District Judge Bruce Black sentenced former Cpl. Harold R. Wells to 10 years in prison. Officer Jeff Henderson was sentenced to 42 months, minus time served, while officer John K. Gray received four months in prison. Brandon McFadden, a former Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent, was ordered to serve 21 months.

Gray and McFadden received lighter sentences after cooperating with prosecutors.

The four were among 11 officers to be charged or named as unindicted co-conspirators in the scandal since a federal investigation into corruption allegations began.

Since the probe began two years ago, more than 40 defendants have had their convictions overturned or won release from prison as a result. Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris has indicated more cases could be tossed as his office reviews evidence produced by the officers who were indicted.

On Wednesday, Harris' office was handling more than 40 post-conviction applications for relief because of the allegations uncovered in the federal probe involving the officers, said First Assistant District Attorney Doug Drummond.

"Public confidence in the integrity of the criminal justice process was damaged by the officers' actions," Drummond said. "You don't win that back overnight, and I think everyone recognizes that fact as we move forward."

Some attorneys representing clients in civil lawsuits said the conviction and sentencing of the officers accused of wrongdoing have bolstered their cases against the city and some of the officers.

"I think justice was served. It shows that in Tulsa County, no one is above the law," said attorney Erik Johnson, who is representing Bobby Wayne Haley Sr. in a civil lawsuit that alleges Haley was arrested on a bogus cocaine-dealing charge based on testimony from a confidential informant used by Henderson.

"We anticipate a just and satisfactory resolution to the case," Johnson said.

Attorney Randy Lynn said he is confident he and his client, DeMarco Williams, will eventually prevail in their lawsuit against the city and Henderson. Lynn accuses Henderson of obtaining a fake search warrant because the officer alleged Williams was selling cocaine from a house. The lawsuit says Henderson's claim was false.

Fraternal Order of Police President Phil Evans said he will wait for the appeals process to play out before passing judgment on the officers.

"If they did do what they're accused of doing, they should do the time," Evans said. "If they did not, I'm so embarrassed, but it's hard for me, not knowing all the facts, to believe that they did that."