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The Oklahoma Legal Group Blog

Despite Critical Audit, OK County Sheriff Re-Elected, Avoids Suspension

Adam Banner - Thursday, November 10, 2016

Last month, the results of an investigative audit into the financial dealings of Sheriff John Whetsel and the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office were released. The audit showed several instances of what appear to be financial mismanagement and wrongdoing by Whetsel. Yet despite the calls of Whetsel's critics asking the sheriff to suspend himself, and despite one Oklahoma County Commissioner's vote to request Whetsel's suspension, the incumbent Sheriff not only kept his job, but he was re-elected as Oklahoma County sheriff.

On November 8, Oklahoma County voters elected John Whetsel by a slim margin over his opponent, former state Representative Mike Christian. In a 51.8% to 48.2% vote, incumbent Whetsel defeated Christian, despite allegations of financial misconduct and an active investigation.

Following the election, the Oklahoma County Commissioners voted to allow Sheriff Whetsel to continue his duties as Oklahoma County Sheriff pending the outcome of the investigation. Commissioner Brian Maugham requested the suspension of Whetsel: "We have to consider what our duties are in this matter, regardless of what happened and how this came to pass. We've had a number of county officers in the past get elected, but that doesn't change what the law is." Maugham cited the audit's finding that the Sheriff's Office failed to pay a contracted medical provider despite having the funds to do so as the tipping point which prompted his call for the sheriff's suspension. 

However, the commissioners voted to allow Whetsel to keep his job, but asked the Oklahoma County District Attorney's Office to continue its investigation. District Attorney David Prater says the investigation could take another 2 to 6 months to complete.

When the Oklahoma County Jail did not pay a health care contract, the provider sued the jail. In June, a judge awarded the company $3.3 million, which will be paid by the taxpayers through a property tax increase.

Other concerns identified in the audit include the following:

  • The sheriff's office spent $900,000 on new vehicles, despite having $1.3 million in unmet obligations.
  • The sheriff's office collects incarceration fees, which is in violation of state statute requiring the collection of the fees by the County Clerk.
  • Donations, including $80,000 and two vehicles, were handled inappropriately by not being presented to the County Commissioners for acceptance.
  • The office allowed car clubs to use a training facility in violation of the lease agreement, which put the county in a position of liability.
  • The sheriff's office allowed a law enforcement support group to be run by county employees, on county property, on county time, in violation of constitutional prohibitions.

District Attorney David Prater says the investigation could take another 2 to 6 months to complete. Depending on the findings of the investigation, Whetsel could face criminal charges. The sheriff maintains that he has not intentionally broken any law, and that any concerns addressed in the audit were merely "errors" that his office is attempting to rectify.







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