Cue the famous clang – “cha Chung!” – from the ever-popular TV series Law & Order. During the program’s 20-year run, police and prosecutors frequently clashed over competing interests. Cops sometimes wanted to make cases at any cost. Prosecutors wanted cases that withstood legal review.
The ongoing clash in Rogers County, Oklahoma between police and District Attorney Janice Steidley epitomizes that perennial conflict. Steidley says she established professional standards in the DA’s office and some police officials she works with don’t like it.
Some police officers in her jurisdiction, including the county sheriff, are petitioning for a grand jury investigation that could have her removed from office – even prosecuted on criminal charges. And officers from several agencies held a press conference in which they called for an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations inquiry into her actions.
In an interview with Tulsa’s KRMG radio reporter Russel Mills, Steidley pushed back at her law enforcement opponents.
“To have all these men, with their arms crossed, and to have the (Claremore Police) Chief and the (Rogers County) Sheriff calling all these other entities within the district, (and say) ‘come down… we’re doing a press conference.’ I think that speaks volumes,” Steidley told KRMG. “You have all these men, and then you have me.”
Perjury Allegations Against Claremore Police Investigator
Steidley’s interview with KRMG followed her own press conference in which she released a letter from District 10 DA Rex Duncan. The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office at one point had assigned Duncan to investigate perjury allegations against Claremore police investigator John Singer.
Duncan’s letter reveals the original allegations for which Steidley questioned Singer’s credibility as an investigator. The allegations involve a video interview Singer conducted with a suspect. Duncan says the video did not support Singer’s claims that the suspect confessed to acting against the will of a victim.
“In fact, the video shows the defendant on multiple occasions denied acting against the will of the victim.” Duncan wrote.
Duncan’s letter states that his office was prepared to file felony perjury allegations against Singer, “pending completion of the OSBI investigation I requested.”
Duncan’s Sept. 4, 2013 letter goes on to address how he was eventually removed from the investigation of perjury allegations against the Claremore police investigator. Singer is among those who launched the petition seeking a grand jury investigation of the Steidley.
DA Cites Ethical Obligations to Disclose
In the KRMG interview, Steidley refuted claims that the Attorney General, OSBI and FBI had all cleared Singer on the perjury allegations. She has never received a report from any law enforcement agency saying any person is cleared of a crime, Steidley said, because that’s not how law enforcement works. They don’t write letters that clear people of allegations.
Whether or not Singer’s sworn affidavits about the suspect interview amounted to perjury may or may not be an open question. But Steidley told KRMG she has an ethical obligation to disclose her doubts about Singer’s credibility.
“If we have issues of credibility, we must disclose that to the other side. If we do not, we are risking our Bar license; we are risking the case. It could be overturned on appeal,” Steidley said in the KRMG interview.
Singer has alleged that Steidley only disclosed her doubts long after the case in question was closed, and then only after learning Singer’s wife might be interested in campaigning for the DA’s job. He’s filed a federal lawsuit seeking damages for harm to his reputation.
Who’s Next – the CIA?
Steidely said the conflict has grown into “an absolute media circus.”
“I’m waiting for the next press conference. Maybe the CIA is getting involved,” Steidley told KRMG.
Her “CIA” remark to KRMG sounded sardonic, but wait. There may be a tenuous thread that leads to matters of national security, at least as far as doctrines governing rule of law are concerned.
The Pawhuska, Oklahoma District Attorney who disclosed the nature of Steidley’s doubts about Singer’s credibility, Rex Duncan, is a former Oklahoma state senator – and a National Guard Lieutenant Colonel who deployed to Afghanistan.
As a senator, Duncan championed a state constitutional amendment that would ban the use of Sharia law in state courts. Voters overwhelmingly approved the state constitutional amendment, only to see it reversed by a federal judge as an unconstitutional violation of protections for religious freedom.
The Tulsa World at the time said Duncan’s proposal is “either a pre-emptive strike against encroaching Islamic law in the U.S. or an expression of Islamophobia, depending on who you ask.”
Sharia law – depending on who you ask and where it is applied – is either an Islamic moral code or a legal principle that disregards separation between church and state. If you’ve kept up on world events for the past decade, Sharia law is represented in some places as giving some good-ole-boy networks, including, well, the Taliban, arbitrary power to dictate law.
Steidley Alleges ‘Good Ole Boy’ Network
Meanwhile, back in Rogers County, Steidley said the running controversy between her office and some local police stems from her efforts to apply proper standards to what had become good-ole-boy law enforcement practices.
Her office is a check and balance to law enforcement, Steidley told KRMG. “Law enforcement wants me to do what they want me to do. I can’t do that. I have to go by what the law states.”
She cited particulars. At their Sept. 6, 2013 press conference, Steidley’s police foes cited a case in which they said she’d stalled prosecutions. She told KRMG she took enough time to build a strong case, then filed the case as soon as she had the information she needed.
By Steidley’s account, investigators in that case had allowed a suspect’s girlfriend to act as a translator when they interrogated the suspect. Steidley said her office told investigators to provide a professional translation. When that was provided, it revealed the girlfriend had not correctly translated questions and answers, which Steidley says could have jeopardized the case she eventually filed.
She is at odds with local police over basic principals of law, Steidley said. By her account, one police chief told her it’s okay to file cases on thin evidence and let the court sort it out at preliminary hearing.
That’s not the way courts work. She says prosecutors should only move cases to preliminary hearings when they’re confident they have a strong case.
Intimidation Clouds Police, DA, Media Decisions
As for members of nine police agencies who attended the Sept. 6 press conference, Steidley implied they might have accepted the sheriff’s invitation for other reasons. Several represented smaller agencies that depend on the Rogers County Sheriff’s office for backup in emergency situations, she said.
Law enforcement intimidation won’t stop her from doing her job, Steidley said, though she is “a little ashamed of some law enforcement.”
Mills – the KRMG reporter – admitted being a bit intimidated by his role interviewing a prosecutor. He said it’s “scary for me” to see a prosecutor reviewing his prior story during his interview. “Hopefully I didn’t write anything that is libelous or slanderous,” Mills told her.
Mills did not ask the prosecutor about her lawsuit against the local newspaper Claremore Daily Progress. Steidley in March, 2013 filed a lawsuit against the newspaper’s parent company, the publisher, an editor and a reporter for alleged libel against her and assistant district attorneys.
Steidley and her co-plaintiffs allege the newspaper “repeatedly published articles containing misleading and false information” and accused her and her staff of criminal conduct, then refused to print a retraction.
Libel lawsuits by public officials against news outlets are both unusual and difficult to win because a high standard of proof requires actual malice on the part of a news outlet accused of libel. It will be interesting to see who foots the bill for the DA’s libel lawsuit against a local media outlet.
Free Consultation: Rogers County Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with a crime in Rogers County, you may be caught in the midst of troubling allegations and counter-allegations by those who investigate and prosecute criminal charges. Doubts about credibility of an investigator along with a prosecutor who says she is determined to do her job by the book could make your case far more complex than you might imagine.
A qualified Rogers County defense attorney might have a unique view on how this context could affect your case. For a free consultation with a Rogers County defense attorney, call Wirth Law Office today at (918) 879-1681 or toll free at (888) Wirth-Law. If you prefer written correspondence, you may submit a question using the form at the top right of this page.