CLAREMORE — A battle between District Attorney Janice Steidley and a Claremore Police Officer has spilled into Mayes County.
Political statements made on Facebook by an off-duty Pryor Police Officer have sparked controversy, prompting Steidley to take the issue to the officer’s supervisor.
Detective James Willyard made the post stating his personal opinion about the upcoming 2014 district attorney election. The district attorney serves Rogers, Mayes and Craig Counties.
“Does anyone have a suggestion for a new district attorney for Mayes, Rogers and Craig in 2014,” Willyard wrote.
The comment was posted to the popular social networking site on Jan. 9.
The post was made during Willyard’s personal time off duty and did not violate any policy of the Pryor Police Department.
Within hours of the Facebook post, Steidley and First Assistant District Attorney Bryce Lair contacted Pryor Police Chief Dennis Nichols, requesting a meeting.
Steidley told Nichols the issue should be brought to the attention of this officer and his superior.
The meeting quickly became confrontational, according to Willyard.
According the Willyard, Steidley said she was “tired of this disrespect and it’s stopping today.”
“I asked her if I had done anything that is illegal or wrong,” Willyard said.
Steidley responded by calling the issue “a slap in the face,” he said.
According to Willyard Steidley said, “I’m not going to have it.”
Willyard said Lair asked Nichols if he wanted to have a “good working relationship with this office.”
In a statement released to the Claremore Progress Steidley said, “We strive to have a good working relationship with law enforcement. We work closely with law enforcement on cases. If there is not a good working environment, it is not good for anyone including the case, the victim and the public at large.”
“I was shocked that an elected official would abuse her power as the district attorney for such an obviously political purpose,” Willyard said. “I believe it is important to have a good working relationship with all parties involved in the legal system. When an elected official uses their position to attempt to intimidate officers, then it creates a climate of uneasiness. Officers feel they cannot properly perform their duties for fear of retaliation.”
Willyard said Steidley had objections to his political comments now, but not two years ago when she benefited from his support.
“She was angry, even using profanity,” Willyard said.
Willyard previously had a good relationship with Steidley and supported her campaign, but after Jan. 8, he said he could no longer support her politically when the office attacked Claremore Police Investigator John Singer.
Willyard said he was exercising his Constitutional right to free speech and did not violate any policy.
“I expect professionals in the law enforcement community to refrain from social media rants which could jeopardize a criminal prosecution and the victims of the crimes,” Steidley said.
“This officer posted a comment on a public website where members and potential jurors, of that community, could see and/or hear about the post” she said.
“We had jury trials beginning in 20 days of that post involving several serious victim cases where this officer was a witness,” Steidley said.
“In response to Stiedley’s concerns about the jury, this is the first time the issue has been presented to me,” Willyard said.
Willyard said during the meeting, Steidley did not mention anything about the jury or the impact the Facebook post could have on the legal process.
“My Facebook page is private and posts are only visible to friends. Part of the court process requires that potential jurors disclose any relationship with anyone involved in the case,” Willyard said.
Willyard said his post in no way disclosed any information regarding any pending case.
“This is the only post that I made about the office of the district attorney,” Willyard said.