PRYOR, OK —
Pryor's Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Republican Matt Ballard for District 12 district attorney Tuesday night following a lively forum that featured all four candidates for the office.
Ballard, a former Claremore city attorney, is challenging incumbent Janice Steidley in the June 24 Republican primary election. Former Special District Judge Erin Oquin is also on the GOP ballot.
Robert Post, husband of District Judge Dynda Post, also appeared at the forum. He is the only candidate seeking the Democratic nomination.
The candidates each gave a short speech, then fielded questions drawn from a hat.
After hearing from all three, Matt Ballard received the FOP's endorsement for district attorney.
“I'm optimistic, I think we have great opportunity here in District 12 to take the DA’s office in a very positive direction, in a good direction, it's something I'm excited about.
“I grew up in Oologah. I lived on one of those gravel dead-end roads down by the lake, graduated from Claremore High School,” said Ballard. “I'm a northeast Oklahoma boy through and through, it's where my roots are. It's where I'm from. I went to law school at OU. While I was there I made a decision I wanted to do something to give back.”
Ballard said he has tried all kinds of cases.
“The place I feel most at home is in a courtroom. I'm a trial attorney, I love trying cases. I have lots of experience,” said Ballard, who said he started working closely with police officers when he was with the Claremore City Attorney's office in 2010.
“In fact I was at a city council meeting last night. It was one of those long meetings, but what struck me at that meeting was they swore in two new police officers. I've sat through hundreds of city council meetings during my time. But it struck me when the police chief said the last line of the oath. They swore an oath to protect the citizens, all citizens, and their rights to life and property with their lives if need be,” said Ballard.
“It struck me because it occurred to me that a DA needs to have that same commitment to you. I know everyone here took a similar oath to put your life on the line if need be and you deserve a DA that's going to stand behind you. I'll make you one commitment right now, I will stand behind law enforcement with all the force and power of the DA's office if I'm elected,” said Ballard.
Incumbent Janice Steidley began by saying there have been misconceptions regarding an issue with a police officer’s testimony in a particular case which resulted in an ongoing lawsuit.
“When I took office I thought I'd go in and change the paint and put new curtains up. But it didn't turn out that way. As I say, I took it down to the studs. We reorganized every department, I heard when law enforcement talked to me.
“They wanted to be able to deal with one prosecutor on a case from the beginning to the end, we have established that. So we have prosecutors with responsibility to the case. So if you guys are out there and you call someone regarding a search issue, what do I do? What do I need to do regarding a case? That prosecutor is going to handle it all for you,” said Steidley. “I think I have done some really good things since being in office, but I'm going to do my job. I can't help that I may be unpopular. And I can't help that people disagree with me, but the decisions I've made have been affirmed by a federal judge and I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing.”
A submitted question asked of Steidley was, “Do you have a plan to improve the relationships with local law enforcement entities?”
“I mean, I don know what the plan is,” Steidley said.
“There are some that are absolute. We have issues, I can't help that. I can't help if you have an issue with me. We're doing our job. The wheels have never stopped. There's no way we could stop cases. I can guarantee the judges wouldn't allow that.
“We haven't skipped a beat through all of this. Yes, I would like to have better relationships with law enforcement. You guys still call us, you come in to the office. But I can't help if some law enforcement has issues with me. You know, that is their issue, not mine,” said Steidley.
Steidley was asked why DA investigators no longer assist law enforcement.
“I do not think that is true,” Steidley said. “We have Gary Stancil. I know for a fact he has worked over here. And you guys have to call him. Gary Stancil, I think, is one of the best investigators in the state. He has over 30 years of experience, especially with sex crimes. I know for a fact he's been over here.
“Tommy Dunlap is here and we now have Mike Shaver,” said Steidley. “ So I don't know who is not seeing investigators, but my investigators are very accessible. You just call them and they will be here to assist you with anything and they certainly have.”
Steidley was asked if she felt there is any discrepancy in policy and procedures, such as vehicle forfeitures and filing in a timely manner.
“I know when I came in I did change the forfeiture procedures around and I did request minimal requirements on them. And there's many reasons for that.
“One, a lot of times there's a criminal case going on at the same time. We've seen a lot of times, not so much here but in other counties, where the judge doesn't allow it. We have to make sure the forfeiture is worth it.
“I know when I came in, not to call anyone out, but just the facts, Pryor PD I can't tell you how many titles I signed over that were salvaged, it went to scrap,” said Steidley.
“So time, effort, hearings, money was put into the forfeitures and it ended up to be for naught, selling it for scrap.
“And there are some judges that make us pay court costs. I pay publication fees. I've never asked an agency except for the trooper forfeitures. I pay for everything. I don't know that I have requested any kind of cut on any vehicle that we have forfeited for a city police department or the sheriff.”
Inola native Erin Oquin said she has served as a special district judge.
“I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel here, but it's obvious that we have problems. It's obvious it could be run better. Something I want your input on is more communication between the DA and law enforcement. You guys don't work for us. The DA should work for you,” said Oquin. “One of the things I’d like to do in the office is create contact within each office for each of you. No matter what happens in your case, no matter how menial, you should be in contact. With today's technology, that's very easy to do. So if your case docket is full, it goes back to file, there better be an email, proof, documentation that law enforcement has been contacted. I don't know how many times I've been told that law enforcement didn't know anything was going on, a plea deal was cut at the 11th hour, it was slipped in so the arresting officer wouldn't know anything about it. This would eliminate that argument.”
Oquin said one of the simplest things a DA’s office can do is implement a better process for vehicle forfeitures.
“ I think a lot of times, those should be part of the plea agreement. That's easy, easy money. When you're going out to get a car, get money or get cash. Why shouldn't we go after that? You guys deserve that. That's the easiest thing to do and I don't know why it's not going on right now,” said Oquin.
She said she also wants law enforcement input on how to handle habitual offenders.
“ I need your input on what works and what doesn't. What procedures work and what doesn't. With all the problems now, obviously we'll be talking to OSBI (Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation) to see if they have problems with the department that need to be gotten rid of. I want to talk to law enforcement to see what works to make it smoother,” said Oquin.
“Now, I realize that one of my opponents has stepped forward and provided great service to law enforcement. I'm asking you guys to remember the great service I've provided for the past 10 years. This just didn't start a year ago, I've always answered the phone for you guys. Many of you have been to my house in the middle of the night.
“There are several local law enforcement agencies that have the ability to work other areas and are refusing to work District 12 while Steidley is in office. Do you plan on restoring those relationships to get all law enforcement back into District 12?” was a question submitted for Oquin.
“Absolutely. We have lost a vast amount of resources. Cherokee Marshal Services, they are no longer in our area. There's no reason we shouldn't be honoring cross-deputization when it's done right,” said Oquin, adding that it’s embarrassing for the district to have lost so many resources.
“If this was church you’d all be gone by now, right?” said Robert Post, the last district attorney candidate to address the group. “I grew up a Baptist preacher’s kid in Tulsa. We didn't go to church every night, we had Tuesdays off.”
Post said he practiced private law for 23 years and has done some criminal work. He has been a city judge for 12 years and taught legal classes at Rogers State University or seven years, including criminal law and criminal procedure.
“I filed for this office because I thought things are not going well. I thought I could fix them. That's pretty much why I'm here,” said Post. “As a city judge, I would hear our officers complain about having what they thought were good cases. And they would send them up and they wouldn't get filed, or they'd be filed months later. They just dropped off the face of the earth, nobody talked to the officers. If you had a problem, there was not any communications. Our filings and commissions are way down. I just thought it was pretty much dysfunction.”