The Nowata County Sheriff and all of her patrol deputies resigned Monday, rather than obey an order to move prisoners back into the county jail, which was closed after a carbon monoxide leak was discovered. The Sheriff said no repairs had been made and the order would jeopardize the lives of prisoners. “I believe in doing the right thing and I am not going to stand down from doing the right thing” said Barnett.
Sheriff Barnett resigned effective at 11 am, two hours after the judge’s order. She said she had not considered resigning until a meeting with the judge last Thursday when she says he suggested the prisoners be moved back into the jail to save money. Last month, Nowata County transferred 14 prisoners to Washington County after the jail was evacuated. The now-former Undersheriff, Mark Kirschner, said today it was actually cheaper to house the small number of prisoners elsewhere than to operate the jail.
Barnett was elected and took office five months ago, but today was spent packing boxes to leave. “I guess Nowata County will continue their search for a sheriff who will do what they want because I am not that sheriff,” said Barnett. “To have a judge order you to bring inmates back to that facility when nothing has been done is inexcusable.”
The Undersheriff, five deputies, the head dispatcher, the jailers, and even the K-9, “Ranger” quit. His handler worked to get a paw print on a resignation letter. Several volunteer dispatchers said they plan to stay and answer the phones, though the office is otherwise empty. The Sheriff said she leaves with her honor intact. “I will not sweep things under the rug for Nowata County, I am not going to do the wrong thing,” she said.
In February the jail was evacuated because of a carbon monoxide leak. Barnett said last week, Judge Carl Gibson suggested she could be sent on a vacation and get a pay raise if the jail reopened, and he would create paperwork to address her concerns about liability. Barnett said that was the moment she knew could not stay, after what she called a bribe was offered by the judge.
"You think I can be bought off like that? No. And you think that's what it was. Yes. I mean why would someone say that to me? I didn't make it up," said Barnett.
The judge issued in the order is a hearing Monday morning and gave Barnett four hours to get the prisoners. At 1 pm, in another hearing, Judge Gibson told Barnett she had a very clear directive to move prisoners back in and that she could not choose which orders she obey and ignore. When Barnett said she had resigned - the judge said that didn’t matter.
Barnett left the courtroom surrounded by supporters and remained confident in her decision. “I will continue to support Nowata County but under this environment, it is impossible for me to continue,” she said.
Judge Gibson set a follow up hearing for 9 am Wednesday to go over the order again. He did not say what the consequences would be for Barnett for not carrying out the order, and while the former sheriff said she was seeking legal advice, she said she had no intentions of going to get the inmates and would have no staff to manage the jail regardless.
Gibson left the courthouse at 5 pm without speaking to reporters gathered outside. His office said he would not be making any comment about the allegations made by the former Sheriff.