Fallout Continues From Tulsa Police Corruption Scandal
TULSA, Oklahoma -- It's been more than two months since the last of five Tulsa Police officers went to trial on numerous corruption charges, but the city -- and its embattled police force -- appear a long way off from putting the scandal behind them.
Seven lawsuits have piled up against the city so far from people who allege they were wrongfully locked up by police and nearly 40 people -- some with criminal backgrounds -- have had their convictions overturned or prison sentences commuted as a result of the sweeping corruption probe, which began two years ago.
Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris has said more cases could be thrown out in coming months as his office reviews evidence produced by the indicted officers.
"One aspect of this that's very troubling is the number of people affected by the wrongful acts committed by these officers and the failure of the city to pay attention to what was going on right under its nose," said Tulsa attorney Stan Monroe, who is representing two of the wrongfully convicted men -- DeMario Harris and Dustin Eastom -- in civil lawsuits against the city.
"You hear about things like this in places like Chicago or Philadelphia, but to the extent of the harm caused by everybody in the system and by those affected by it, I've never seen anything like it while practicing law in this city."
Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett declined to comment specifically on the cases, citing pending litigation. Bartlett's press secretary, Lloyd Wright, said Tulsa is a resilient city that can withstand a scandal so widespread.
"I think we've already moved forward. We're beyond this," Wright said.
Police Chief Chuck Jordan, who was sworn into office after the probe began, said it was his department's job "to show this community that all our badges aren't tarnished."
"If I had a list, the very last item would be those lawsuits," Jordan said. "There have been no judgments whatsoever, (so) I don't adopt a sky is falling mentality where we're looking at paying out millions and millions of dollars."
As prosecutors investigated claims of widespread wrongdoing within the city's police department, they suggested the five officers were part of a broader plot in which corrupt officers stole money and drugs, conducted illegal searches and fabricated evidence without fear of getting caught.
In addition to the 2010 indictments of the five officers, the investigation also netted several officers who admitted wrongdoing and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and named at least three officers as unindicted co-conspirators.
In the first of two trials, a jury acquitted officers Nick DeBruin and Bruce Bonham of 11 counts, claiming they stole money from suspects and planted drugs on people. At the same trial, jurors convicted retired officer Harold Wells on five of 10 charges that he engaged in drug trafficking and stole federal money.
In the most recent trial, jurors found Officer Jeff Henderson guilty on eight of 53 counts he faced, including lying six times during a federal court case and violating the civil rights of citizens during an illegal search. The jury acquitted him on the 45 other charges.
Henderson's fellow officer, Bill Yelton, was acquitted by the jury on eight counts that included witness tampering, suborning perjury, conspiring to violate a citizen's civil rights and attempted retaliation against a witness.
Henderson and Wells are scheduled for sentencing December 6 in Tulsa federal court.
The investigation and resulting trials drew sharp criticism from some police officers and attorneys who said the government relied too heavily on testimony from convicted criminals and police officers who had already admitted to stealing money on busts and planting drugs on suspects.
Fraternal Order of Police President Phil Evans, whose group represents most of the 750 sworn officers on the Tulsa force, said he is waiting on appeals from Henderson and Wells until passing judgment on the officers.
"We do our best to police ourselves," Evans said. "If we got people doing the wrong things, they need to go."
The most recent lawsuit, filed last month by Eastom, claims Henderson and a former ATF agent named Brandon McFadden forced his consent to let them search his home. Eastom says the officers pried open a metal lockbox containing thousands of dollars. After the pair left, Eastom alleges the lockbox was empty.