Judge rules against agency in punishment case

Tuesday, July 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The head of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections says the agency will appeal a judge's ruling against the DOC in a case involving officers who claimed they were wrongly punished. "It's our understanding the judge didn't even consider any evidence before he made his ruling," Director James Saffle said Monday. "What we had was a situation of very sloppy performance of duties by our probation and parole officers."

John Roberts and Christopher Ayers were among five officers punished after a 1998 internal investigation concluded they unlawfully detained private citizens. The officers also were found to have commandeered a woman's pickup, which blew an engine during the chase of a parolee, according to department documents. Originally, one officer was fired; Roberts was demoted from team leader to senior officer; and Ayers and two other officers were given unpaid suspensions.

Most of the punishments were reduced after a hearing before the Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission, said the officers' attorney, Patrick Hunt. He said Roberts and Ayers still faced unpaid suspensions and appealed those in district court. In a ruling July 3, Associate District Judge Noah Ewing sided with the officers and ordered their pay and benefits restored.

Ewing criticized corrections officials for "exaggerated and warped reasoning," and said those officials seemed "bent on deifying a known criminal and criminalizing the protectors of the public." The judge said he became appalled at the department's "strident rhetoric" against its own employees. "Reading D.O.C.'s briefs began to take on an Alice-in-Wonderland quality as if the court had chased a white rabbit down a magical hole and entered a domain where values are turned on their heads," Ewing wrote. "D.O.C. comes off looking like the Queen of Hearts shouting 'Off with their heads!"'

Roberts, a 19-year department veteran, said Monday that he remains hurt and disgusted that "the agency I work for continues to slander me and that they are so adamant in trying to ruin my good name."

The investigation came after the five officers and two Cleveland County deputies tried to arrest Ned Snow at a residence in Noble for alleged parole violations. Ewing handled the officers' appeals because their residences were in his jurisdiction. Although Snow was not at the residence, the officers searched the house and seized drugs that were prescribed to women who were not under corrections department jurisdiction, the investigation found.

Later, the officers were involved in another attempt to arrest Snow in Noble. Again, he was not at the residence. But when Snow's wife and mother drove up in a pickup, they were detained.