Okla. County Sheriff Calls For Tougher Sentences For Repeat Offenders

Oklahoma County Sheriff Tommie Johnson III is calling on judges, prosecutors, and lawmakers to get tougher on repeat offenders. The sheriff is highlighting what he calls recent failures in the judicial system that have left Oklahoma families broken.

Tuesday, May 21st 2024, 6:13 pm

By: News 9, Storme Jones


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Oklahoma County Sheriff Tommie Johnson III is calling on judges, prosecutors, and lawmakers to get tougher on repeat offenders. The sheriff is highlighting what he calls recent failures in the judicial system that have left Oklahoma families broken.

“I am for redemption and I believe people can change,” Johnson said at a Tuesday press conference. “But where do we draw the line in our community to say now we need to start holding someone accountable because they’re not showing the willingness to change?”

“I’m a little bit puzzled that he would criticize the services rendered through TEEM,” The Employment Education Ministry Director Kris Steele said, calling the sheriff a friend of the organization.

TEEM, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that offers pretrial release for detainees unable to afford their bail. The organization says the release agreement includes case management services, stable housing options, transportation, employment assistance and drug treatment programs.

One case being highlighted by the sheriff is that of Andre Hunter. He is accused of kidnapping and raping a rideshare driver in April while out of jail on a TEEM bond. According to the sheriff Hunter had admitted to illegally carrying a firearm three times in three years and was a known gang member before he his release.

“Some judges are being too lenient with repeat offenders and this leniency is making our community more dangerous,” Johnson said. “Sentences for repeat offenders are not about vengeance, but therapy, accountability, and public safety.”

Steele said the pre-trial release program assisted more than 1,200 detainees last year and had a 97% success rate, helping dramatically lower the population of the Oklahoma County Jail.

“The reality is this, we have thousands of individuals that we get to work with, fortunately, in the vast majority of cases individuals are just fine they’re successful. We have the outcome so we’re hoping for it, but we’re working with human beings,” Steele said. “We try to minimize risks with policies and procedures that will allow us to do all that we can to ensure that person is compliant.”

Steele said in recent examples of issues with detainees on TEEM bond release, all had their bond revoked for failure to comply with the conditions of the bond and had a warrant issued for their arrest before they reoffended.

“The best that we can do is report back to the courts and the district attorney's office and to the powers that be so then they can take action,” Steele said, “I’m not trying to point fingers. I’m just trying to tell you the cases that I’m aware of that I’ve mentioned recently the policies and the protocols that we have in place were indeed followed, not only by us but by the courts who issue the warrant for the arrest.”

Sheriff Johnson said so far in 2024, more than 16,000 warrants for various offenses have been issued in Oklahoma County, overwhelming his deputies dedicated to serving those warrants.

“The answer is to not release these repeat offenders in the first place,” Johnson said.

Retired Oklahoma County Judge Kenneth Watson defended the diversion program writing in an op-ed in the Oklahoman Newspaper writing “I’m not surprised Sheriff Johnson would weaponize the case of Andre Hunter to attack officials who are making a positive difference.”

“One example of failure out of literally thousands of success stories is not evidence of systemic failure.” Watson wrote.

In a separate case Tuesday, the sheriff spotlighted a 2015 deferred prison sentence before Judge Watson that ended with a deadly DUI crash. 

“Demetrius Jared Price was the weapon that took my family from us, but Judge Watson loaded the weapon for him,” LaJan Fields told reporters Tuesday.

Fields said her son, daughter-in-law, and 22-month-old granddaughter were killed in a DUI crash caused by Price. Johnson said the deferred sentences with no prison time came after Price carried a weapon into jail, two second degree burglary convictions and two charges of selling stolen property to a pawn shop. Fields was not part of The Education Employment Ministry programs.

“He was able to do this because Kenneth Watson felt Price deserved a break. Had Watson sentenced Price to serve those 10 years in prison, our children would be alive today,” Fields said.

News 9 reached out to Judge Watson on Tuesday but did not hear back.

“If the accountability piece is not there, if it doesn’t exist how do you expect people to change, how does that happen?” Johnson said.

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