Claremore Daily Progress

February 10, 2013

Steidley faces law enforcement backlash

Salesha Wilken
Staff Writer

CLAREMORE — In the wake of the recent battle between District Attorney Janice Steidley and a Claremore Police Officer, political issues arise for the Rogers, Mayes and Craig County District Attorney.

Political statements made on Facebook by an off duty Pryor Police officer have sparked controversy, prompting Steidley to take the issue to the officer’s supervisor.

Detective James Willyard made the post stating his personal opinion about the upcoming 2014 District Attorney election.

 “Does anyone have a suggestion for a new District Attorney for Mayes, Rogers and Craig in 2014,” Willyard wrote.

The comment was posted on Jan. 9 to the popular social networking site.

It was made during his personal time, off duty and did not violate any policy of the Pryor Police Department.

Within hours of the Facebook post, Steidley and First Assistant District Attorney Bryce Lair contacted the Pryor Police Chief, requesting a meeting.

Lair and Steidley arrived at the Pryor Police Department just after noon to discuss the issue, according to Willyard.

Steidley explained that she thought the issue should be brought to the attention of this officer and his superior.

The meeting quickly became confrontational, according to Willyard.

Willyard said, Steidley was very upset and proceeded to make comments like, “I am tired of this disrespect and it’s stopping today,” and “Who do you think you are.”

“I asked her if I had done anything that is illegal or wrong,” Willyard said.

Steidley responded by calling the issue “a slap in the face,” he added.

She then added, “I’m not going to have it.”

As the discussion continued Steidley became more agitated, then Lair began to question the Chief, according to Willyard.

“The question is do you want to have a good working relationship with this office,” Lair said, as Willyard recalled.

Steidley then added that sometimes officers think that they are doing us a favor and it’s a two-way street, according to Willyard

In a statement released to the Claremore Progress Steidley said, “We strive to have a good working relationship with law enforcement.  We work closely with law enforcement on cases.  If there is not a good working environment it is not good for anyone including the case, the victim and the public at large.”

 “I was shocked that an elected official would abuse her power as the district attorney for such an obviously political purpose,” Willyard said. “I believe it is important to have a good working relationship with all parties involved in the legal system. When an elected official uses their position to attempt to intimidate officers then it creates a climate of uneasiness. Officers feel they can not properly perform their duties for fear of retaliation.”

The conversation continued and Willyard explained that Steidley had objections to his political comments now, but not two years ago when she benefited from his support.

“She was angry even using profanity,” Willyard said.

Willyard previously had a good relationship with Steidley even supporting her campaign, however after Jan 8, he said he could no longer support her politically.

Willyard withheld his public criticism of the District Attorney’s Office until January 8th when Steidley attacked Claremore Investigator John Singer.   

He maintains that he was just exercising his Constitutional right to free speech and did not violate any policy.

“I expect professionals in the law enforcement community to refrain from social media rants which could jeopardize a criminal prosecution and the victims of the crimes,” Steidley said.

This officer posted a comment on a public website where members and potential jurors, of that community, could see and/or hear about the post, she added.

“We had jury trials beginning in 20 days of that post involving several serious victim cases where this officer was a witness,” Steidley said.

“In response to Stiedley’s concerns about the jury, this is the first time the issue has been presented to me,” Willyard said.

Steidley did not mention anything in the meeting about the jury or the impact the Facebook post could have on the legal process, Willyard added.

“My Facebook page is private and posts are only visible to friends. Part of the court process requires that potential jurors disclose any relationship with anyone involved in the case,” Willyard said.

Willyard states that his post in no way disclosed any information regarding any pending case.

“This is the only post that I made about the office of the District Attorney,” Willyard said.

Not only did Steidley take issue with the Facebook post, but also an e-mail the officer sent to the Mayes County Assistant District Attorney dealing with his role in several pending cases.

That email was not political and only addressed his cases, not the post on Facebook, according to Willyard.

The Pryor Police Department was contacted for comment, confirming that the meeting occurred.