Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt announced Friday a statewide grand jury will investigate allegations of wrongdoing by public officials and others in an effort to end the escalating clash between prosecutors and police in Rogers County.
Pruitt said the sitting grand jury would “thoroughly and objectively review” corruption issues raised in a law enforcement community-driven petition signed by more than 8,000 local voters as well as malicious misconduct accusations raised by District Attorney Janice Steidley against the petition sponsors.
“For our system of justice to work properly, people must have confidence in the process,” said Pruitt. “I’m confident the multicounty grand jury investigation will uncover the facts, help resolve the issues in Rogers County, and restore Oklahomans’ confidence in the legal system.”
The attorney general’s decision to bring the matter before the statewide grand jury pre-empted DA Steidley’s surprise request an hour earlier that Mays County District Judge Terry H. McBride impanel a local grand jury to investigate her office and other public officials.
Only three days ago DA Steidley’s private lawyer successfully convinced a judge to dismiss the voters petition to impanel a local grand jury to investigate her office and two county commissioners.
She then followed up with a defamation lawsuit against the petition sponsors, including the county sheriff and two Claremore police officers, claiming they had made malicious and hideous accusations against her in the petition. The suit asked for more than $500,000 in damages.
Tulsa County District Judge Jefferson Sellers rejected the voter’s petition on the ground it contained unauthorized summary wording on the signature pages. Steidley hailed that decision as a victory for her contention the petition was politically motivated by, among others, Detective John Singer of the Claremore Police Department.
DA Steidley and Singer have been at war for several months over the district attorney’s claim that Singer misrepresented the interview of a rape defendant. Singer has sued Steidley in federal court over the claim.
The conflict triggered other law officer and crime victim complaints against DA Steidley. Police departments from throughout Rogers County attended the announcement of the vote petition effort for a grand jury investigation of her conduct. The campaign was led by Sheriff Scott Walton.
Attorney General Pruitt had no involvement in the petition controversy but after the court dismissed the petition, he received a letter from district judges in Rogers, Mayes and Craig counties urging him to convene a grand jury. Steidley serves as district attorney for the three counties.
Pruitt said the judges wrote that a grand jury “is the best hope of resolving the issues and establishing some normalcy to the operation of county government and the criminal justice system in Rogers County.”
The statewide or multicounty grand jury, which has been in session since September of 2012, has authority to investigate allegations of criminal activity and official misconduct by public officials. The 12 jurors were chosen from the geographic quadrants of the state to represent Oklahoma’s 77 counties. Proceedings are closed to the public.
DA Steidley issued a news release Friday afternoon asking Judge McBride of Mayes County to convene a local grand jury even though he was one of the judges who urged the attorney general to put the matter before the statewide grand jury.
“We decided to request this grand jury to shine light on all the parties involved and let the truth come out,” Steidley’s statement said. “We want a grand jury investigation that is lawful and looking into real issues, not one that is supported by baseless accusations and slander in an attempt to forward political motivations and agendas.”