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September 8, 2013

DA Steidley questions integrity of Singer probe

Raises issue of ‘cozy’ tie between local police and OSBI

CLAREMORE — District Attorney Janice Steidley has questioned the credibility of a state investigation into a perjury complaint she made against detective John Singer of the Claremore Police Department.

Steidley, who is under fire from area police officials, released a letter at a Friday press conference from another district attorney which she said casts doubt on the investigation.

The letter from District Attorney Rex Duncan, who serves nearby Osage and Pawnee counties, said he was assigned by the state attorney general in January to investigate the perjury complaint and intended to bring a charge against Singer only to be removed from the case in August.

Instead, the Duncan letter said, the perjury investigation was reassigned to District Attorney Dennis Smith of Arapaho at the opposite end of the state in southwestern Oklahoma.

Smith’s subsequent finding and a related inquiry by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) concluded that Singer did not commit perjury in statements he made in connection with his investigation of a rape case.

“When you get a letter like this (from DA Duncan), it is quite alarming to me about what is going on,” said Steidley. “Especially when you see there is a band of brothers that are getting together in Rogers County and then you throw OSBI in the mix.”

DA Duncan’s Sept. 4 letter was addressed to Steidley’s assistant DA, Bryce Lair, who requested it in response to a comment by Claremore Police Chief Stan Brown the day before that no Oklahoma district attorney would prosecute Singer for statements made in the rape case.

Duncan described Brown’s comment as “untrue or taken out of context.” Duncan said he was prepared to charge Singer with perjury without reviewing findings of the OSBI investigation into the matter.

In response, the communications director for Attorney General Scott Pruitt issued a statement to The Daily Progress saying only that “there has been a determination that criminal perjury charges will not be filed against John Singer in the current perjury investigation.”

The letter went on to say that a video taped interview of the defendant in the rape case showed that Singer had misrepresented the defendant as confessing to the rape against the will of the victim.

Duncan said he also asked the OSBI for an agent to help with his inquiry because his office did not have an investigator position.

He said in April, two months into the investigation, he requested the OSBI remove the assigned agent from the case when he discovered the agent’s wife, also an OSBI agent, had worked on criminal cases with Singer in the past.

He said he wanted to avoid the appearance of “favoritism” in any final conclusions.

But, Duncan added, the director of the OSBI for north-central Oklahoma declined the request, and thus he took the matter up in mid-May with the head of the OSBI, who did not address the conflict-of-interest question but assured Duncan the investigation would be completed soon.

“By this time,” Duncan’s letter said, “I’d heard that Agent (Todd) Spurlock was investigating employees of your office (Steidley’s office), not John Singer as I had requested.”

Two months later, Duncan said, he was informed by an assistant attorney general that he had been removed from the Singer case and that it had been reassigned to DA Smith.

According to Lair, the investigation was reassigned to Smith and the AG’s office asked Duncan to relinquish his assignment on Aug. 8 because of concerns about the size of Duncan’s office and because his statements about plans to prosecute Singer prior to reviewing the investigation. Duncan has no further jurisdiction in the matter.

Duncan said he did not fight the reassignment of the case “since I had the smallest DA staff in the state and also considering the (unpleasant) prospect of prosecuting a police officer.”

Steidley said the Duncan letter disclosed a cozy relationship between local law officers and the OSBI. She said she was “very concerned” about the OSBI investigation from the onset. She said an Aug. 20 meeting with Assistant AG Tom Bates made it “quite obvious that law enforcement and people on their behalf had been calling the attorney general’s office.”

Steidley said the attorney general has never told her that it made an independent review - separate from the OSBI investigation --  of the evidence supporting her complaint that Singer had committed perjury in the rape case investigation.

Meanwhile, supporters of a petition drive to convene a grand jury investigation of Steidley, three of her assistants and two county commissioners continued to gather signatures. They need the names of 4,480 registered voters by October 11th  to force the investigation.

Complaints in the petition range from corruption to malfeasance to failure to prosecute sex abuse cases. Similar charges were made by a score of police officers and municipal officials from Rogers County.

Steidley, who was assumed office in January of 2011, serves Rogers, Mayes and Craig counties. She is up for re-election in 2014.

The petition asks that she be removed from office.

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