Claremore Daily Progress

August 26, 2013

Sheriff, 5 others seek grand jury probe of Rogers County officials

Helm, Thacker and DA Steidley among targets

Salesha Wilken
Staff Reporter

CLAREMORE —

Sheriff Scott Walton and five other residents of Rogers County petitioned the district court Monday for a grand jury investigation of two county commissioners, the district attorney and three of her assistants.

The petition contained a potpourri of issues for inquiry, ranging from bidding procedures by Commissioners Kirt Thacker and Mike Helm to possible “oppression and corruption in office and willful misadministration” by District Attorney Janice Steidley.

Also named in the requested grand jury investigation were Assistant District Attorneys Bryce Lair, David Iski and Timothy Wantland.

“The petition is a way for the issues to be looked at by a clear set of eyes,” said Walton. “It is what needed to be done.” 

Thacker, chairman of the county commissioner, was the only target of the petition to comment immediately, although all of them were contacted by The Daily Progress. He said the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation had already investigated the bidding and related issues listed in the petition, “and found there was no criminal or unethical activity.”

Joining Sheriff Walton in submitting the petition were Claremore police Det. John Singer, who is suing the district attorney in federal court on grounds she sought to destroy his professional reputation; Claremore police Lt. Steve Cox; local businessmen Russell Guilfoyle and Myron Grubowski, who are frequent critics of the commissioners; and Billy D. Jones, the father of two juvenile rape victims.

The petition was sent to Chief Justice Tom Colbert of the Oklahoma Supreme Court to determine if it meets state requirements and, if so, clearing the way for the petitioners to begin collecting the 3,000 registered voter signatures needed to convene the grand jury. There are approximately 49,000 registered voters in Rogers County.

Colbert has three days to decide the legality of the petition, and the petitioners then have 45 days to gather the required number of signatures.

Normally, the petition’s legality would be acted on by Chief Rogers County Judge Dwayne Steidley, but his first-cousin is DA Steidley’s husband and thus he forwarded the matter to the state Supreme Court. Judge Steidley said he acted “in the best interest of the court system of Rogers County.”

The petition questions whether commissioners Helm and Thacker violated state procurement laws in the purchase of $100,000 worth of equipment and services in 2009, then accepted gifts and meals from some of the vendors. It also asks for a determination on whether Helm took campaign contributions from companies that received millions of dollars in county contracts.

The petition raises several questions about Steidley and Lair, including wiretapping employee workspaces in 2011 and falsely reporting a crime by accusing Singer of perjury.  It includes a possible violation of the Open Records Management Act by Iski and Steidley for what the petitioners said was ordering another person to destroy government emails.

Wantland is named in the filing for a potential violation of the Oklahoma Victim’s Rights Act. The petition questions whether he informed the parents of a child sex abuse victim of a plea bargain in the case as well as their right to victim impact statements.

The petition also asks the grand jury to look into claims Steidley allowed child sex abuse cases and other prosecutions to be delayed for years, and whether she tampered with witnesses in another case.

Walton said once the petition is signed by a judge the organizers will begin collecting signatures. He said petitioners have established an email account -- rogerscounty2013@hotmail.com  -- and a Facebook page, Grand Jury 2013.

“The quality of life in Rogers County is stellar and then some,” the sheriff said. “It is unfortunate to think people don’t have peace of mind to know their county government is clean and operating the way it should be.”

Here’s the website link to the petition for the grand jury investigation