During a history spanning more than 100 years, the Tulsa Police Department has experienced several scandals, including a current corruption probe that may surpass an epic police scandal from 50 years ago.
Thus far, the names of 11 Tulsa police officers have surfaced in the federal probe, while 32 individuals have been freed from prison or had felony charges dismissed or prison sentences reduced as part of a grand jury investigation that became public in November 2009.
Federal prosecutors have accused Tulsa police officers of falsifying search warrants, stealing drugs and money, and witness tampering. Officers also have been accused of planting drugs on individuals and using nonexistent informants to gain felony convictions, court records show. With the first of two police trials scheduled to begin May 31 in U.S. District Court, Tulsans may understand what citizens experienced during the “liquor scandal of 1957.”
While much of the state was celebrating Oklahoma’s 50th birthday in 1957, the mood in Tulsa was tempered by the free-flowing use of such words as “liquor conspiracy” and “police payoffs,” wrote the Tulsa World’s Terrell Lester in 1997.
The liquor scandal went all the way to the top of the Tulsa Police Department, published reports state.
A total of 16 people were convicted in April 1957, including six Tulsa police officers, the police chief and the police commissioner. A jury convicted the men of conspiring to import liquor into Oklahoma, which prohibited liquor sales.
Lester wrote: “In the early-morning hours of April 26, 1957, 16 men, including the Tulsa police and fire commissioner and the Tulsa chief of police, were found guilty of conspiring to import liquor into dry Oklahoma under a payoff scheme in which bootleggers paid a heavy price for protection from the police.”
In his testimony for prosecutors, bootlegger Bill Edwards laid out the blueprint of an arrangement whereby Tulsa vice operators who “kicked in” would be allowed to continue their operations. Those who didn’t would feel the wrath of law enforcement, published reports show.
Edwards detailed payoff amounts to some of the defendants, saying that at one time Police Chief Paul J. Livingston was receiving a $500 monthly “salary.” Others were receiving payoffs of $100 and $200, published reports show.
New policies implemented
Meanwhile, the current police scandal focuses on drugs rather than alcohol. The allegations, though, are similar and involve tales of corrupt officers and alleged shake-downs of drug dealers, court records show.
Federal indictments and an internal Police Department investigation caused Police Chief Chuck Jordan to implement new policies to address the allegations.
In announcing one new policy July 23, Jordan said any officer found to be lying or dishonest in affidavits, sworn testimony, Internal Affairs interviews or police reports will face a “presumptive disciplinary action of termination, consistent with just-cause principles.”
Additionally, Jordan’s office has spearheaded key revisions in how police officers handle seized drug money and how they manage informants.
Those revisions are nearing completion, he has said.
“The guidelines involving the handling of money and informants have been revised to involve more oversight,” Jordan said.
History of controversies
Other police scandals that have involved Tulsa police officers include a youth-ranch investigation in 1991 and the “crossbow murder” in 1982.
The youth-ranch controversy involved allegations of financial improprieties by a Tulsa Police Department corporal. The program enlisted police officers to help oversee a program for at-risk youths on a seven-acre ranch in north Tulsa, reports show.
A Tulsa County grand jury investigating the allegations issued no indictments, but the scandal forced Police Chief Drew Diamond to retire from office, published reports show.
Diamond is now executive director of the Jewish Federation of Tulsa. He said he never let the youth-ranch controversy stop his belief in community policing and community action programs.
“It was never about the youth ranch,” Diamond said in a recent Tulsa World interview. “There were disgruntled employees who had their issues, but that does not change the fact that community programs and policing are more cost-effective and result in less corruption with police forces.”
Former Mayor Rodger Randle said the youth-ranch brouhaha was a diversionary issue for other concerns within the Tulsa Police Department.
“Back then, we were in a period of division within TPD, and this became a symbolic issue to be blown up for media and public consumption,” he said. “It was a straw-man controversy which obscured the real issue of divided factions within the Police Department, pro and con Diamond.”
Almost 10 years before the youth-ranch scandal gained prominence, the department also faced public scrutiny over the infamous crossbow murder.
The crossbow case involved three individuals, including two former Tulsa police officers, in the 1982 contract killing of a local woman, the World has reported. One officer, Jimmie Dean Stohler, was convicted of murder in 1985 for the killing.
2008 to present: Tulsa Police Department corruption probe Accusations: A grand jury investigation has resulted in six current and former police officers and a former federal agent being charged with various crimes that include stealing drugs and money, selling drugs, intimidating witnesses, planting drugs on individuals, falsifying police reports, and using nonexistent informants to gain convictions.
â€¢ Indicted Tulsa Police Officers Jeff Henderson and Bill Yelton â€” accused of violations of civil rights, witness tampering and suborning perjury. Additionally, Yelton is charged with attempted retaliation against a witness, and Henderson is charged with drug distribution and drug conspiracy.
â€¢ Indicted Tulsa Police Officers Nick DeBruin, Bruce Bonham and retired Officer Harold R. Wells â€” accused of planting drugs on individuals and stealing U.S. funds during an FBI sting.
â€¢ Former ATF Agent Brandon McFadden and retired Tulsa Police Officer John K. Gray â€” pleaded guilty and are cooperating with prosecutors.
â€¢ Named as unindicted co-conspirators: Tulsa Police Officers Sean Larkin, Shawn Hickey and Frank Khalil.
â€¢ Former Tulsa Police Officers Eric J. Hill and Callison Kaiser â€” government witnesses against some of the indicted officers.
â€¢ Drug felons Debra Clayton and Ryan Logsdon â€” additional government witnesses.
â€¢ Key informant and witness Rochelle Martin. Court records show that a Rochelle Denise Martin has a 2002 drug conviction.
Prosecutors: First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane W. Duke; Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick C. Harris and Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia S. Harris (not related).
Judge: U.S. District Judge Bruce Black, N.M.
TRIAL DATES IN U.S. DISTRICT COURT:
May 31: Bonham, Wells and DeBruin
June 20: Henderson and Yelton
Preliminary outcome: Additionally, 32 people have been freed from prison, had felony charges dismissed or prison sentences reduced as part of the grand jury investigation, which became public in November 2009.
1991-92: Police Department youth-ranch scandal
Accusations: A Tulsa County grand jury returned no indictments but severely criticized police administrators for youth-ranch operations and general administrative behavior.
Meanwhile, the district attorney charged one police officer with embezzlement and accepting money by false pretenses.
Additional issues: Police chief pushed for affirmative action programs, which appeared to stir discontent among police officers. The chief appointed the first black and female officers to high-ranking positions.
The Players: Police Chief Drew Diamond, Deputy Chief Bobby Busby, Maj. Carolyn Kusler, Cpl. Jim Sherl, District Attorney David Moss, Mayor Rodger Randle and police union officials. Busby was appointed first black deputy chief, and Kusler was promoted to major.
â€¢ During the scandal, Diamond received a vote of no confidence by police officers. He retired in October 1991.
â€¢ Kusler was demoted to sergeant by Randle. Before retiring from TPD in 1997, Kusler was restored to major and served as Broken Arrow police chief from 1997-2003.
â€¢ Sherl was charged with embezzlement and accepting money by false pretenses. Charges later dismissed.
â€¢ The youth ranch was closed in August 1991.
1982-85: Crossbow murder case
Accusations: Two Tulsa police officers and a third individual were charged in a murder-forhire case in which a woman was killed by a poisoned crossbow arrow in 1982.
The Players: Former Tulsa Police Officers Jimmie Dean Stohler and Robert Doss, an individual known as Jack Ensminger Jr. and victim Michelle Rae Powers.
The murder: Powers was shot in the chest with a poisoned crossbow bolt, or arrow, while she stood in the parking lot of her Tulsa apartment complex. She died six days later. Doss, who was involved in a custody dispute with Powers over their son, was accused of plotting to kill Powers. Stohler said he provided the crossbow used in the Jan. 21, 1982, attack on Powers.
Convictions/Acquittals: Doss and Ensminger were acquitted. Stohler was convicted of murder in 1985 and sentenced to life in prison. He was denied parole in February 2007.
1957: 20 indicted, 16 convicted in liquor scandal
Accusations: The police chief, police commissioner and several police officers are accused of taking payoffs from bootleggers who are illegally selling whiskey in Tulsa while Oklahoma is a â€œdryâ€ state. Police Chief Paul Livingston was receiving a $500 monthly â€œsalary.â€ Others were receiving payoffs of $100 and $200, published reports show.
The players and convictions: Livingston, Police Commissioner Jay L. Jones and six officers received one-year prison sentences. Six bootleggers, a bookmaker and a Missouri liquor dealer also were convicted and drew similar penalties.
Prosecutor: U.S. Attorney B. Hayden Crawford, one of the youngest U.S. attorneys when appointed at 31. Crawford described the liquor conspiracy as â€œa strange and disgusting story.â€
Judge: U.S. District Judge Royce H. Savage, the grandfather of former Tulsa Mayor and Oklahoma Secretary of State Susan Savage.