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Sheriffs' office problems could happen anywhere

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: April 3, 2012

ONE way or another, residents in Delaware County will be made to pay for the misdeeds of former employees in the sheriff's office. Folks in Custer County know the feeling. Residents across the state should pay attention.

On the ballot Tuesday in Delaware County is a proposal to increase the county's sales tax by half a cent for 17 years. That's how long officials figure it will take to raise the $13.5 million the county is paying to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed by 15 former female inmates who say they were sexually abused while in custody.

State law mandates that such judgments be paid with property taxes over three years unless another means of payment is found. So if the sales tax idea is rejected, property taxes will jump by as much as 18 percent for the next three years. Residents are understandably miffed. “The men who did wrong — they are the ones who should have to pay,” one woman said.

But one of them, Bill Sanders, is dead. He was a volunteer deputy whose job was to transport inmates. In early 2008, a female inmate filed a complaint against Sanders; the sheriff at the time, Jay Blackfox, says his office investigated and passed its report on to the district attorney. The DA says his office never received it.

Sanders continued to work for the office and later that year four other inmates filed complaints against him and a former jail administrator. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation looked into it and gave a report to the district attorney, who didn't file charges. Sanders died in November 2008, and in early 2009 four women filed a federal civil rights case. Eventually the number of women who said they had been groped or sexually assaulted by their jailers grew to 15.

Blackfox resigned and the jail administrator was fired. Both have denied wrongdoing. County commissioners in November 2011 agreed to the settlement, concerned the price tag could be much higher if they lost at trial.

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by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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