An Oklahoma County judge who was upset with his Mexican roofers called them “nothing but filthy animals,” an attorney said Thursday in a sworn statement.
Michael S. Johnson stated District Judge Ray C. Elliott said the roofers “deserve to all be taken south of the border with a shotgun to their heads” and “if they needed volunteers that he would be first in line.”
“He then stated that they needed people with .50-caliber rifles on the border to pick them off as they came back across,” Johnson said.
Johnson gave the affidavit to attorneys for a pharmacist charged with first-degree murder. The affidavit expands significantly on what other witnesses have testified about what the judge said Aug. 30 about his roofers.
The pharmacist, Jerome Jay Ersland, wants a different judge for his trial.
Ersland is white, but his attorneys contend Elliott is so prejudice against Hispanics that he cannot be trusted to be fair to anyone.
Elliott, 59, has twice refused to step down from the case. The pharmacist's attorneys are now asking Oklahoma County District Judge Bill Graves to disqualify Elliott.
Graves will hear arguments today but is not expected to rule until later.
Elliott denies he is racist. He admitted Dec. 7 that he regrettably referred to his roofers as “wetbacks.” He said he had a brief moment of anger at the courthouse Aug. 30 after enduring three to four weeks of the roofers damaging “my property, my landscaping and my home.”
He said his general contractor told him the workers were illegal immigrants.
A former deputy court clerk, Isla Box, testified on Dec. 6 the judge also said in August “if they needed somebody to hold a shotgun to their heads to get them back across the border, he'd be the first to volunteer.”
Isla Box is married to Irven Box, the pharmacist's lead attorney.
Elliott has denied making the shotgun remark, saying none of the other statements attributed to him “were said by this court, period.” He calls Isla Box a disgruntled ex-employee.
The pharmacist's attorneys say they got the affidavit from Johnson in an effort to show Elliott lied. Johnson did not testify during the hearing in December.
Elliott declined to comment Thursday.
Johnson, 43, is a criminal defense attorney in Oklahoma City. He won an acquittal in 2009 for a former Oklahoma County detention officer blamed in a federal criminal case for an inmate's death.
Johnson said the judge criticized the roofers Aug. 30 during a conversation in the judge's outer office. He said he had asked if the judge had any hail damage and if it had been fixed. Johnson was representing a murder defendant whose trial was set to begin that morning before Elliott. The trial ended up being postponed because the air conditioning had not been turned on and the courtroom was too hot.
Johnson said he did not hear the judge say “wetback.” He said Elliott appeared to be “very angry” about his courtroom being hot and the shoddy workmanship on his roof.
District Attorney David Prater said he checked with his prosecutors who were around Elliott the morning of Aug. 30. He said he also checked with the judge's bailiff and court reporter. He said they did not hear the judge say anything like what Johnson is claiming.
Prater also said the affidavit “is completely unreliable in my mind.” The prosecutor said Johnson has made conflicting statements about where in the courthouse the judge spoke.
Ersland, 59, was charged with first-degree murder after he shot a masked robber six times in May 2009 inside Reliable Discount Pharmacy in south Oklahoma City.
Ersland, who lives in Chickasha, has said he acted to defend himself and two female co-workers. Prosecutors say Ersland went too far when he fired the last five shots, in effect executing an unconscious, unarmed robber.
Prosecutors say Elliott is fair. They wrote in a court brief: “Judges, as imperfect people, are permitted to have and voice opinions, even controversial ones … this alone is not grounds for disqualification … unless and until it can reasonably be said to call into question his … impartiality in a specific case.”