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Former investigator accuses OSBI of incompetence and fraud

Kyle Eastridge, who recently resigned from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, claims the agency is fraught with problems. OSBI officials say he's wrong.
BY KEN RAYMOND Modified: July 26, 2010 at 8:23 am •  Published: July 25, 2010

/articleid/3479477/1/pictures/1051156">Photo - OKLAHOMA STATE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: Kyle Eastridge stands in front of the OSBI building in Edmond, Okla., Thursday, July 22, 2010.  Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD
OKLAHOMA STATE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: Kyle Eastridge stands in front of the OSBI building in Edmond, Okla., Thursday, July 22, 2010. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD

OSBI's 2009 homicide clearance rate of 83.7 percent is inaccurate.

"It's totally bogus," Eastridge said. "They were declaring those numbers as fact while they were still gathering the information from all the field offices."

The OSBI announced its homicide clearance rates at a news conference in April. At the time, the agency was being criticized by a legislator and the FBI over the way it handled the Aja Johnson investigation. Aja, 7, was abducted by her stepfather, who killed her and then himself.

The 83.7 percent figure was the five-year low. The high was in 2005, when OSBI cleared 96 percent of its homicide and suspicious death cases.

Eastridge and a number of other sources have questioned the accuracy of OSBI's numbers.

"The national average used to be around 65 percent," Eastridge said. "It was always considered pretty good if you could get a clearance rate a little over the national average. They're saying their clearance rates are in the 80 and 90 percents. It's absurd."

OSBI's investigative division is struggling with the well-funded forensic science division for control of the agency.

"One of the first things that anybody said to me when I started working around the lab was, 'The agents hate us, and we think it's funny,'" Eastridge said.

Field agents are frustrated by how long it takes to get evidence processed by the lab, he said.

In his letter to The Oklahoman, Langley said there is no schism within OSBI.

"Concerning alleged divisiveness at the agency between lab personnel and field agents, it is just that — alleged," he wrote. "These are separate divisions under one agency. Each division has its own expertise all working together to seek justice. These divisions work closely on many cases and work well."

Eastridge was an Oklahoma City police officer for almost 25 years and spent the latter portion of his career investigating homicides and cold cases. He and his partner helped close some of the city's most notorious unsolved cases, including the grisly 1989 murder of Audrey Harris and the 1986 abduction and killing of Kathy Sue Engle.

"He's very knowledgeable," said Cris Cunningham, a homicide detective who worked with Eastridge for eight years. "He's always willing to work the case. He does a heck of a job. He's really tenacious."

He retired early in order to take a special investigator position in OSBI's newly created cold case unit. The unit is funded by a National Institute of Justice grant.

"Eastridge's job as provided in the grant was to locate DNA evidence, collect it from law enforcement offices across the state, and submit it for testing at the OSBI lab," Langley said in his letter. "After testing, if a DNA profile was matched in CODIS (a national DNA database), an investigator would then begin his work.

"Under the specifics of the grant, investigators would not start until a match was made. He was clearly frustrated as an investigator operating under these restrictions. The absolute necessity to strictly adhere to the terms of the grant is far more important than placating the desires of an individual investigator."

But Eastridge said the grant was mismanaged from the beginning. Money was wasted, he said, on cases that were past the statute of limitations.

"There was no priority given to these limited federal dollars," he said. "It costs $500 to $1,000 to run a DNA test. Why waste it on cases you can never prosecute when you have cases that you can? Murders and sexual assaults should be the top priority, but they were given equal priority with second-degree burglaries, peeping toms and rape cases that can never be prosecuted."

A routine federal audit of the grant was to begin Friday. Eastridge said he has contacted the Justice Department and offered his assistance.

"The audit will determine if funds are being used appropriately," he said. "If not, they won't get a renewed grant. I think OSBI needs this grant to help the families of the victims, but they can't afford to squander it."

CONTRIBUTING: Staff writers Michael Baker and John Estus

Kyle Eastridge

Eastridge, 46, lives with his family in Tuttle.

He joined the Oklahoma City Police Department in March 1985. He had a variety of assignments, including stints in patrol, air support, narcotics, larceny, assault and homicide. Before retiring in late 2009, he spent three years investigating cold cases.

He investigated hundreds of violent crimes and made hundreds of arrests.

On Jan. 4, Eastridge began work as a special investigator in the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation's new cold case unit. He resigned July 15.


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