Fort Sill gang dispute intensifies

BY RON JACKSON Modified: November 11, 2008 at 10:31 am •  Published: November 11, 2008
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LAWTON — A high-ranking Fort Sill officer criticized Lawton’s gang task force unit leader Monday for claiming there are a growing number of gang members stationed at Fort Sill.

Col. Robert Bridgford – Fort Sill’s liaison with Lawton – issued a blistering written statement in which he said Lt. Darrell Southerland released "information to the media that was completely inaccurate and totally outdated.” Bridgford further claimed that "no Fort Sill soldier has been arrested or implicated in gang activity within the past year” and that military police "have not received information specific to any Fort Sill soldier alleged to be a member of a gang or having been involved in gang-related activities.”

Southerland’s comments appeared in a story published Sunday in The Oklahoman.

Bridgford issued his statement late Monday afternoon after a closed-door meeting earlier in the day with Lawton Mayor John Purcell, City Manager Larry Mitchell, Chief of Police Ronnie Smith and Southerland, a 20-year veteran who oversees the city’s gang task force unit. Purcell declined to comment on what was said during the meeting, and Mitchell and Smith didn’t return repeated messages left by The Oklahoman.

Southerland, who has been ordered not to speak to the press, described in an interview last week a far different world than the one Bridgford described. Southerland said he has warned Fort Sill officials for years about the widespread gang problem, and has even conducted seminars on post.

"I think the problem is much bigger than Fort Sill even realizes or wants to admit,” Southerland said last week, adding that a crackdown on gang members at Fort Sill would take a "serious commitment” of resources.