Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said Thursday he will ask the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to review allegations of wrongdoing made by his political opponent and a former inmate who claims he worked on sign posts for Whetsel's re-election campaign while incarcerated.
“I have nothing to hide, nor does the Oklahoma County Sheriff's office, Whetsel said in a statement. “We are in a political season and politics is trying to make more of this incident than is there.”
Darrell Sorrels, Whetsel's opponent in the Nov. 6 general election, has called for a criminal investigation.
Whetsel declined a request to be interviewed for this story.
The retired sheriff's deputy alleges Whetsel violated the civil rights of an inmate who told The Oklahoman he cut and painted rebar for the sign posts on two occasions before being released from the jail earlier this month.
“That constitutes slave labor, whether or not they volunteered,” Sorrels said. “A campaign is a personal endeavor, and they don't have a choice to say no.”
Whetsel said he was notified Monday about an incident “possibly involving” inmate trusties working on rebar for campaign signs.
The sheriff said that on two separate occasions a county employee picked up the rebar with campaign money and brought it back to the maintenance facility at the jail, where employees, not trusties, cut the rebar with an employee-owned saw on loan to the county.
Whetsel called statements made by the trusty “unverified,” saying a preliminary review revealed that on the first occasion no one other than an employee handled the rebar.
“We have learned that the inmate, if being honest with his claims, may have confused his cutting of rebar with that being cut for concrete being poured at the sheriff's office about the same time,” Whetsel said.