Oklahoma DA halts I-40 drug stops after criticism

Caddo County Special Judge David A. Stephens said he was shocked District Attorney Jason Hicks used private company to participate in drug busts when company officers not certified by state.
by Nolan Clay Published: July 21, 2013

He said he hired Desert Snow to provide training because his drug task force had little success on drug stops. He said he hoped to make money for his office from the drug stops because of a loss of federal funds.

He said he consulted with the state auditor, Gary Jones, about the contract and was assured it was legal. Jones confirmed that was his opinion.

Hicks' task force includes his investigators, Hinton police officers and agents with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. He said a task force officer always accompanied a Desert Snow employee on the stops.

He said he plans for his task force to restart drug stops eventually and his officers will still consult with Desert Snow by phone. He may redo the contract next year to resume on-site training.

He also said dismissed criminal cases could be refiled.

“Yes, it's unusual, but what we're doing here is trying to finance law enforcement on the backs of criminals. At the end of the day, the money that we've taken here has been money that we've taken away from drug traffickers,” Hicks said. “This is money that we have taken away from the cartels and are putting it to good use in law enforcement. And I think that's a good thing.”

In an emailed statement, Desert Snow said it had instructed about 50,000 officers across the United Stated and Canada. It said, “We have entered into a legal contract with District Attorney Jason Hicks … to provide professional, legal and proven tactics at no cost to the public.”

About the drug stop

In the stop that upset the judge, the company founder, Joe David, pulled over a pregnant driver in February after seeing her twice bump the white line along the shoulder. The stop was one of more than 400 done during a five-day operation involving Desert Snow in February.

David had a gun and possibly was wearing a shirt that had “POLICE” on the back, according to his testimony. David, a former California Highway Patrol trooper, was with a BIA agent and was driving the agent's BIA car. He questioned the woman himself.

The Ohio woman and two passengers were charged after 25 pounds of marijuana was found in the vehicle. Her case was dismissed July 2.

The woman's attorney, Al Hoch, is calling for a change in the law. He told The Oklahoman forfeited drug money should go into the state general fund rather than directly to law enforcement.

“Law enforcement is supposed to be a public service function, not a for-profit enterprise,” he said.

The judge on July 2 criticized the district attorney, saying it was the prosecutor's absolute duty to be sure any police officer in Caddo County is certified by the state Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training or is in the process of getting certification.

“In our system of justice, the state Legislature a long time ago has developed the CLEET system as guaranteeing to the people of the state of Oklahoma a professional police force,” the judge said. “The reason for that is any time a police officer arrests somebody, they're taking a valuable right each one of us as individuals have — our right to liberty.”

NewsOK.com has disabled the comments for this article.
by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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