Pardon and Parole Board members agreed Thursday to make their monthly meetings safer — either by hiring security guards or moving to a secure location.
“It's kind of like having a 100-year flood,” said new board Chairman Marc Dreyer. “You might go 99 years and never have an incident but, then, when you have that one flood and it wipes you out, you think, ‘Why didn't I buy flood insurance?'
“So that's really where we are. We might go three years and never have anything happen, but the one time ... if someone was hurt — a board member was assaulted or a member of the public was injured — it'd be tragic,” said Dreyer, who is senior pastor at the Memorial Baptist Church in Tulsa.
“Then, people would be saying, ‘Why? Why didn't you?' especially since it's now on our record that we've been talking about our security,” Dreyer said. “If we now have an incident, I think we are hugely liable if we don't do ... everything we can do to be secure.”
Board members discussed hiring one or two off-duty uniformed police officers, troopers or sheriff's deputies to guard their three-day monthly meetings.
The board currently meets at the Hillside Community Corrections Center in northeast Oklahoma City. Those attending the meetings are asked to sign in but are not screened in any way.
Board members also discussed moving their meetings to the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud.
Visitors would have to walk through a metal detector and have their belongings examined with an X-ray machine in order to attend any meetings at Mabel Bassett.
Board members agreed to try both approaches at future meetings before making a final decision.
“It's very secure. It's very nice,” board member Lynnell Harkins said of Mabel Bassett.
Board members say they worry about violence from someone disgruntled over their votes on inmates' parole requests.
Their worries were heightened by an online comment Tuesday on an Oklahoma City television station's website about a murderer's upcoming parole request. On News9.com, a reader wrote: “Knowing parole boards in Oklahoma they'll probably let him out. If so we can only hope the next time he murders it'll be someone on one of those parole boards.”
Board members on Wednesday denied the murderer's request.
Board members Thursday did not directly discuss two ongoing investigations of their past actions.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater is investigating whether the board violated the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act.
Prater began a criminal investigation after learning the board had not given any notice to the public in dozens of instances where inmates initially were considered for early release. The prosecutor could file misdemeanor charges after his investigators finish a review of thousands of documents.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt is conducting a separate investigation.
Pruitt told The Oklahoman on Monday: “The investigations are similar in the sense that they are focused upon whether the Pardon and Parole Board has engaged in practices that are inconsistent with the Open Meeting or Open Records laws.”
Pruitt also said, “I think the district attorney has focused his efforts on criminal prosecution around the Open Meeting and Open Records law, but we've not qualified it that way. ... We're just engaging in an investigation and we'll see what it yields. We'll make an informed decision at the end of that process.”
Board members on Thursday did discuss again suggestions made by Gov. Mary Fallin on how they can be more open and transparent to the public. The board plans a $5,000 upgrade of its website to better inform Oklahomans.
Many of the board members, though, still oppose a suggestion that they get email accounts so the public can contact them that way. Board members already read hundreds of letters each month and they worry they will be overwhelmed if they agree to accept emails, too. The chairman, Dreyer, volunteered to establish an email account for a few months to assess public response.
RANDY ELLIS, STAFF WRITER