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Oklahoma state trooper inquiry hits 15-month mark

BY ANN KELLEY Published: March 6, 2010
SHAWNEE — A state trooper honored for helping save a Kingfisher couple from floodwaters has been on paid leave for 15 months pending the outcome of an investigation over possible stolen helicopter parts.

Trooper Joe Howard has continued to draw his $57,600 annual salary.

Howard said Friday his attorney, Gary James, advised him not to talk with the media. Calls to his attorney were not returned.

Howard was previously a pilot with the Highway Patrol’s Troop O aviation division and was part of the team that in August 2007 plucked Leroy and Bernice Krittenbrink from the rushing, muddy waters that overtook their community. The rescue was captured on video and telecast nationwide.

Howard has since been reassigned to a turnpike patrol, but remains off duty until the investigation into the missing parts is complete, OHP spokesman Chris West said.

West said Howard was not reassigned because of any suspected wrongdoing. The patrol was simply downsizing its aviation division, he said.

While on leave from the patrol, Howard has been working at his business, Central Disposal of Shawnee. He’s entering a lease-purchase agreement for a building that was formerly the law office for Gov. Brad Henry and his deceased father, Judge Charles Henry.

The building is owned by a Henry family trust, and has been vacant for seven years.

Troopers on leave with pay, such as Howard, are required to be home during their eight-hour work shifts, said Wellon Poe, attorney for the state Department of Public Safety. He said they must telephone the patrol twice a day from home and, to his knowledge, no one has ever been reprimanded for violating the policy.

Poe said he couldn’t comment specifically about Howard or others who are involved in the investigation.

At least one other trooper, now retired, and a civilian employee were part of the initial investigation, sources close to the investigation told The Oklahoman.

Investigation drags on
The investigation into alleged missing helicopter parts began 15 months ago with the internal affairs division of the Public Safety Department.

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