Oklahoma Watch: Despite felonies and guilty pleas, Oklahoma officers keep enforcement certifications for years

BY SHAUN HITTLE Modified: October 14, 2013 at 9:31 pm •  Published: October 15, 2013
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In July 2010, a former Kingfisher County sheriff's deputy pleaded no contest to a charge of committing lewd acts with a child when he still was an officer two years earlier.

Shawn Theo Thomsen, then 43, was given a five-year suspended sentence, court records show. Now living in Texas, he's required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Despite the crime, Thomsen is still certified as a peace officer by the Council on Law Enforcement and Education, or CLEET, a state agency that certifies Oklahoma law officers. State law requires that the council take away certification for an officer who pleads guilty or no contest to a felony charge, removing him or her from law enforcement.

Thomsen's case highlights how a lack of communication between prosecutors and the agency that certifies officers has allowed dozens of Oklahoma officers who pleaded guilty to, or were convicted of, a felony to keep their certifications for years — more than a decade in some cases, an Oklahoma Watch investigation found.

Using court and council records and news reports, Oklahoma Watch identified a dozen cases from 2003 to 2011 where law officers were convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, felonies but still have the council's certification as peace officers.

More recently, from 2010 to 2012, 66 officers had their certifications revoked or suspended, were given a letter of reprimand, or they surrendered their certification, according to copies of final disciplinary orders provided by the council. In 22 cases where officers lost or gave up their certifications because of convictions, guilty pleas or other misconduct, it took longer than two years after the resolution of the case for CLEET's action to be completed, the disciplinary orders show. In 18 of those cases, it took longer than four years.

Under state law, district attorneys who handle felony cases involving officers are supposed to notify CLEET, which opens an investigation. That doesn't happen all the time, said Steve Emmons, the council's director.

“There isn't a good communication system in the state,” Emmons said. If the council isn't aware of such cases, it's difficult and time-consuming for his agency to track them down, he said.

Failure to notify

Oklahoma law states that CLEET “shall revoke the certification of any person upon determining that such person has been convicted of a felony or a crime involving moral turpitude or a domestic violence offense.”

The law also states that a plea of guilty or no contest for a felony offense, including a plea with a deferred sentence, subjects an officer to disciplinary action.

Oklahoma Watch provided Emmons with a list of a dozen cases in which officers were convicted of felonies from 2009 to 2011 but still have certifications. Emmons said his agency was unaware of at least several of them.

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