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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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“We will take action against these,” Emmons said.

Emmons, who has been CLEET director since 2011, attributed cases such as Thomsen's to a communication lapse between agencies.

The council has no way of knowing about the convictions or guilty pleas if district attorneys' offices don't let the agency know, he said. Council staff members do look for news reports on officers' misconduct, Emmons said.

Michael Fields, the district attorney who oversaw the Thomsen case, said his agency failed to notify the council of the conviction. “It was an oversight,” said Fields, adding that his office would forward the conviction information to CLEET.

After being contacted by Oklahoma Watch, Trent Baggett, assistant executive coordinator for the District Attorneys Council, said the agency will contact district attorneys in the state and remind them about their obligation to notify CLEET.

“It's not necessarily something we train on each year,” Baggett said. If notification “is not taking place, it should.”

Time lapse

In other cases where officers were convicted of, or pleaded guilty, to a felony, it took the council years to revoke an officer's certification.

For instance, former Dewar police officer Haskell Wadsworth, 69, was convicted in May 2000 of rape and molestation in Okmulgee County, served 10 years in prison and was released, court records show. It wasn't until a year later, in 2012, that the council revoked his certification.

Citing the state's Open Records Act, the council would not disclose specifics about how an officer's conviction or guilty plea came to its attention. It also would not provide the date or year of certification for any officer or release its list of all certified law enforcement officers in Oklahoma.

It's unclear if any delay in removing a certification has allowed an officer with a felony conviction or guilty plea to get a new job as a peace officer. Law enforcement agencies run background checks on applicants, and those checks would likely turn up a felony conviction or guilty plea unless the case was expunged.

Emmons said that since 2011, the council has begun looking into older cases of police misconduct, trying to identify some that had been overlooked.

“That doesn't mean the problems are fixed,” he said.

The time lapses raise the question of how many more cases of officers with felony convictions have gone unreported to the council.

Emmons said the agency will take a look at cases identified by Oklahoma Watch, but it would be difficult to identify all cases without additional funding and resources.

“We may still not know about” other cases, Emmons said.