The recent slayings of two prosecutors in northern Texas have district attorneys in Oklahoma rethinking ways to protect prosecutors and investigators charged with bringing criminals to justice.
“We've taken some steps, but it definitely deserves a closer look to see what additional changes need to be made,” Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn said this week. “This has made everyone more aware of the dangers of the job.”
On March 30, Kaufman County, Texas, District Attorney Mike McClelland and his wife were shot to death inside their Forney, Texas, home. The killings came two months after a prosecutor in McClelland's office was shot multiple times in an employee parking lot near his courthouse office in Kaufman, a small town southeast of Dallas.
“It creates a lot of concern, yeah, a lot of concern,” said James M. Boring, district attorney for Texas, Cimarron, Beaver and Harper counties. “I mean, especially in rural counties in the state.”
Boring said he has added extra security to protect his investigators.
“Maybe I need to be carrying one of those assault weapons with a 30-round clip,” Boring said with a chuckle. “It's pretty crazy.”
Hollis Thorp, district attorney for Woodward, Alfalfa, Dewey, Major and Woods counties, doesn't plan on taking additional precautions.
“It has to be taken seriously,” Thorp said. “But on the other hand, I don't want to go around living in fear.”
Mashburn said he has been in contact with the National District Attorneys Association and mentioned the possibility of having an outside agency perform a risk assessment to determine what can be done to better protect the state's prosecutors.
The district attorney said those and other safety measures will be discussed when district attorneys meet later this month in Oklahoma City.
“It's definitely something we're aware of,” Mashburn said. “These shootings have definitely brought security to the forefront of what we have been doing lately.”
Cleveland County, with 300,000 residents, is the state's third-most populous county, behind Oklahoma and Tulsa counties.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater declined to comment for this story.
Sheriff's deputies patrol the Oklahoma County Courthouse, providing a presence inside and outside of courtrooms to keep the peace when tempers flare.
Mashburn knows firsthand about the risks that come with fighting crime.
In November 2009, a convicted sex offender pulled a knife in court and cut his own throat. He then stabbed a deputy who tried to subdue him.
In August 2009, deputies discovered a loaded gun in the purse of a woman Mashburn said became agitated while visiting him in his office.
After the stabbing, an X-ray machine and a metal detector were installed at the courthouse and a private security firm was scrapped in favor of sheriff's deputies for protection, Mashburn said.
Michael Fields, district attorney for Garfield, Blaine, Canadian, Grant and Kingfisher counties, and Jason Hicks, district attorney for Stephens, Caddo, Grady and Jefferson counties, did not return calls seeking comment.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is considering action after the shooting deaths of the prosecutors in Texas, according to agency spokeswoman Jessica Brown.
“We are in the process of working on a plan to offer personal defense training to prosecutors across the state,” Brown said. “This is only in the planning stages.”
Brown didn't mention any specific threats to prosecutors or other law enforcement officials in Oklahoma, only that the events in Texas are giving OSBI the chance to be “proactive.”
“In law enforcement, so much of what we do is reactionary,” she said. “We are always thinking of Oklahoma first, so if we can be proactive, get out ahead of something like this, we want to do that.”
Brown would not say what kind of training is being discussed and planned by the statewide law enforcement agency, stressing that all plans are cursory at this point.
“It might not happen, but we are discussing it right now,” she said.
Contributing: Staff Writers Randy Ellis and Andrew Knittle