Tulsa police grand jury probe focuses on unlawful searches
BY CURTIS KILLMAN World Staff Writer
Sunday, August 01, 2010
8/01/10 at 5:10 AM
Grand jury investigates police corruption: Read all of the stories, view a timeline and read key documents.
As police searched the north Tulsa home for evidence on an afternoon in June 2007, Juan Antonio Mata Jr. stood in the garage and answered questions posed by Officer Jeff Henderson and former federal agent Brandon McFadden.
Henderson quizzed Mata about what would later be determined to be 52 pounds of marijuana that officers found in the house. Henderson also asked whether there was any cash in the house or another where Mata sometimes stayed.
Mata, 26, told the two about his family background, how much the marijuana sold for and how he acquired a handgun and shotgun that were found during a search of the two homes, according to federal court records filed in connection with Mata's case.
Mata said he didn't have any money but continued to speak openly to Henderson even after being transported to a nearby police station, court records indicate.
"Mata said he liked Officer Henderson and that he appreciated the respect that he gave him in return," records filed by the prosecutor in the case indicate.
Mata later received a five-year federal prison term after pleading guilty to drug trafficking and weapons charges.
Mata's name surfaced along with nearly three dozen individuals named as victims in a series of indictments unsealed July 20 in connection with a federal Tulsa police corruption probe.
The indictments name five current and former Tulsa police officers — including Henderson, who faces 58 counts of perjury, conspiracy to distribute drugs, civil rights violations and other crimes.
Civil rights allegations
Mata is described as a victim in the 61-count indictment that, in addition to Henderson, names fellow Officer Bill Yelton.
The indictment includes a range of civil rights allegations involving other alleged victims with Henderson being named in 58 counts. Yelton was named in seven of the counts, some of which overlap with Henderson's counts.
In addition to the five indictments, former Tulsa Police Officer John K. Gray and McFadden, a former U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent, have entered guilty pleas in connection with the federal corruption probe. Two others, Officer Eric Hill and former Officer Callison Kaiser, have been named in court documents as admitting stealing money during a drug bust, but they have not been charged.
In Mata's case, federal prosecutors claim in court documents that Henderson on June 6, 2007, violated his civil rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The indictment does not include details about how the violation allegedly occurred.
In all, Henderson and Yelton are named in connection with 32 individuals who are alleged to have been victims of crimes ranging from unreasonable search and seizure to witness tampering. The cases occurred between fall 2005 and June 2009, with the bulk occurring in 2007 and 2008, according to the indictment.
A handful of the individuals named have had their convictions dismissed by a court as a result of the corruption probe. Some cases never resulted in a conviction.
One such case involved an alleged victim who was successful in seeing a drug distribution charge dismissed after challenging the legality of the search warrant only to die later after being shot in his home.
That person was Otis Leron Colbert, who was charged in April 2008 in Tulsa District Court with possession of a controlled drug with intent to distribute, records show. Charges were dismissed three months later after a judge ruled in favor of a defense motion that challenged the legality of a search warrant connected to the case, records indicate.
'It happens every day'
Colbert faced similar charges in April 2009. Prosecutors dismissed his case after he died in August following a July 6 shooting.
Police said at the time that Colbert was asleep with his girlfriend when they heard a door being kicked in at their home in the 200 block of South Sandusky Avenue.
No arrests have been made in connection with the shooting death.
The indictment links Yelton to what is described as an unreasonable search and seizure of Colbert in March 2008. The indictment names Yelton as associated with three "unreasonable" searches.
Yelton's attorney commented generally on the allegations, saying it was improper to seek criminal charges.
"How many officers run how many warrants that come up dry, or weren't perfect?" Tony Allen said. "It happens every day. Why all of a sudden is it a crime?"
Unreasonable searches are typically just cause to throw out the warrant, Allen said.
"Bill is charged with an unreasonable search and seizure, which usually results in a suppression of evidence, but cops don't go to freakin' prison for that," Allen said. "That's our position on all of those crazy things."
In addition to civil rights counts involving four alleged victims, Yelton faces a count of conspiracy to suborn perjury and two counts of conspiracy to commit witness tampering.
'Not his drugs'
Henderson's attorney, Chad Greer, declined to discuss the unreasonable search and seizure allegations that his client faces, saying there hasn't been time to see what evidence prosecutors have in connection with the allegations.
The federal investigation has already led to the release of five individuals from prison, and more are likely to come.
Donald Jordan, 29, is currently in prison after being found guilty of trafficking in illegal drugs, but his lawyer believes he may soon walk free.
The grand jury found Henderson had violated Jordan's rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
During Jordan's October 2007 arrest, Henderson said he saw Jordan with his hand between cushions of a couch, then later found drugs in the couch. Jordan has said he was in the kitchen helping unload groceries when officers entered the house.
Jordan was convicted in June 2008 and sentenced to 25 years, but he has always maintained his innocence.
"Donald's position is and always has been that those were not his drugs and that Henderson lied," attorney Kevin Adams said.
Adams, working pro bono for Jordan, has filed an application for post-conviction relief and said he thinks Jordan will be released from prison.
In a separate case, Carah Bartel's lawyer, Robert Stubblefield, has written to the Tulsa County district attorney to request her case be reviewed in its entirety, Stubblefield said.
Bartel, 24, was charged in March 2008 with trafficking in illegal drugs and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. She pleaded no contest and received a five-year deferred sentence, court records show.
Henderson was indicted on one count of unreasonable search and seizure in Bartel's case.
Bartel was working and not at home when the search warrant was carried out, Stubblefield said.
"It was sort of an unusual set of circumstances from the get-go," he said.
In another case, federal prosecutors allege Henderson violated a Tulsa man's constitutional rights when a search of his vehicle turned up drugs and a loaded gun.
Henderson had been staking out Alphie McKinney's house Oct. 31, 2007, in the 3200 block of South Allegheny Avenue, but he opted to leave the area after about 30 minutes, court records show.
A short time later, Henderson saw a car driven by McKinney and stopped him as he approached his residence.
Henderson claimed he saw McKinney make a throwing motion with his right hand as he walked towards the driver's side of McKinney's vehicle, court records show.
Henderson, who was accompanied by McFadden, claimed he saw a small clear plastic wrapper that appeared to contain marijuana in plain sight on the floor of the vehicle.
Yelton and another officer searched McKinney's vehicle and reported finding more marijuana, suspected crack cocaine and a loaded .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun inside the car door frame.
McKinney challenged the search of his vehicle by police after being stopped by Henderson.
McKinney's attorney, Stephen Knorr, said evidence contradicted Henderson's testimony during a hearing to determine whether the officer had probable cause to search the vehicle.
Prosecutors then called McFadden, who was forced to "make something up on the stand," Knorr said.
A judge ruled the vehicle search was proper, and McKinney subsequently pleaded guilty to the weapons charge and received a four-year prison term, records show.
"But at that point there was no investigation going on anywhere … there was no reason to doubt the credibility of McFadden coming in and saving the day if you will," Knorr said.
No drugs were found in the house, Knorr said.
Asked if he had suspicions about the validity of the affidavit police offered a judge to get the initial search warrant for the house, Knorr said: "I've had suspicions for 10 years about these affidavits. You lay one on top of each other and they are identical."
World staff writer Shannon Muchmore contributed to this story.
Twelve have been freed or had charges dropped
Twelve people have been freed from
prison or had their charges dropped as a
result of the grand jury probe. Here are
details on each case:
U.S. DISTRICT COURT:
Larita Annette Barnes: Convicted of a drug
felony April 23, 2008, and sentenced Oct.
3, 2008. Freed from federal prison July 2,
2009. Was serving two 10-year sentences.
Larry Wayne Barnes
Sr.: Convicted of a drug
felony April 23, 2008,
and sentenced Oct.
3, 2008. Freed from
federal prison July 2,
2009. Was serving
two five-year sentences.
Barnes and his wife,
Linda Sue Barnes, filed
a civil lawsuit April
19 in Tulsa County
District Court against
the City of Tulsa, Ronald
Palmer, Jeff Henderson and Brandon
Fred Allen Shields Jr.: Convicted of drug
trafficking March 24, 2009. Conviction
dismissed Feb. 19 before sentencing had
occurred. Currently charged with first-degree
murder in the death of Tulsa businessman
Neal Sweeney. Being held in Tulsa Jail.
Demarco Deon Williams: Convicted of
drug charges April 25, 2008, and sentenced
July 30, 2008. Freed from federal
prison April 30. Was serving two life sentences.
Has said he will file a civil lawsuit.
Jamon Armin Pointer: Convicted of drug
trafficking Oct. 1, 2008, and sentenced
Dec. 29, 2008. Conviction dismissed April
8. Was serving 10 years in prison. Remains
in DOC custody.
Bobby Wayne Haley Sr.: Convicted Sept. 30, 2005, of drug and conspiracy charges
and sentenced Jan. 4, 2006, to 22 years
in prison. Ordered released from federal
prison May 21. Filed a federal lawsuit June
3 against City of Tulsa and Tulsa Police
Richard Miller: Charged Sept. 10 with
possession of a controlled drug. Case
dismissed April 20.
Melanie L. Richardson:
Charged Oct. 14 with
possession of a controlled
drug with intent
to distribute. Case
dismissed April 9.
Seanta G. Sinclair:
Charged Oct. 14 with
possession of a controlled
drug with intent
to distribute. Case
dismissed April 9.
Rodney E. Titsworth:
Charged Jan. 14
with possession of a
controlled drug with intent to distribute.
Charge dropped April 20.
Terry U. Perryman: Charged Jan. 14 with
possession of a controlled drug with intent
to distribute. Charge dropped April 20.
Parra Nishimoto: Convicted Aug. 1, 2008,
of aggravated trafficking in illegal drugs
and sentenced to 15 years in state prison.
Conviction dismissed July 27. Currently
being held in Tulsa Jail on a hold placed by
the Department of Corrections.
Original Print Headline: Civil rights claims part of indictments
Curtis Killman 581-8471