Editorial: Taxpayers left holding the bag
BY World's Editorial Writers
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
12/28/11 at 4:54 PM
Correction: This editorial was originally published with incorrect information about who negotiated the $13.5 million settlement in the Delaware County jail sexual assault lawsuit. It has been corrected.
Original Print Headline: Jail bill
The most severe punishment doled out so far in the Delaware County jail sex scandal is to the taxpayers of Delaware County.
In what might be one of the costliest judgments ever handed to an Oklahoma county, Delaware County officials agreed to pay $13.5 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by 15 women, who alleged that they were raped, sexually assaulted and groped by sheriff's deputies.
The deputy most prominently mentioned in inmate complaints, Bill Sanders Sr., died in 2008. Another deputy who is a suspect has been suspended since April but continues to draw his pay. Last week, Sheriff Jay Blackfox resigned.
Sanders was an unpaid volunteer at the sheriff's department. There had been one prior complaint about his sexual behavior with female inmates, a Tulsa World investigation found. Sanders was removed from inmate transport duty then, but after an investigation by the sheriff, he resumed his transport duties.
Sanders was a volunteer but he wore a uniform and a badge and, most alarming, carried a gun. He underwent no law enforcement training, even though that is normally required even of volunteers, and no personnel file was maintained on him.
Unfortunately, the $13.5 million bill handed the taxpayers of Delaware County could drive up property taxes as much as 18 percent. The county has already paid out $600,000 for a legal defense. Further bad news is that the county's liability insurance maximum is $1 million.
Delaware County is a poor county, not unlike many other counties in Oklahoma. The lawsuit settlement, negotiated by an Oklahoma City law firm, will hit homeowners, many of whom are elderly and on fixed incomes, hard.
The size of the settlement suggests that there was some level of wrongdoing, although no criminal charges have been filed. So far, the only people punished are the property owners of Delaware County who have been left holding the bag and the bill.