Oklahoma County DA accuses Parole Board of releasing ineligible inmates early
BY CARY ASPINWALL World Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 08, 2012
8/08/12 at 5:04 PM
Document: View the letter here.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater is asserting that the state's Pardon and Parole Board has violated the Open Meetings Act and state statutes with the early consideration and release of several dozen inmates.
In a letter to Terry Jenks, executive director of Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, Prater says he "determined that the Pardon & Parole Board was not notifying District Attorney's offices of their unqualified inmates being placed on the 'PDI' docket for early parole consideration."
Prater said a review of meeting notices and minutes revealed several cases where board members were placing inmates on a "Pre-Docket Investigation" list ahead of their scheduled parole review dates and without proper notice to the public, in violation of Oklahoma's Open Meetings Act.
Prater also states that several inmates have been considered or released for parole in violation of the state's "85 percent rule," meaning that under Oklahoma law, inmates convicted of certain crimes must serve 85 percent of their sentence before receiving parole consideration.
Terry Jenks, executive director of Oklahoma's Pardon and Parole Board, said he had sent copies of Prater's letter to all five board members and was waiting for them to review it before issuing any response.
Prater's letter accuses board member Richard Dugger of placing inmate Maelene Chambers on the parole review docket early because he was asked to do so by Leamon Freemon, a retired judge who is also a former classmate and friend of Dugger's.
Prater wrote: "I asked Dugger if he thought that was proper. He responded by saying, 'I have the authority to do it. He (Freeman) asked me to do it and I did.' I again asked what authority he had to place Chambers on a parole docket early. Dugger said, 'The Constitution.' "
Dugger, who served as chairman of the board in 2011, declined to comment when reached by phone Wednesday. He said any response would come from the board's current chairman, Lynnell Harkins, or the Pardon and Parole Board staff.
Dugger is a former district attorney and was appointed to the board by Oklahoma's Court of Criminal Appeals. Harkins was appointed by the Supreme Court.
The governor appoints three members to the board; the other two are appointed by the Oklahoma Supreme Court and the state Court of Criminal Appeals. In 2011, Gov. Mary Fallin appointed Currie Ballard, Marc Dreyer and David Moore to serve on the board.
Fallin has asked the Pardon and Parole Board to place a moratorium on its practice of “docket modifications” during monthly meetings after Prater alleged the board’s practices violated state laws.
“The governor takes Mr. Prater’s complaints seriously; she is carefully reviewing his letter and consulting with her legal staff as well as Pardon and Parole Board members,” communications director Alex Weintz said in an emailed statement.
Prater’s letter lists 50 cases from 2010 to the present where he alleges the board took actions that violated Open Meetings laws and says all resulting decisions are invalid.
In addition, Prater requested that the entire August parole docket be stricken, which could delay parole hearings for hundreds of inmates scheduled for consideration at next week’s meeting in Oklahoma City.
“The governor applauds Mr. Prater for his commitment to transparency and to law and order. She will continue to investigate his allegations and ensure the law is obeyed and justice is properly served,” Weintz said.
The governor has asked Attorney General Scott Pruitt to issue an opinion regarding the 85 percent rule and the board’s ability to recommend early release or commutation of sentences.
Read more on this story in Thursday's Tulsa World.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater is questioning some of the practices by the state Pardon and Parole Board. JIM BECKEL/The Oklahoman file