A jailed 2018 Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate pledged to take down a blog that is at the center of a felony case related to alleged threats against the University of Tulsa and apologized to anyone “alarmed or offended” by his posts. However, he said his apology was not an admission of guilt.
Attorneys for Christopher Barnett, 36, appeared in Tulsa County District Court on Monday on a charge of assault and battery with a deadly weapon in the July 24 shooting of a process server at Barnett’s home. Barnett was not transported from the Tulsa County jail for the court date, as District Judge Tracy Priddy instead set the case for a Jan. 2 hearing on motions that could determine how the case will proceed.
But Barnett filed a petition last week arguing that his detention without the right to be released on bond violates his constitutional rights. The document, handwritten and submitted without an attorney’s involvement, was filed in direct contradiction to a directive Priddy made in a Sept. 24 hearing during which she assigned Barnett a public defender. She told him that day, “We’re not gonna have a bunch of pro se filings when you have a lawyer.”
Barnett said he opted to file the motion himself to “seek an end to the illegal incarceration,” and he wrote that the Public Defender’s Office is “overwhelmed” with its existing caseload.
Barnett is charged in a separate case with threatening a violent act against the University of Tulsa and two TU employees. Comments on his website Transparency for Oklahomans were a major topic during a July 29 bond hearing before Special Judge April Seibert, who ordered a no-bond hold, citing public safety concerns.
Special Judge James Keeley presided over a bond reduction hearing in August but ultimately decided against modifying Seibert’s decision, saying he did not hear any information that significantly changed the circumstances of the case.
In his petition, Barnett asked for a $75,000 bond in the assault case and a bond of between $1,000 and $5,000 in the case involving TU.
Assistant District Attorney Mark Collier said the assault case likely will go to trial because “it appears we’re not even close in terms of a resolution,” and he reiterated his belief that Barnett should remain jailed without bond.
“The odds of conviction are none. The severity of the alleged crime was none,” Barnett wrote. “I am not a danger or threat to the community. I am not a flight risk. I am innocent. I am also broke and cannot flee the country as the DA alleged. Even if I could, I wouldn’t.”
On Barnett’s website, a post titled “How would Chris Barnett take down TU?” detailed what police and prosecutors allege is a multistep plan to use AR-15s to carry out a mass shooting at a TU football game. Defense attorney Brendan McHugh, who represented Barnett in the July 29 hearing, argued that the contents of the blog were legally protected speech.
“I apologize to anyone I may have alarmed or offended with the blog post,” Barnett wrote in his petition. “This is not an admission of guilt. I will take the entire website offline once freed. Please accept my sincerest apologies.”
Barnett said in the letter that he disavows “all acts of violence” but said the post in question was not written or published in Oklahoma, meaning the federal government should handle the matter if it chooses. However, he said that if he were released he would “also give up my activism and writing all together” and stay off social media websites.
“This blog was intended to highlight how anyone can buy any amount of AR-15s and there are no laws in place,” Barnett said of the post, adding that his campaign platform in his promised 2020 U.S. Senate race will include proposals for reform.
Barnett ran in the 2018 Republican primary and placed eighth out of 10 gubernatorial candidates, receiving 5,223 votes, or 1.16 percent of votes cast in the race.
In the assault case, the process server was at Barnett’s home to attempt to give Barnett a civil summons in a case alleging that he owed more than $17,000 in credit card debt. Video and audio clips of the incident reveal that Barnett told the process server three times in 42 seconds that he would be dead if he did not leave immediately.
The process server wrote in a Sept. 11 affidavit that it was the fourth time he tried to serve Barnett with the papers in July. He is seen on video leaving but turns around while in Barnett’s front yard to say, “I’ll wait for you out here. OK?” before he was shot in the elbow.
Barnett asserts that the shooting occurred in accordance with Oklahoma’s Stand Your Ground law, which prosecutors have denied.
Collier said he’s received information indicating Barnett may attempt to represent himself, which will prompt a hearing where Priddy will determine whether Barnett is legally capable of doing so. If that effort is successful, Collier said it is likely that a public defender will remain on the case as standby counsel.