Attorneys for a 2018 Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate who is accused of shooting a process server and making threats against the University of Tulsa argued for the third time in as many weeks that their client should have a chance for release from jail on bond.
Christopher Barnett, who has been jailed without bond since July 29, was not present during a two-hour bond reduction hearing with his attorneys and prosecutors on Wednesday. Special Judge James Keeley heard testimony from two witnesses and is expected to announce his decision later, according to court minutes.
Barnett’s attorneys, Brendan McHugh and Dana Jim, said in a motion last week that they requested the hearing because they had learned new information about a gun that a Tulsa process server carried when he was shot on July 24.
“The gun was found in the process server’s pocket by a firefighter who arrived at the scene,” the defense’s motion states. “The cops did not know or did not care that the alleged victim had a gun.”
Barnett’s attorneys allege that Tulsa police displayed “bias and incompetence” during the investigation because Barnett called 911 to report that someone with a gun was trespassing on his property.
They also accuse officers of trying to “cover up” the gun’s existence by returning it to the process server rather than keeping it as evidence. Police Detective Max Ryden testified in a previous hearing that there was no evidence that the process server threatened Barnett or his husband with his gun or fired it during the encounter.
Information filed with a search warrant affidavit shows that officers recovered a 9 millimeter handgun from a desk near the Barnetts’ front door on July 25 and collected six rounds from it at the Detective Division.
Assistant District Attorney Mark Collier has said Barnett’s behavior presents a safety risk to the public, but the bond reduction motion asserts that Barnett was aware that the process server had a gun before he shot him. It also says a doctor is willing to testify that Barnett is not a threat.
Barnett was a Republican candidate for governor during the 2018 primary election. He placed eighth out of 10 candidates, garnering 5,223 votes, or 1.16% of votes cast.
The Tulsa World reported last week that the Tulsa County court administrator released videos from the Barnetts’ surveillance cameras and an audio recording the process server provided to police. Two of the eight videos were the same as those McHugh released Aug. 1, the day Barnett pleaded not guilty to assault and battery with a deadly weapon and threatening a violent act against the University of Tulsa.
The World received the recordings in response to an Open Records Act request.
In the 1-minute, 45-second audio clip, Barnett can be heard saying repeatedly that the process server would be dead if he did not leave. The process server told Barnett he was being recorded and walked away from the front door, but he turned around while on the front lawn to say, “I’ll wait for you out here. OK?” shortly before he was shot. The injury was not life-threatening.
Barnett’s husband, Trey Barnett, said Wednesday that the audio the World received was longer than what he, Chris Barnett, the attorneys and Special Judge April Seibert heard last month.
Seibert ruled July 29 that Barnett should be in jail without bond, amending her determination from three days earlier that a $1 million bond and ankle monitor were appropriate.
The threat charge is related to a page on Chris Barnett’s website, Transparency for Oklahomans, titled “How would Chris Barnett take down TU?” It detailed what Barnett said were “hypothetical” plans for a mass shooting as people left the TU football stadium during halftime or after a game, but McHugh maintains that the comments are legally protected speech.
Police alleged in an affidavit that Chris Barnett conducted a Google search inquiring “Can you legally shoot a process server?” and has said the only good process server is a dead one. Trey Barnett testified July 29 that the Google search took place around the time he had his own altercation with a different process server.
A review of civil lawsuits against the Barnetts shows that the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office filed five notices in four cases this spring expressing suspicion that the couple avoided people trying to serve them documents.
A different process server said in a March affidavit in one of those cases that he spoke with someone at the Barnetts’ home on Feb. 20 who said Trey Barnett did not live there. On the July 24 audio recording, Chris Barnett can be heard saying, “I’m sorry. You have the wrong house. Get off my property, or you’re gonna be dead.”
Tulsa County Assessor’s Office records indicate that the Barnetts have owned their home since September 2015.
Chris Barnett’s website also details the history of a lawsuit Trey Barnett filed against TU in 2016 after his suspension from the school for what administrators considered harassment against faculty and a student. Chris Barnett later filed more than a half dozen other lawsuits, including one against Tulsa Community College over the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
McHugh filed notice Aug. 6 of his client’s desire to dismiss his lawsuits against TCC, the city of Tulsa, the Tulsa Performing Arts Center and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. The dismissals are without prejudice, meaning they could be re-filed later.
Chris Barnett is due back in court Aug. 26 for a preliminary hearing.