A recently formed Jail Advisory Board is discussing operations and issues at Garfield County Detention Facility, District 1 County Commissioner Marc Bolz said.
“We have a Criminal Justice Authority that was formed back in 1999, when they were just looking at building the jail, and it’s the three county commissioners,” he said.
Bolz said using Oklahoma’s Title 19 statute, titled “Counties and County Officers,” the commissioners formed a Jail Advisory Board last fall using the state law to determine the board’s makeup of the board. He said the board has members appointed by a district judge, a member appointed by the acting sheriff and a member appointed by the chairman of the county commission, which is his title this year. Bolz also is on the board but said the job will trade yearly between the commissioners.
“The first meeting was in December, and they toured the jail,” Bolz said. “We met again in January, and we are going to meet again this month.”
He said one of the first issues addressed was changing to a new contractor for medical services for the jail and addressing operations.
“(Acting Sheriff) Jody (Helm) has visited Canadian County and Kay County jails, and I went with him to Kay County to their jail to see how they’re operating,” Bolz said. “We don’t really get into the personnel issues or haven’t at this time.”
Community input sought
Bolz said recommendations from the board are given to Helm, who then takes them to the jail administrator. He said the meetings of the board are not open to the public because they do not spend any taxpayer money; however, he said the intention is to open the meetings to the public.
“Right now, we’re really just working on the budget. Jody is working on the budgets, so we’ll be discussing that,” Bolz said. “The budget will tell us the direction we need to go or what we can do.”
He also said the board is seeking more input from the community. Those with suggestions can email him at marc email@example.com.
“Our goal is to try to get the jail back in line fiscally, and also make sure everything is being done properly and correct in regard to administration and management of jail and the care of the inmates,” said attorney David Henneke, who serves on the Jail Advisory Board and was on Oklahoma Board of Corrections for 13 years.
He said the board is working on issues to make things better at the jail for everyone who conducts business there, such as law enforcement, judges, court clerks and bail agents. “Not just the people who deal with the jail day to day, but the inmates as well.”
Ongoing cases not discussed
Bolz said one topic that has not been discussed is the pending criminal cases against now-suspended Sheriff Jerry Niles, former jail administrator Jennifer Niles and jailers John Markus and Shawn Galusha. Because the cases are ongoing, and because they are considered personnel issues, Bolz said they cannot be discussed by the board.
Jennifer Niles, Galusha and Markus were charged in February 2018, with felony first-degree manslaughter in the June 2016 death of Anthony Huff at Garfield County Detention Facility. A preliminary hearing was held Aug. 7-10, 2018, and the three were bound over for trial. Sheriff Jerry Niles, who also was charged with manslaughter, was not bound over for trial. The sheriff still faces two misdemeanor counts of nepotism, also filed last February.
The four were initially indicted in 2017, following the convening of a grand jury. Indictments handed up by the grand jury included the four and two nurses, Vanisa Jo Gay and Lela June Goatley, who were working at the jail at the time of Huff’s death.
The indictments were unsealed July 25, 2017, and each was charged with a single felony count of second-degree manslaughter. The indictments were dismissed in December 2017, when District 26 District Attorney Christopher Boring, who was appointed to prosecute the cases, announced his intention to refile them as criminal charges. Charges were dropped against Gay and charges were not refiled against Goatley.
Settlement conferences set
All four cases were set for a March 11 hearing on motions filed in all the cases. However, an order issued last month by Texas County District Judge Jon Parsley in each of the cases ordered the defendants, their counsel and Boring to a settlement conference before Associate District Judge Ryan D. Reddick, who conducted the preliminary hearing in the four manslaughter cases.
Boring said last week the conferences were set for this month.
“The judge has asked us to appear before Judge Reddick for a conference. We intend to appear in it, “ he said. “We look forward to moving the case forward.”
After being placed on paid administrative leave, Galusha and Markus, from July 25, 2017, until Jan. 15, 2019, have received $62,543.11 and $60,872.65 pay, respectively, while on suspension.
Commissioners unanimously accepted the self-suspension of Jerry Niles with pay. An open records request for Garfield County payroll records found from July 28, 2017, until Jan. 31, 2019, Jerry Niles has received $98,266.72 pay while on suspension.
A federal lawsuit was filed on June 6, 2017, accusing Garfield County officials of negligence in his death and of violating Huff’s constitutional rights. It was filed on behalf of Huff’s estate by Huff’s brother, James Graham.