Sheriff Niles will not face manslaughter charges

Jerry Niles

Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals voted 5-0 Thursday to deny a prosecutor's request to have suspended Garfield County Sheriff Jerry Niles face a charge of first-degree manslaughter charge in the death of a jail inmate in 2016.

Niles' attorney Gary James said the Court of Criminal Appeals cast the unanimous vote after hearing oral arguments from himself and Woodward County District Attorney Chris Boring, who was assigned as a special prosecutor in the case against Niles.

"Jerry’s been exonerated, finally," James said. "In regard to the felony case, he's done. I want to the people of Enid to know that Jerry was innocent."

Niles, former jail administrator Jennifer Shay Niles and jailers John Robert Markus and Shawn Caleb Galusha were charged in the June 2016 death of Anthony Dewayne Huff while Huff was incarcerated at Garfield County Detention Facility. They were charged in February with felony first-degree manslaughter in Huff’s death and arraigned March 23.

Associate District Judge Ryan D. Reddick, who was appointed to hear the case when all Garfield County judges recused themselves, said Jennifer Niles, Galusha and Markus would be bound over for trial for manslaughter following a four-day preliminary hearing last month. He ruled Jerry Niles would not be bound over for trial.

At the conclusion of the August hearing, Reddick said the state failed to demonstrate Jerry Niles committed a crime and granted his demur and motion to dismiss charges. Boring announced his intention to appeal the ruling.

Custer County Associate District Judge Jill C. Weedon was assigned to hear the appeal. On Sept. 4, 2018, Weedon confirmed Reddick's decision concerning the sheriff.

"The Court has reviewed all relevant portions of the record of the case including transcripts of the preliminary hearing and evidence admitted," Weedon wrote in her order. "Based upon the entire record developed before the magistrate, the Court finds that the evidence taken in the light most favorable to the state is insufficient to find probable cause that the defendant Jerry Niles Jr. has committed a crime."

In her findings for the case, Weddon wrote, "There was no evidence that the Sheriff was present or participated in the incarceration or restraint of Huff. There was no evidence that the Sheriff had knowledge that Huff was restrained to the chair. There was no evidence that the Sheriff advised or encouraged anyone to restrain Huff."

The judge also wrote that Niles was not "an accomplice" to cruel or unusual punishment or in violation of jail standards.

"The sheriff had a policy and procedure in place as required by jail standards, and there was no evidence that he failed to train employees," Weedon wrote. "The employees generally knew there was a policy, but did not do a good job of following the policy."

The judge said prosecutors failed to create a causal connection between Niles and Huff's death.

"The medical examiner determined Huff died of chronic alcoholism, sequelae," Weedon wrote. "Evidence at the preliminary hearing did not indicate that being held in the restraint caused Huff's death. Taking the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, lack of medical care for alcohol withdrawal contributed to Huff's death."

Niles placed himself on paid suspension July 28, 2017, and has remained under suspension since. Garfield County payroll records from July 28, 2017, until Jan. 31, 2019, show Niles had received $98,266.72 pay while on suspension.

Niles still faces two misdemeanor charges of nepotism, each of which is punishable by a fine of $100 to $1,000 and forfeiture of office. The next hearing in that case is set for the morning of March 11.

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Rains is police and court reporter for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @cassrains. He can be reached at crains@enidnews.com.

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