Garfield County taxpayers deserve to know the details of a proposed settlement of criminal charges against Sheriff Jerry Niles. And those specifics should be shared before the settlement is given final approval by a judge.
While we believe the accused is innocent until proven guilty, this is a unique situation: The defendant is an elected public official, hired by Garfield County voters, and paid by our county’s taxpayers, even through Niles has not been working for nearly two years.
The prosecutor in a criminal case represents the state of Oklahoma, the public. But in seeking justice in this case, the prosecutor is also seeking justice for the victims, the residents of Garfield County.
The sheriff is accused of nepotism, granting favorable position or treatment to his family members as a result of his authority as an elected public official. Specifically, the sheriff’s son and former daughter in-law — both employees of the sheriff’s office before Niles was elected — received job changes and higher pay after Niles was elected.
The facts are fairly clear. In dispute is whether that constitutes the crime of nepotism.
Woodward County District Attorney Chris Boring was appointed as special prosecutor after Garfield County District Attorney Mike Fields recused himself.
In resolving this case, an out-of-county prosecutor and Texas County District Judge Jon Parsley are being asked to deliver justice — not just for Niles, but for the residents of Garfield County.
In a recent filing, Judge Parsley said the case remains pending. The parties still need to meet in open court.
Niles is accused of unjustly enriching his family members. Facing that accusation, Niles suspended himself from working as sheriff, but he continues to receive his full salary while not on the job. He even received a pay increase while not working — an increase Garfield County commissioners gave to all such elected county officials. For not working since July 28, 2017, Niles has received more than $120,000 in salary through May 31.
Niles was a personable and popular sheriff, but the protracted period of paid time off seems to compound the problem of alleged nepotism, at least from the taxpayers’ perspective.
A negotiated settlement has the opportunity to bring resolution. We hope the interests of Garfield County taxpayers will be appropriately prioritized in this agreement between a Woodward-based prosecutor, an Oklahoma City-based defense attorney and a Guymon-based judge. But, we won’t know until settlement details are released.
We urge the judge and prosecutor to come forward to provide trust in transparency for the taxpayers of Garfield County.