The wheels of justice have been said to turn slowly.
Criminal cases are pending against now-suspended Sheriff Jerry Niles, former Garfield County Detention Facility administrator Jennifer Niles and jailers John Markus and Shawn Galusha.
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 jail. A preliminary hearing was held Aug. 7-10, 2018, and the three were bound over for trial.
On Feb. 14, 2018, Sheriff Niles was charged with two misdemeanor counts of nepotism, which is punishable by a fine of $100 to $1,000 and forfeiture of office. The charges accuse the sheriff of appointing his son Logan Niles and daughter-in-law Jennifer Shay Niles "to a new position and duties of employment with the Garfield County Sheriff's Office and increased the salary, wages, pay or compensation" for them.
Woodward County District Attorney Chris Boring was appointed a special prosecutor after Garfield County District Attorney Mike Fields recused himself. Boring is appealing the ruling of the Court of Criminal Appeals, which upheld the ruling of a district court judge that there was not enough evidence for Jerry Niles to stand trial for manslaughter. A second appeal will be heard this month.
The manslaughter issue is separate from the nepotism issue, which needs to be handled expediently.
On Aug. 22, 2016, Fields requested the Oklahoma attorney general to appoint a prosecutor to investigate allegations of official misconduct by Jerry Niles in the appointment of his son and daughter-in-law within the sheriff's office. The attorney general's office appointed Boring to investigate the allegations.
In a letter on Dec. 6, 2012, Fields told the sheriff his son could continue his employment with the office after the sheriff's official election. However, Fields advised Niles there could be no change in his son's "position, duties, responsibilities and compensation after you take office as sheriff. ... There can be no changes in his status after you take office without that being a new 'appointment' and thus being in violation of the nepotism laws.”
In a letter on June 21, 2016, Fields again referenced his legal advice from the previous letter. It also states, "It has come to my attention that Jennifer Niles, your daughter-in-law, may have a different title, position, duties or responsibilities (than) when you took office. If this information is accurate, then you may very well be in violation of Title 21, Section 481."
Fields also noted he'd had a "handful of conversations with Sheriff Niles. ... In these conversations, Sheriff Niles indicated to Fields that he did not believe he had violated the state's nepotism laws," according to the affidavit. Fields reviewed payroll certifications from the Garfield County Clerk and determined changes in compensation for both Logan and Jennifer since Jerry Niles had been in office, as well as changes in the "nature or work" column for Jennifer.
The nepotism case needs to be addressed as soon as possible. The issue has been costly for taxpayers.
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.
We need a resolution soon. Nepotism should be a clear-cut issue. Holding the sheriff’s department in limbo is detrimental for Garfield County in the long term.