By Melanie Wilmoth
I haven’t heard much news about the corruption investigation of the Tulsa Police Department (TPD) that has been developing over the past few years. This case should be a national scandal. But it’s not.
The media coverage of this story has been lacking to say the least. A quick internet search for information resulted in only a handful of articles, and the few media outlets that are covering the story are almost exclusively local news sources.
The corruption investigation involves several TPD officers and one federal agent who for years used their positions of power to steal money from drug dealers, falsify search warrants, fabricate drug buys, traffick drugs, and manipulate informant testimony in drug cases. The federal investigation began with a tip from a drug dealer, Debra Clayton, who claimed that she sold drugs for TPD officers from spring 2007 to fall 2008. During this time, Clayton recorded conversations between herself and the officers. It was those recordings that led the FBI to investigate.
After evidence of the officers’ misconduct came to light, federal agent Brandon McFadden pled guilty to drug conspiracy and testified against other TPD officers. An excerpt from former Agent McFadden’s guilty plea reveals his involvement in the scandal:
From January 7th of — to May of 2008, I conspired with others, including Tulsa police officer, Jeff Henderson, to distribute methamphetamine in the Northern District of Oklahoma. During the time period . . . I used the position as a special agent with ATF to further the drug conspiracy and abused my position as a special agent. During this time, myself and Henderson seized drugs and money which were kept for our own personal benefit, falsified investigative reports, and failed to document events, and obstruct justice through falsely [sic] testimony under oath and persuading other individuals to do the same.
Since 2009, several TPD officers, including agent McFadden, have been convicted.
Larry Barnes and his daughter, Larita, have been deeply affected by the Tulsa scandal. Larry and Larita were imprisoned because several TPD officers fabricated a drug buy and coached an informant to lie about the buy. The informant later recanted his testimony and admitted that TPD officers told him to lie. As a result, Larry and Larita Barnes have been released from prison.
However, Larry and Larita were not the only individuals affected by police corruption in Tulsa. Many more were wrongfully convicted based on the lies and false testimony of TPD officers. In fact, since 2009, almost 40 people have been released from prison or had their cases dismissed.
Now, back to my original question. Why hasn’t this case attracted more media attention? Do people not care that police are engaging in illegal activity and unjustly locking up innocent people?
I don’t think that’s it.
It could be that people feel that the Tulsa case was an isolated incident involving a few “bad seeds.” However, it is important to remember that police corruption is not just a Tulsa problem. These officers just happened to get caught. The TPD case should serve as a reminder that no one, not even an officer of the law, is infallible. Unfortunately, corruption and abuse of power are all too common.
Our criminal justice system is broken and we cannot sweep stories like this one under the rug. If we want to make any meaningful changes to the justice system and develop a public consensus for criminal justice reform, police corruption and scandal must be brought to light.
By OMER GILLHAM
Brandon McFadden said he tried to tell his supervisors about police corruption long before federal investigators began looking at claims of perjury, stolen drugs and rigged search warrants involving Tulsa police officers.
McFadden, 34, is a Texan and former agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He has pleaded guilty to one count of drug conspiracy and is awaiting sentencing.
McFadden recently testified in the police corruption trial of Officers Bill Yelton, 50, and Jeff Henderson, 38, in federal court.
“The first time someone put a wad of cash in my hand, I took it out of peer pressure,” McFadden testified. “But after that, it was greed.”
McFadden’s testimony provided a glimpse into one of the widest scandals in the history of the Tulsa Police Department. However, many observers, including jurors in the trial, said McFadden was not credible and that his claims were motivated by a desire to avoid prison time.
Making eye contact with jurors, McFadden filled in the events leading up to an investigation by the FBI and special prosecutors in late 2008 or early 2009.
“I tried for years to tell people and my supervisor what was going on, but it seemed to get shut down,” McFadden testified. “It may sound odd, but this indictment saved my life because I can get up here and tell the truth about what happened.”
A Tulsa World investigation shows the federal probe primarily began with a tip from a drug dealer, Debra Clayton, in late 2008 or early 2009 to the FBI. Additionally, a drug raid in June 2009 by the FBI at the home of informant Ryan Logsdon also provided investigative leads on police officers, according to Logsdon’s testimony.
In a previous interview with the World, Clayton, 44, said she sold drugs for McFadden from the spring of 2007 through the fall of 2008.
Realizing her days were numbered, Clayton said, she set up McFadden and former Officer John K. “J.J.” Gray. She said she recorded their conversations and turned them over to the FBI.
Clayton met Gray and McFadden in the spring of 2007 when the officers pulled her over for a traffic stop on U.S. 169. The officers stole $14,000 from her and half an ounce of meth, records show.
Clayton told the World she conducted more than 100 drug deals for McFadden before being arrested and turning over the tapes to the FBI. She used the tapes to stop the “insanity” of what she was doing and to help herself get out of jail, she told the World.
While McFadden was a key witness in the trial of Henderson and Yelton, Clayton served as a witness in a different police trial in which one former officer was convicted while two officers were acquitted.
Henderson was convicted Wednesday on eight counts of perjury and civil rights violations while Yelton was acquitted on all counts.
When asked about criminal police behavior, McFadden often turned to the jury, made eye contact and detailed how he met Gray or how he and Henderson stole drugs and money or perjured themselves to gain a conviction.
“When I was introduced to criminal activity within TPD, I was told that “J.J.” (Gray) was someone I could count on,” McFadden testified.
The ATF assigned McFadden to Tulsa in 2002, and he worked primarily with the Tulsa Police Department’s Special Investigations Division before resigning in 2009.
McFadden testified he earned about $50,000 through illegal activity with Logsdon, a government witness and acknowledged methamphetamine dealer.
McFadden, Logsdon, Gray and others served as key witnesses in a historic investigation of the Tulsa Police Department. Since the federal probe became public in November 2009, five current or former Tulsa police officers and one federal agent were convicted, pleaded guilty or admitted to illegal conduct. Three Tulsa police officers were named as unindicted co-conspirators. An internal investigation is under way for Yelton and two other acquitted officers.
Meanwhile, 38 people have been freed from prison or had felony cases modified or dismissed.
After McFadden left Tulsa to return to Lubbock, Texas, Gray continued his criminal activity as a Tulsa police officer, prosecutors said.
Without Clayton’s actions, Gray might still be involved in robbing drug dealers and falsifying search warrants, conduct he has admitted in court filings.
Clayton said she worked primarily for McFadden, but Gray was also around. She was also introduced to Logsdon by McFadden, she said.
After fearing she was expendable to them, she turned over her recordings to the FBI. Within a few months, the FBI set up a sting operation at a Tulsa motel on May 18, 2009, which resulted in charges against Cpl. Harold Wells, Nick DeBruin and Bruce Bonham. At trial, Wells was convicted while DeDruin and Bonham were acquitted on all charges.
Gray pleaded guilty to stealing money during the string and began cooperating with special prosecutors.
In early 2010, prosecutors stepped up their investigation of Henderson by supplying Logsdon and informant Rochelle Martin with phones to record their conversations with him, they testified.
During Henderson’s hearing, Martin was described as a “throw-down” informant used by Henderson to falsify search warrants to gain felony convictions without proper probable cause.
While McFadden and Gray were involved in criminal behavior, Martin, his longtime informant, testified Henderson was involved in similar behavior Martin testified that Henderson provided her with marijuana for personal use and meth for distribution through Logsdon or other dealers. The jury did not believe Martin, however, acquitting Henderson on all of these claims.
Logsdon testified he worked for McFadden and Henderson, either handling drugs or serving as an informant, beginning in January 2007. Logsdon testified that Henderson and McFadden framed a father and daughter by fabricating a drug buy in May 2007.
As a result, Larry Wayne Barnes Sr. and Larita Annette Barnes were sent to prison before being freed in 2009 as part of the police corruption probe. McFadden testified that the drug buy was fabricated. However, the jury acquitted Henderson on claims that he had framed the Barneses.