With Oklahoma sheriffs in recent years allegedly being involved with running a meth house, stealing lunchboxes from kids, extorting the poor, and being dangerously sexy, it appears the minimum qualifications for this elected position include being unscrupulous. If an Oklahoma sheriff wants to win a campaign for office or make sure their family members have great jobs, they can’t let things like a conscious or morals get in the way. So I guess that’s why former Nowata County Sheriff Terry Sue Barnett decided she wasn’t right for the gig.
On Monday afternoon, Nowata County Sheriff Terry Sue Barnett stood before a hastily gathered crowd of reporters and made a shocking announcement: She had handed in her resignation, as had the county’s undersheriff, all of the deputies, most of the jail staff and the head dispatcher…
The reason almost everyone at the sheriff’s office was quitting, Barnett explained, was that she had been ordered to move prisoners back into the aging county jail, which had been closed ever since high levels of carbon monoxide sent four employees to the emergency room in February. Doing so, she said, would be “inexcusable.”
The leak still hadn’t been repaired, she said, and it was just one of the things that worried her, along with the presence of potentially toxic black mold, the lack of fire alarms and the fact that a snake had once fallen on an inmate’s head when they opened a door. Earlier in March, an auditor from the American Correctional Association had toured the jail and ended up finding enough problems to fill a 69-page report.
Sixty-nine pages of problems? Surely there can’t be THAT many severe issues with the jail. No elected official of Nowata County would want to put officers’ lives in danger by attempting to force them to work in a dangerous environment, right? Because the article goes on to state that Judge Carl Gibson allegedly offered to raise Barnett’s salary to $75,000 if she quit complaining about the problems, before threatening to hold her in contempt of court for failing to open back up the jail. Barnett, who referred to the judge’s offer as a bribe since sheriffs’ salaries are apparently set by statutes, declined Gibson’s generous offer.
Citing an “inadequate” budget in her resignation letter, Barnett told reporters on Monday that a “good old boy” mentality in the county had prevented her from making the kind of changes that she had hoped for when she was elected four months ago.
“Instead of looking for solutions, many would prefer to hope and pray that nothing would happen,” she said. “Today, as I leave this office . . . I, too, hope and pray that nothing happens, that our prisoners remain safe wherever they are and our employees remain safe. But I will not sweep these things under the carpet.”
So now Barnett is out of the job because she thought she could just sneak by and act ethically. Instead of trying to work within the county’s tiny budget by recruiting volunteers from other towns to police her county and firing officers after they stole weapons, drugs, and guns from the department, Barnett should’ve just taken the easy way out by accepting the raise. No repairs to the jail mean no going over budget.
Plus, along with all of these reported hazards for deputies and inmates alike, the article goes on to note that the entire sheriff’s department also had their health insurance unknowingly cut in January. So if an officer would’ve been harmed on the job, they probably would’ve had to pay for the medical bills out of their own pocket, which means signing up for extra shifts at the sheriff’s office. Thus her staffing problem would be solved. See, Barnett? Your job would’ve been so much easier if your ethics didn’t get in the way.
Hayley’s life would be easier if she didn’t let ethics get in the way. Follow her on twitter @squirrellygeek