Newly-named jail trustee Rev. Derrick Scobey failed in his attempt to fire the jail administrator after an hour-long executive session of the Oklahoma County Jail Trust.
Trustee Scobey had been named to the trust just a few weeks ago.
The trust took no action on the Scobey proposal to fire Administrator Greg Williams after the executive session.
The trust oversees the Oklahoma County Jail.
“I believe it’s premature at this point, because we’ve never, ever told Greg as a group what we expect,” said Trustee Sue Ann Arnall. “We’ve never told him where we want to be, what do we want to be, and we have these deaths, we’ve never helped him avoid them.”
Jail Administrator Williams’ employment was discussed following heightened criticism of his management of jail conditions, as well as the high number of deaths at the jail and the occurrence of other incidents that drew attention.
Mr. Williams has served as administrator of the jail since late 2019.
Rev. Scobey, one of the jail trust’s newest members, moved for Administrator Williams’ termination following a presentation of recent incidents at the jail and a listing of the 36 inmates who have died since the trust assumed control in July 2020.
Rev. Scobey referred to the biblical plague of frogs brought upon Egypt and the pharoah’s unwillingness to give up power to remove them as he called on his fellow trustees not to “spend another night with the frogs.”
“Tomorrow is the excuse of the lazy and the refuge of the incompetent,” the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church said.
“I plead with you today not to allow your few minutes of delay to cost others their lives.
“I bet you not to allow your pride to prevent you from doing what you know deep in your heart is the right thing to do.”
Trustee Scovey’s motion died when no other trustee was willing to second it.
Administrator Williams said in a statement he and his team are continuously working to “create a safer, more efficient” jail and that he was “happy to reaffirm his commitment to the Oklahoma County community, jail trust members and everyone at the jail.”
Trustee Adam Luck, who joined the trust at the same time as Rev. Scobey, called for the board to discuss its “collective expectations” of Administrator Williams and complete his official annual performance review during December’s trust meeting.
Several others members of the trust highlighted improvements made to the building during Administrator Williams’ tenure as evidence of his success as a leader.
More deaths have occurred in the years since the trust took over.
Jim Couch, chairman of the trust, also read a letter in support of Administrrator Williams written by Oklahoma County public defender Bob Ravitz.
“Mr. Williams is the most responsive jail administrator I have seen in my 45 years of the system,” Mr. Ravitz wrote. “Of course, more needs to be done by you as a trust and Mr. Williams.”
Trustee Couch later issued a statement, calling the discussion of Administrator Williams’ performance “healthy,” saying it had “a wide variety of opinions.”
“My personal opinion is Greg took a hard job under very challenging circumstances, and he has made demonstrable, meaningful improvements in conditions and outcomes at the jail,” Trustee Couch said.
After the meeting, Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert issued a statement calling the trust’s decision into question.
“I am disappointed with the outcome of today’s meeting resulting in the decision to retain Mr. Williams,” her statement said.
“With the number of detainee deaths, high staff turnover, his cavalier remarks about COVID-19, and other concerning issues at the jail, his credibility with his employees and the public have been damaged to the point that I question his effectiveness as a leader.”
“Through their continued support of Mr. Williams, a majority of the trust missed an opportunity to chart a new course in their leadership of the jail,” Commissioner Blumert’s statement went on.
Commissioner Blumert said the jail’s problems “go beyond the facility, staffing issues or more programs,” and “until such time as the trust exhibits active leadership, the first step of which is holding Mr. Williams accountable, the problems will remain.”
Ahead of the executive session, Trustee Scobey sternly questioned the administrator.
“I would like for you to tell us what happened. I think it was Oct. 5, with the three male detainees who had sex with the female detainee?” he said.
“Why did I find out about it on Twitter and not from (jail spokesman) Mark (Opgrande), or you?
Trustee Scobey also asked about a female detainee who was raped by a male detainee in July while handcuffed in the booking area and the timeline to bring charges against the man accused of the rape.
Trustee Scobey said Administrator Williams passed the rape case blame on to other offices, including that of Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater.
District Attorney Prater quickly outlined a timeline, noting that he reviewed footage of the rape the day after it occurred and asked for the jail’s investigators to file necessary paperwork with his office.
“Three days go by, a week goes by, another week goes by, a month goes by, almost two months go by,” the prosecuting attorney said.
“We called (the investigator) no less than six times and you said we’re continuing to look at the matter.”
Community groups also raised concerns during the meeting, including the Concerned Clergy for Spiritual Renewal and a former jail worker spoke.
Charity Howard, a former detention officer, spoke of being berated over radio by supervisors and pressured into coming to work while sick.
She criticized the lack of staffing and poor conditions in the jail.