Freedom Discussions

The Rape of Delaware County, Oklahoma

by William N. Grigg

In response to the audit, David E. Jones, the bar-certified sophist retained as Bernice’s town attorney, weaved a seamless web of persiflage, insisting that even though the
cabal that employs him “did not follow the strict technical requires for publication [of the traffic ordinance], the public clearly had constructive notice of the existence of the Bernice Penal Code….”

Jones’s claim, rendered in less opaque language, was that the town’s status as a well-known speed trap constituted legal “notice” of the practice. Buttressed with this spurious and self-serving assessment, the town’s trustees voted on May 14 not to grant refunds to victims of the illegal ticket scheme, thereby laying permanent claim to more than $100,000 in illegally collected revenue. 

Like nearly all official business conducted in Bernice, the May 14 vote took place in a meeting that was closed to the public, a practice typical of the cabal’s serial
violations of the Open Meeting Act. The audit described habitual violations of
that statute, each of which is a crime punishable by a year in the county jail
and a fine of up to $500.

Until recently, the Town Board – which conducts nearly all significant business in “executive session” – had forbidden citizens to participate in monthly town meetings. Subsequent to the audit, that policy was modified to permit three minutes to citizens who wish to speak, which is not to say that the Board will allow anything that is said to have any measurable effect on its decisions.

 “The atmosphere
in a Town Board Meeting is meant to intimidate and silence people,” commented Bernice
resident Steve Miller, who lives with his 72-year-old mother in Bernice, in an
interview with Pro Libertate. “When you go to a town meeting in Grove, which
isn’t far from here, there are no policemen, no security cameras. There is a
U.S. flag, an Oklahoma State Flag, microphones set up for each Council member
and for the citizens who wish to participate. Here in Bernice, however, there
are always armed and uniformed officers present, security cameras – and no mike
for public comments. It’s like going into a jail – or walking into a den of

Miller, a
consulting engineer by profession, is the civic-minded resident whose petition
drive resulted in the state audit. His involvement grew out of the harassment
suffered by his mother, Mary Zapf.

Starting in May
2010, Miller and his mother noticed that Delaware County Sheriff’s Deputies
“began patrolling our property daily,” Miller recalled to Pro Libertate. “Our
property is surrounded by three public streets, and I saw these deputies slowly
driving by constantly. I started taking their pictures and even got one of them
to talk to me briefly. I asked him why they were keeping our property under
surveillance; his reply was, `Because the mayor told me to.’”

With Miller’s
help, Mrs. Zapf was doing some construction and renovation on their property.
This included modifying a driveway that had been used as a short-cut by
motorists seeking to avoid a nearby intersection. 

On May 4 of
that year, Mayor Bill Raven visited Zapf to tell her that there was an
unspecified “problem” with her landscaping project, and to ask her to “hold off
until the town could get some things together.” Mrs. Zapf offered to have the
mayor discuss the renovation with the contractor, who was on-site; Raven
declined that invitation, insisting that he didn’t want to start a “fight.”

The following
day, Raven and the Town Board decided to take “emergency” action to deal with
supposed “zoning violations” on Zapf’s property. That matter, in typical
fashion, was discussed in “executive session” during the May 10 Board Meeting.
When it emerged from its secretive huddle the Board informed Zapf that no
action would be taken, because she had agreed to “hold off” on further

After waiting
for nearly a month to hear from the mayor and the board, Mrs. Zapf sent them a
letter announcing that she intended to resume work on her property. The
improvements were finished on June 4th. Five days later, the Town
Board sued her for “trespassing” by allowing alterations on her own driveway. 

“The material
basis of their claim was that they had an easement on the driveway because at
some unspecified point in the past they had plowed it during the wintertime,”
Miller observes. “We went through one of the biggest snowstorms in Oklahoma
history a few years ago, and they never sent a plow.”

Shortly after
being informed of the town’s lawsuit against her, Mrs. Zapf visited the town
clerk’s office to request the agendas for the upcoming meetings of the Bernice
trustees and the Zoning Board – matters in which she had an obvious and urgent
interest.  Town Clerk Connie King, ever
the dutiful public servant, reacted to this eminently reasonable request by
slamming the door in Mrs. Zapf’s face. That prompted the long-suffering widow
to exclaim that the clerk was being a “stupid witch” – an epithet several
orders of magnitude milder than what might normally be employed in a situation
of that kind.

On the basis of
that remark, Mrs. Zapf received a citation on July 20 for “disturbing the
peace.” Although the only “witness” to Zapf’s supposed offense was the
officious personage on the other side the door she had slammed, a police report
was filed – two months after the incident – by two deputies who were not
present when it occurred. The fine listed on the summons was $195 – an amount
well in excess of the $85 prescribed in the fine and bond schedule.

“I knew the
trespass lawsuit was a malicious attempt by the mayor to seize land, as there
were no town residents … listed as plaintiffs,”
Miller explained in his letter to the
state auditor
“The harassment by the deputy sheriffs was an abuse of power by the mayor, and
an attempt to intimidate and coerce my mother into a submissive position. The
disturbing the peace accusation was false and intended to scare her away from
obtaining public records. The police summons was another attempt by the town to
intimidate a citizen. The fine was not only unfounded, it seemed excessive, so
I began my own investigation.” 

With the
analytical discipline of a trained engineer, Miller examined the city’s penal
codes and Delaware County Records to find out if this grotesque over-charge was
a vindictive anomaly, or part of a larger pattern. What he discovered – and the
independent state audit confirmed – was that the town had been in violation of
state statutes “for approximately 25 years.” 

 Publication of
the audit was greeted by the Bernice Town Board with what one participant in a
rare public meeting described as “smirks and laughs.” By that time, however, the
Delaware County Commission had cancelled its contract to provide deputy
sheriffs for traffic enforcement. This was done not because of developments in
Bernice, but rather because of “potential liability issues” arising from a
$13.5 million settlement reached with victims of sexual abuse by deputies in
the County Jail.

Complaints from
female inmates at the Delaware County Jail began to accumulate in March 2008,
many of them involving a part-time transport deputy named Bill Sanders, Sr.
Sanders, recalled the Tulsa World, “would
often take female inmates to `appointments’ without reporting his departing
mileage and time…. It was during many of these transports that inmates say they
were assaulted by Sanders and forced to perform sex acts.” 

Key elements of
the accusations were confirmed by a former county dispatcher, who also
described how the
former jail administrator, Lonnie Hunter
, would “shake boxes of cigarettes
at the inmates to encourage them to flash their breasts at him.” (Two dispatchers
filed sexual harassment lawsuits of their own
.) Some of the inmates
testified that both Sanders and Hunter would exchange cigarettes and other
coveted goods for sex. When confronted with a particularly intransigent inmate,
Sanders would simply assault her in the serene confidence that he would never
be held accountable.

“Now you said
you wouldn’t tell, and even if you did nobody would believe you, because you’re
just a drug addict,” he told one victim during a trip to the emergency room. “Who
are you compared to me?”

Sanders – who died
at age 63 of “natural causes” in November 2008, just after being fired and just
before the lawsuit was filed – was a part-time deputy who had no formal
training and no personnel file on record. When deposed for the lawsuit, Hunter,
Sanders’s supervisor, insisted that he was not responsible for the crimes
committed against helpless inmates: “My responsibility is to the last locked
door. After that, it’s up to the transport officer.”

Former Sheriff Blackfox. The OSBI gave Sheriff
Jay Blackfox a detailed report describing the sexual abuse suffered by more
than a dozen women by staff under his authority. In his deposition, Sheriff
Blackfox insisted that he wasn’t “aware” of what was happening in his jail,
because he had only read “part” of the OSBI’s report owing to his busy

Blackfox was
dismissed by County Commission at roughly the same time the Commission ended
its traffic enforcement contract with Bernice. This left the Bernice Town
Council with the perceived need to hire a police chief and create its own
police force to patrol a town with a population of fewer than 600 people. It
settled on a “gypsy cop” named Daniel
Travis Lowe
, who had just been fired from his job as police chief of
Burden, Kansas – another town of roughly 600 people. 

New Eunice Police Chief Daniel  Lowe. At the time he
was hired by Bernice, Lowe was
still subject to a “diversion program” growing out of a domestic violence
incident involving his ex-wife, who was Burden’s Town Clerk

The terms of
that agreement specified that the charge would be dismissed if Lowe refrain
from criminal behavior for one year. Unfortunately, this refers only to unlicensed criminal behavior; becoming
chief enforcer for Bernice’s ruling clique wouldn’t qualify. News of Lowe’s
background provoked understandable controversy, which led to another Town
Meeting where the Board – acting in “executive session,” of course – ratified its

“There is
something oddly appropriate about the selection of this guy to be the chief of
police,” Steve Miller commented to Pro Libertate. “This is entirely typical of
the way things operate in this county.” In fact, the institutionalized sexual
abuse and related corruption that has festered in Delaware County is hardly
atypical of Oklahoma as a whole

Over the past eight
years, tax
victims in three Oklahoma counties have been forced to pay more than $24
million to settle lawsuits arising from the routine sexual abuse of female
.  Two former sheriffs — Melvin
Holly of Latimer County
, and Mike Burgess of Custer County – have been given
prison terms of 25 and 79 years, respectively, for sexual assaults on
incarcerated women.

Melvin Holly. Holly told one
of his victims, a 19-year-old girl, that if she ever disclosed what happened
she would “end up dead somewhere, floating face-down in a river.” 

Burgess used
his position on the Custer County Drug Court to create what
was described as a “sex slave ring.”
He told one woman who rebuffed his
advances that if she didn’t submit to him she would “not ever be able to see
her children until after they had grown up.” Another woman who resisted was
placed in lockdown, denied her medications, and forced to eat food that induced
rectal bleeding. 

Sales and
property taxes were increased to pay the settlements arising from lawsuits
filed by the victims. Next January, residents of Delaware County will suffer an
18 percent sales tax increase; all purchases will be taxed at 9.3 percent for
seventeen years. The $13.5 million settlement is an amount three
times larger than the county budget
– and more than the construction price
of the jail where the sexual assaults occurred. 

Mike Burgess.
County Tax Assessor
Leon Hurt, whose name is one of God’s little Dickensian jokes, points out that
most of the people with whom he deals “are barely making it on their own
. For them to see this extra impact … could be the last straw.”

Oklahoma is a
state in which piety has curdled into punitive sanctimony, which explains why
it has some
of the most stupid and vicious drug laws in the English-speaking world

and, in per
terms, the
largest female prison population on the planet
. Thanks to the wise and
perceptive people in the state legislature, however, residents can take comfort
in this thought: If their mother,
, or daughter commits
a trivial drug offense in Oklahoma
, she may be caged by the government and
be pitilessly molested or even raped by her jailers, but at
least she won’t be forced to wear a burqa


Dum spiro, pugno!

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