Oklahoma County Sheriff, Deputies Resign Over Dangerous Jail Conditions


An Oklahoma County sheriff and most of her staff have resigned amid a controversy over conditions in the county jail.

Nowata County Sheriff Terry Sue Barnett and most of her staff resigned on Monday amid a dispute over the safety of the county jail. Only five employees remained behind, including dispatchers and jailers, on Tuesday.

“I believe in doing the right thing and I am not going to stand down from doing the right thing," Nowata County Sheriff Terry Sue Barnett said as she announced her resignation.

The county's Undersheriff, all the deputies, most of the jail staff and the head dispatcher all joined Barnett in handing in their resignations. Even the canine officer resigned, signing his letter with a paw print.

The jail was shut down in early March after a series of safety and maintenance issues culminated in a carbon monoxide leak that sent four employees to the hospital. The jail was evacuated after the building's heat kicked on and Nowata firefighters detected hazardous gases. Barnett says the leak is just one of the issues plaguing the jail, citing toxic mold, no fire alarms, a lack of security cameras, and even a snake that once fell on an inmates head when they opened a door as reasons for keeping the jail closed.

On Monday, a judge ordered Barnett to reopen the jail, threatening to hold the sheriff in contempt if she did not comply by immediately bringing the inmates back to the county jail.


Barnett told reporters on Monday that an inadequate budget and 'good old boy' mentality prevented her from making the necessary changes to the jail she had hoped to accomplish.

"I do not work for the judge," said Barnett. "The judge is an elected official. I am also an elected official. I do not believe that we live in a country where I can be ordered to go to work after I have already tendered my resignation."

Until the issue is resolved, emergencies in Nowata County will be served by state agencies and other law enforcement agencies in neighboring jurisdictions. An emergency meeting of the Nowata County commissioners has been scheduled for Wednesday to accept Barnett's resignation and appoint an interim sheriff.

Barnett is the fifth sheriff to resign from the office since 2015.



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