The felonies filed in Cleveland County have declined for the second year in a row, while misdemeanors increased.
Statistics gathered from the Cleveland County court clerk’s office indicate there were 1,521 felonies filed in 2018, compared to 1,657 in 2017, and 2,374 misdemeanors, compared to 2,149 in 2017.
Here’s a look at some notable stories from the crime and courts beat in 2018:
• Brockman sworn in as special judge in Cleveland Co: January — Former Norman private practice attorney and OU College of Law graduate Scott Brockman was formally sworn in as a special judge on Jan. 5, joining Steve Stice and Lori Puckett, as the counties special judges.
Brockman filled the vacancy left by now District Judge Michael Tupper.
District Judge Thad Balkman said when he and the other district judges began discussing possible replacements for Tupper, he had a prime candidate in mind.
“Brockman’s extensive litigation experience in non-jury and jury trials, as well as his legal research and writing skills, were big considerations in the decision to appoint him,” Balkman said. “Scott is committed to this community and has earned a reputation for being fair minded. I believe he is prepared to join the bench and continue his service to the community and our county.”
Special judges handle misdemeanor and traffic cases, as well as victim’s protective orders, small claims and various civil dockets. They are also assigned magisterial duties on felony cases, arraignments, and misdemeanor jury trials by assignment.
• Law enforcement agencies continue proactive approach against opioids: February — The Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association, along with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) and the state attorney general’s office, armed Oklahoma sheriffs and deputies in all 77 counties with Narcan nasal spray.
Narcan is a form of naloxone, a medication that helps reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
The donation, which is estimated to be worth about $150,000, was made during a Feb. 6 press conference at the Capitol, and is intended to assist in what many state officials have called a state and nationwide opioid epidemic.
Cleveland County Sheriff Todd Gibson said he is thrilled with the donation and how it will be used to save lives.
“The opioid epidemic touches of us all in one way or another, and we must come together to find the solution,” he said.
The medication is available at many local pharmacies.
For more information, visit takeasprescribed.org.
• Cold case victim’s mom reacts to sentencing: March — The last defendant charged in what was a cold case was sentenced to 32 years in prison.
On Mar. 15, Cleveland County Judge Lori Walkley sentenced Thomas Ryan Wilmeth for his role in the 2008 first-degree murder of Cory Jay Bodily.
Wilmeth was charged in connection with Bodily’s death, along with Bobby Lee Perkins and Libby Lavonne Cox, who was charged as an accessory after the fact in the murder.
Perkins was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after serving about 38 years, while Cox received a 12-year prison sentence.
Following Wilmeth’s sentencing, Bodily’s mother Sharleen Resor said she finally feels some sort of justice has been served.
“I am very relieved that this nightmare is over and Cory has some justice for his murder,” Resor said. “However, my heartbreak will never end.”
• Norman attorney found dead at office: May — Duane Shiffler Croft, a Norman attorney was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound May 2 at his office on East Eufaula Street, Norman Police Department officials confirmed.
About a month before his death, Croft had been charged with domestic assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, interrupting an emergency telephone call and threatening to perform an act of violence, after a woman alleged that Croft assaulted her with a frying pan during a confrontation in April.
Oklahoma court records reveal that Croft also had an ongoing misdemeanor domestic abuse case against him, with the same alleged victim.
• Opioid suit remanded back to county/Judge to allow cameras inside courtroom for opioid trial: August — On Aug. 3, U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange remanded a lawsuit Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter filed against several prominent opioid manufacturers in 2017, after the attempted to have it moved to federal court.
According to court documents, Miles-LaGrange based her decision on the case failing to meet federal court jurisdiction under the Grable doctrine, a precedent set by a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision used when a case brings state and federal jurisdiction into conflict.
“Having carefully reviewed the parties’ submissions, including the Purdue defendants’ notice of removal, the court finds that this case does not satisfy the principles set forth in Grable and this court, therefore, does not have federal question jurisdiction over this case,” the document read.
Less than three weeks after Miles-LaGrange made her decision, Cleveland County Judge Thad Balkman made another important decision in the case.
He issued an order allowing the use of digital cameras inside the courtroom for the May 28 trial.
“The provisions of a free press extend to both print and video media,” Balkman’s order read. “Unquestionably, the issues presented in this matter are of great importance to the citizens of Oklahoma. Therefore, the court finds that digital video cameras may be presented in the courtroom during the trial of this matter.”
• Shortey sentenced to 15 years in prison: September — The federal child sex crime case that involved former Oklahoma Senator Ralph Shortey resulted in prison time.
On Sept. 17, U.S. District Judge Timothy DeGiusti sentenced the former state senator to 15 years in prison after Shortey pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of child sex trafficking.
The sentence was less than what prosecutors wanted. They requested that Shortey be sentenced to 27 to 34 years in prison.
• Man pleads guilty to school threats: October — Ryan Nathaniel Tripp, the 22-year-old man that was charged with making threats to Alcott Middle School in August, received a two-year prison sentence.
On Oct. 18, Tripp, 22, appeared before Judge Lori Walkley, and pleaded guilty to creating a terrorism hoax, a felony. In addition to sentencing him to prison, Walkley ordered that he serve three years probation after he is released.
Oklahoma court records show that 28-year-old Michael Shane Mahseet, who police believe also played a role in the hoax, is set to appear in court in February. He’s charged with with obstructing a public officer, a misdemeanor.
• Changes to state expungement laws make it easier for non-violent offenders to clear records: November — The legislature has made erasing a felony conviction record a little bit easier for Oklahomans.
On Nov. 1, that state changed its expungement laws to allow offenders with a single non-violent felony conviction to have it expunged, or erased.
In addition to the conviction having to be non-violent, there are other restrictions to the new law that include: no misdemeanor convictions in the past seven years, no felony or misdemeanor charges currently pending (being on probation for a misdemeanor counts as pending), and at least five years must have passed since the completion of the sentence for the felony conviction.
Norman defense attorney Matt Swain said the most significant changes involve the pardon process for felony convictions.
“Previously, if you had a felony conviction you had to go through a pardon process, asking the governor for a pardon. And you had to do that for every felony conviction,” he said.
“With these changes, lawmakers have opened the window for certain people to be able to get an expungement done on a felony case and not have to go get the pardon first. They’ve made the process go a lot smoother and quicker. It went from taking anywhere from six months to a year, to as little as 60 days.”
• NPS, OSRMT ask for court to determine distribution of insurance money following bus crash: December —Norman Public Schools and the Oklahoma Schools Risk Management Trust are asking the Cleveland County District Court to determine how the district’s $1 million insurance coverage limit will be distributed to the students and staff involved in a September school bus wreck that occurred in Texas.
“The health and healing of our students and teachers at Cleveland Elementary continues to be our primary concern. The past few months have been incredibly difficult as impacted families continue to deal with the results of the bus accident,” Norman Public Schools Superintendent Nick Migliorino said. “We believe these families deserve the maximum financial amount we can lawfully offer, and that is at the heart of the decision to pursue an interpleader.
“We will continue to do everything we can to support our students, teachers and families throughout this trying time.”
On Sept. 29, while on a trip to Sea World in San Antonio, an NPS bus with 25 students and three NPS staff members driven by Cleveland Elementary Principal Ty Bell was traveling south on U.S. Highway 281 north of Lampasas when it hydroplaned, entered a ditch, rolled over once and crashed into a fence. Multiple injuries were reported, and several students were seriously injured, but there were no fatalities.
No court date has been set in the matter.