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Federal lawsuit challenges county detention system

Twyla Carter, of the ACLU, outlines details of the organization’s federal lawsuit against the Canadian County pretrial detention system. She spoke at a news conference Wednesday at the state Capitol. Photo / Chris Eversole

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma announced Wednesday it has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Canadian County pretrial detention system, which it claims unconstitutionally jails hundreds of prisoners annually.
“The pretrial jailing of innocent people in Canadian County is a violation of the U.S. Constitution,” state ACLU Director Ryan Kiesel said at a Wednesday news conference at the state Capitol.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other organizations joined the ACLU at the event.
The case, filed Tuesday in the federal district court, has national implications because many of the practices in Canadian County are common around the country, said ACLU officials.
It is the first lawsuit of its kind nationally claiming the county’s approach fails to adequately protect people covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ACLU said.
ACLU attorneys visited nine Oklahoma counties in researching the case.
“The problems are not isolated to a single county,” Kiesel said.
The organization represents seven inmates in the Canadian County jail who have not been able to make bail.
Eighty percent of the inmates in county jails are there because they could not make bail, Kiesel said.
They have been arrested but not convicted and are presumed innocent, he said.
Twyla Carter, ACLU’s lead attorney, outlined details of the case.
“If someone can afford bail, they can buy freedom,” she said. “If not, they stay in jail.”
The county’s system is especially hard on people with disabilities, especially ones who are unable to obtain needed medications while in jail, the suit claims.
The ACLU said it chose Canadian County because it is the fifth largest county by population in the state and jails 4,000 people a year, yet it operates its court system in a fashion typical of rural counties.
“It (the pretrial system) is much, much worse in rural counties,” Carter said.
Part of the problem is that Canadian County, like other rural counties, doesn’t have a public defender’s office, she said.
The issues the ACLU with the system include:
Defendants are interviewed by a judge via an “antiquated” video system that is not a public procedure for only one or two minutes, and no attorney representing them is present;
Because of the video hookup, they are not able to have an attorney at their side to confer with.
They are told that if they have money for bond, they are not eligible for a free attorney.
Making free legal representation for people who can’t afford an attorney contingent on not making bail is “wrong and unconstitutional,” Carter said.
“If you can bond out, you’re presumed to be able to afford an attorney,” she said.
“This has a chilling effect on getting representation.”
NAACP State President Anthony R. Douglas described his organization position.
“We want to make sure that justice is served,” he said.
Zoe Brennan-Krohn, a disability rights attorney with the ACLU, noted that half the people in jail are covered under the ADA.
They include people with PTSD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and schizophrenia.
“They cannot get their medicines or see their doctors, counselors and families,” she claimed.
The court system should do more to take people’s disabilities into consideration, she said.
Kiesel called Canadian County’s system Orwellian, referring to the injustices portrayed in George Orwell’s novel “1984.”
He asked Canadian County officials to rethink what they are doing.
“What sort of justice do you think you’re providing to citizens?” he asked that the officials consider.
Named in the lawsuit are Canadian County district judges Paul Hesse and Jack McCurdy, as well as special judges Barbara Hatfield, Charles Gass and Khristan Strubhar.
All are listed in their official capacities.
The plaintiffs include Misty White, Jermaine Bradford, Janara Musgrave, Landon Proudett, Bradley Barber Jr. and Dakota Kappus.
Canadian County District Judge Paul Hesse responded to the lawsuit by stating that Canadian County judges follow “regular procedures and administrative orders that are designed to protect the rights of all arrestees and accused.”
Hesse also said the lawsuit does not fully or accurately describe the bail procedures that exist in the county.
He claimed many the assertions were “patently false.”
According to the judge, a number of bail reform measures were enacted in 2018 that have resulted in a significant decline in the jail’s population, and the routine release of inmates on personal recognizance.
“A review by the federal court of the bail procedures in Canadian County is welcomed,” Hess said.


  1. Mike Labadie on December 11, 2019 at 7:58 pm

    This does not surprise me at all. I am a current law enforcement officer and have been for 20+ years. I have no faith in the court system in Canadian county and have personally experienced these judges doing whatever they want and choosing not to follow state law or federal law. I have filed numerous court documents stating such, and nobody in that county cares. This includes Judge Hess. I fear for anybody who is arrested and charged in Canadian county and yes that includes people who are in a part of my jurisdiction which includes parts of Canadian county.

  2. Misty White on February 7, 2020 at 10:33 pm

    I was arrested on November 16th for violating a protection order…
    I originally was told by Canadian county DHS/CPS that I HAD to file a VPO on my abusive husband for strangulation in front of a minor child age 4 with cerebral palsy, or I could get my baby taken away from me. I filed a VPO for myself and my daughter. CPS never followed the order and now he’s allowed to be alone with her. They ended up taking her away from me for not wanting to over-medicate my daughter. I’m a medic by training and I always did my very best by her as I will continue to do. However, after the abuse he pled guilty to, I was all alone with my daughter who has special needs and requires constant care. I needed assistance to, at the very least, be able to go grocery shopping, and whatever else. Before my husband’s arrest I had the help of his mother once a week but after, I got zero assistance from anybody. When I asked the Deptartment of Human Services and Child Protective Services of Canadian county for assistance they told me I have to wait until her ssi/disability was approved before I could have any assistance for her. This situation has really taken a toll on my mental and physical health. My heart constantly breaks as I wonder how my daughter is doing. I wonder if she’s getting the quality of care only a parent give I’ve neither been a stalker, abusive nor neglectful to anybody, quite the contrary, and I don’t get to have any contact with her, yet he does. I’m constantly worried about the traumatic effect this has on her. She’s out of my very protective arms and reach. CPS is holding her hostage. CPS wants me to complete compassion and parenting classes. After I’ve already raised one of my children. After I’ve been a medic for years. After I’ve tried to teach my own husband compassion our daughter. My counselor mentioned that he thinks I may have broken-heart syndrome. I have suffered so much the past 4 years experiencing the overwhelming loss of all my close family members. Anybody that cared for me is gone now.
    Then, on November 16, 2019, I was very ill after 2 hospital visits that week, I was arrested from my home by Canadian County deputies. One roughed me up pretty good. I didn’t understand why. I was 100% compliant with whatever they wanted. My father was an Oklahoma City police officer for about 25 years and I was taught to have respect for police officers. I was in lots of pain and very weak due to my illness. I was cuffed and pushed/ rushed into a police vehicle. I was told that I violated a protection order but that was it. I didn’t know why I had an order of protection ordered on myself or how I could’ve possibly violated a protection order. I never knew. Not for the 28 days I sat in Canadian County’s detention center and what I refer to as Canadian County’s Super Max detention center. For 28 days I and other fellow inmates were treated inhumanely and held hostage in jail while my Constitutional Rights were violated on various levels.
    The next day I was taken out of a suicide watch cell, no I absolutely wasn’t suicidal and being placed in their for 4 days was the scariest situation I’ve ever experienced in my life, to a video-conference bail hearing. I was given a $3500 bail I couldn’t afford. I wasn’t represented by a public defender. I was not asked any questions, besides identifying information, and there was no individualized inquiry. I was neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community. 10 days after my arrest I was FINALLY given an arraignment. This is supposed to happen within 48 hours to my understanding. Again I was placed in front of the video-conference machine again and was given a new bail amount. This time it was $4500! Also I learned that another charge of obstructing an officer was added. Again, no questions asked. The whole thing lasted about a minute. These hearings and supposed to be held publicly per the first amendment and they were not. No accommodations were made for my disabilities. I still didn’t know how or why I had a protection order on me or how I violated one. I had even wrote the judge about it. Letting him know everything I could fit on the front and back of a sheet of paper. Informing him that my husband was allowed to physically push me out of my own home. He’s not even supposed to be there without law enforcement. I informed the judge that he had constantly violated his VPO. I asked if I could be released on my own recognizance as well. This request fell on deaf ears and blind eyes for I received zero response. The jail was over-crowded to the point that they had no mats, blankets, cups, eating utensils plastic beds and at times there were up to 5 people in a 3 person cell. If you wanted to drink you had to use a previous inmates cup or eating utensil. You couldn’t even walk. We had no exercise, no fresh air. For the people with disabilities, we weren’t even given our medications. They ended up giving me one or two inconsistently and I wasn’t sure what they were giving me bc it was crushed. My next court date was scheduled for December 18. However on December 13 I was placed in front of one judge. I finally met my public defender. I sat down and my attorney asked if I wanted to go home. I did, of course! But I didn’t have a home anymore. Judge Gass placed an order of protection on me and allowed my husband to come abuse me again and physically throw me out into the streets. No notice or anything. I lived there for almost 5 years. I was trying to get my baby back and kept getting sick and had vehicle issues. I tried to get my car fixed but my husband intercepted the check from our car insurance company. Then while we were in judge Gass’s court room refiling my husband’s VPO he had my home broke into and stole my tax paperwork and forged my signature and kept all of our tax return. So I couldn’t pay to fix my car. I bought a new one with the help of my only friend. However, I couldn’t meet my financial obligations and missed my first car payment bc was stuck in jail. She had no choice but to take the car back. So, thanks to the system, I have no daughter, no car, no job, I have no home, I don’t have my property bc every time I try to get my stuff my husband won’t show up so I can collect. My phone with all my evidence is gone. Heck, even the family pet, our chihuahua Lola, is gone. I don’t know where she is and can’t find out bc of the protection order. My husband did something with her. I’m so lost and in desperate need of a job and transportation. I have until March 23rd to get stuff done in order to get my child back. In the end I was placed in front of judge Hesse. I was asked if I wanted a different judge due to this class action lawsuit mentioned in this article. To my understanding, if I did request another judge I would’ve been placed back into the jail until another day and different judge could hear my case. I needed out immediately. After more than an hour of my attorney came out and gave me a thumbs up, good news! My charges were completely dismissed without court costs.

    For 28 very long, excruciatingly stressful, torturous, worrisome days I sat prepared to plead guilty to my charges, even though I wasn’t guilty, just so I could keep my sanity and get out of that jail as soon as possible. Also because I had so many obligations to meet as far as getting my child back into my custody. Canadian county and their people of authority completely let my daughter and I down. I found myself wishing I had never reached out for help when I was domestically assaulted. I know that was me just wondering how this whole process backfired on us.

    How could the protected never be protected? I’m so hurt and confused. How am I going to get my child back now? God please help me.

    I put me story out here bc I want people to know what’s happening. We need this to change. Immediately!

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