OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater accused the Pardon and Parole Board on Wednesday of violating the state’s Open Meeting Act by operating a secret parole docket and granting early parole to certain state prison inmates since 2010, including some who were not eligible for it.
In a strongly worded letter to the board’s executive director, Terry Jenks, Prater accused the board of “willful, conscious and purposeful violations of the law” by providing no public notice that it would consider early parole for some inmates under vaguely worded agendas that the district attorney said “violates the letter and the spirit of the act.”
“Additionally, I find the board’s actions to be in deliberate disregard of Oklahoma’s Open Meeting Act,” the letter states. “The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board’s violations in this matter are egregious, aggravated and a clear attempt to operate in secrecy, outside of public scrutiny.”
Prater also accused board members of “gross partiality” by placing certain inmates on the early parole docket without any policies governing the practice.
The district attorney said any actions by the board regarding early parole for the inmates — 51, by his count — are invalid and should be reversed immediately, including taking improperly released inmates back into custody.
The five-member board issued a statement via email late Wednesday.
“The Board believes that transparency and openness are essential when dealing with the clemency process to ensure every interested party is dealt with fairly,” the statement said.
Contacted by telephone Wednesday, Prater said some inmates on the list were convicted of crimes that require them to serve 85 percent of their sentence before they are eligible for parole under state law.
“There are a number of people on this list who are out and shouldn’t be,” he said.
Prater also said he may “very possibly” prosecute board members for violating the act, misdemeanors punishable by a fine of up to $500 and up to one year in county jail.
Gov. Mary Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said, at Fallin’s request, the board has placed a moratorium on early release considerations and will seek an Attorney General’s opinion about the 85 percent sentencing requirement and its authority to recommend early release. The board will also review its public notices prior to meetings.
Prater said he began investigating the board last month after he was contacted by the family of a man who was slain. Maelene Chambers was found guilty in 2008 of manslaughter in the man’s death, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Her crime requires the 85 percent guideline — meaning she must serve eight and one-half years.
Yet, the victim’s family was notified she was on the board’s docket in July — four years early, Prater said.
Prater said he learned that the board regularly placed certain inmates on a “pre-docket investigation” list for early parole consideration, and never notified district attorney’s offices.
Early parole for the inmates was considered under obscure agenda items labeled “Docket Modifications - J.D. Daniels,” a reference to the board’s deputy director, Prater said. But the agenda item does not reference a list of inmates who are under consideration for modification.
“The ‘Docket Modification’ agenda item gives NO notice to the public of what business the board will be conducting under this item,” Prater’s letter says.
Board minutes indicate Chambers was considered for pre-docket investigation in March, Prater said. A motion by board member Richard Dugger to place her on the docket for early parole consideration was approved unanimously.
Prater said he asked Dugger why he moved to consider Chambers for early parole, and was told that Dugger’s old friend and law school classmate, former Oklahoma County Judge Leamon Freeman, had asked for it.
“I have the authority to do it,” Prater said Dugger told him.
Dugger did not immediately reply to an email to the board seeking comment.
The Department of Corrections website indicated Chambers remained in custody Wednesday.