Lawmaker calls for sheriff’s resignation, says it’s not political

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Citing several cases of "mismanagement," a state lawmaker is calling on the Oklahoma County sheriff to step down.

Rep. Mike Christian (R-Oklahoma City) called a press conference at the state capitol Tuesday, promising his request was not political.

Christian is running against Sheriff John Whetsel for his position in November.

"Let me be up front first: This is not about a campaign for sheriff," Christian said to open his press conference. "This has nothing to do with the building but simply mismanagement at every level."

Instead, Christian sees the announcement as his duty, as chair of the House Public Safety Committee.

He cited two inmate deaths as reason to question Whetsel's leadership.

He also condemned the escape of Kunta Kenta Griffith, who has a violent criminal past but was jailed on two lesser city misdemeanor charges over the weekend.

Griffith escaped the jail over the weekend by walking out the front door, blending in with a group of inmates who were being released Sunday.

"The fact that a very dangerous criminal who has a long reputation for escaping and charges of shooting with intent to kill was able to simply walk out of the jail could chill the hearts of the residents of the state of Oklahoma," Christian said.

Whetsel is investigating what failed and allowed the inmate to escape, but he sees things differently, accusing Christian of trying to "create his own facts."

Griffith, in jail for non-violent offenses, was set to be released the following day when he escaped.

He also said "every jail facility in America will deal with the issue of jail suicides," adding "The Oklahoma County Jail has one of the lowest jail death rates in the nation."

Whetsel went further, accusing Christian of being "AWOL" from the legislature during budget talks Monday and criticizing the fact that Christian called a press conference Tuesday.

"I am not surprised that my opponent would abuse his state position in this county political race for sheriff," Whetsel said in a statement. "He prepared, sent the press statement and held a press conference attacking me on state time, using his position in the legislature and not disclaiming to citizens that this was a political attack in a partisan political race for which he is a candidate."

The State Ethics Commission told NewsChannel 4 it did not immediately see any violations of the rules.

Defense Attorney Al Hoch said Christian stayed in check - barely.

"As far as crossing the line, probably not," he said. "Getting close? Maybe so. Since he has a disclaimer, and he even refused to take someone's question about the election process, which does show that he's actually concerned, albeit you have to wonder about the actual concern there."

Hoch said it would have been wiser for Christian to have someone else from the committee make the press announcement, adding it would be best if he removes himself from future legislative investigations.

Andm while Hoch calls the inmate's escape "a serious breakdown," he said not all the blame falls on Whetsel's shoulders.

The potential suicides are also a breakdown in the mental health system, he said.

"Some of the blame probably has to be handled by the sheriff. In part, he's in control of the entire jail but, as far as someone escaping, it's a little misleading what that clip had because that person wasn't in there on some weapons charge or some violent offense," he said. "Part of it too is the county commissioners job to check the jail and inspect it at least once a year."

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