OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A former Oklahoma State Penitentiary employee says she was fired for excessive use of force after defending herself from an inmate.
Ashlee Teafatiller was fired on June 8 after a February incident between her and an inmate in McAlester.
Teafatiller is a former employee who spoke out at a recent Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee hearing about a co-worker sexually assaulting her in 2020.
Security footage revealed an inmate blocked the cell food port with his arm when Teafatiller entered the quad run to conduct count, according to her termination letter from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC).
The letter went on to cite surveillance video allegedly showing Teafatiller’s body language reflecting her “berate” the inmate in an “unprofessional manner.”
The inmate reportedly threw a liquid substance, possibly urine, at Teafatiller as she walked past his cell.
“You loitered near a cell at the end of the run, speaking with the occupant. After approximately ten (10) seconds, [the inmate] again threw liquid in your direction. You remained standing by the far cell for approximately thirty-seven (37) seconds until [the inmate] threw the Styrofoam cup at you. You almost immediately advanced toward cell BB while producing an OC spray canister. The food port door partially closed then dropped open consistent with it being relinquished by [the inmate]. You seized the food port door, partially closed it, and deployed a burst of OC spray through the narrow aperture prior to closing and securing the food port door,” Teafatiller’s termination letter states.
ODOC claims the inmate relinquished his method of assault when he threw the cup at Teafatiller, but that she chose to deploy pepper spray anyway.
“You admitted deploying OC spray was likely avoidable. You admitted you should not have returned to cell BB after [the inmate’s] initial actions, stating you ‘probably shouldn’t have went back.’ You advised you were previously counseled regarding deploying OC spray into cell food ports, stating, ‘Actually, I’ve been told to stop spraying after every bean hole,'” the termination letter also explained.
However, Teafatiller’s attorney, Matthew Frisby told KFOR the termination letter is factually incorrect.
“The whole idea of this use of force, was it necessary? Was it reasonable? And they said in their letter of termination, they said that the video showed that Ashlee actually closed, partially closed the bean hole or the food port, opened it and sprayed the OC spray. That’s not what happened. She never had control of the bean port until after she sprayed the OC spray,” he said.
Court documents also reveal the inmate displayed an “improvised edged weapon” to Teafatiller which is what caused her to pepper spray the inmate.
“Her termination letter was not consistent with what the video showed,” said Frisby.
Records also document a DOC Investigator and the Warden who signed off on Teafatiller’s termination letter admitted to the verbiage used in the letter as being incorrect.
According to court documents, the Warden stated the first step that should be taken when an inmate shows a weapon through a food port is to “spray him immediately.”
Frisby said Teafatiller’s actions were reasonable and in conformance with the Use of Force policy.
A Judge ruled on Monday to overturn Teafatiller’s termination with back pay and benefits to be awarded to her.
“They’re just giving that money to her. She didn’t work because of their actions,” said Frisby. “To give the DOC some credit, they have a lot to do. I mean, there’s a lot of policies that have to be followed, a lot of procedures that have to be followed. I think sometimes the size of the agency hinders their ability to do that adequately,” added Frisby.
Frisby said the Judge’s ruling is a victory because Teafatiller has been without a steady income since June and now she can go back to a job she enjoys.
“When you have kids and when you have a family, when you have a mortgage, when you have a car payment, it really, really makes your life difficult. When I see in a letter like this that came out terminating her, that was so factually incorrect, it just really makes me mad that she’s having to go through this. I’m happy that I’m able to help her,” said Frisby.
Frisby told KFOR he received the Judge’s decision on Monday. From that point, the ODOC will have 10 business days to file a petition for a rehearing.
News 4 asked the ODOC on Wednesday if they plan to file for a rehearing. A spokesperson said, “We do not comment on pending personnel matters.”
The Oklahoma Corrections Professions (OCP) Executive Director, Bobby Cleveland said this isn’t the only case recently filed against the ODOC. The OCP is an association meant to support corrections employees.
“We have got more cases in the last eight months than we’ve had probably in 50 years,” said Cleveland.
Frisby confirmed Cleveland’s statement in saying he currently has more termination and demotion cases he has ever had.
“I do think it has to do with this administration that’s been in power right now,” said Frisby. “I’ve been doing this for seven, eight years now, but there is an uptick in discipline.”
Frisby said he hasn’t lost a single case against the ODOC.
Cleveland told KFOR the morale amongst employees is very low right now with the lack of pay, benefits, and respect.
He wants to know where the funding went meant to go towards retaining and hiring the best candidates.
“[ODOC] operates like they are a private industry and they can fire whoever they want. They can hire whoever they want, they can promote whoever they want. They don’t understand. They don’t. They won’t accept anything else. They’re just, I guess you could use the word bullies. And that’s a big problem in the prison system. When you get them acting like it in administration, then it’s going to trickle down to the wardens and deputy wardens and the captains,” added Cleveland.
Moving forward, Cleveland wants more communication between the Oklahoma Correction Professions and the ODOC.
The ODOC has until August 18 to file a petition for rehearing, according to Frisby.
Frisby said the ODOC has already told him they plan to file the petition, but he doesn’t think the ruling will get overturned.
Cleveland told KFOR the next court case on the docket is Dr. Whitney Louis, a former ODOC physiologist who was recently fired after reporting allegations of sexual assault.