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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Members of Oklahoma County’s jail trust are reacting to a leaked voicemail where Jail Administrator, Greg Williams and his communications director are making light of COVID-19, talking about the millions of dollars the jail has received in COVID funds, saying “COVID is our friend.”

“I don’t see this as a big deal, really,” Ben Brown, a member of the Oklahoma County Jail Trust, said.

He’s talking about a recording released by OKC online news outlet, NonDoc on Tuesday.

“COVID is our friend,” Mark Opgrande, communications director for the Oklahoma County Jail, is heard saying.

“COVID is our friend,” Greg Williams, Jail Administrator, replied.

“And it’s given us $10 million. I mean, COVID has been wonderful for us,” Williams said.

“And maybe give us another $150 million. I mean, that would be the best thing that would happen out of this,” Opgrande responded.

Williams and Opgrande were talking about the millions of dollars the jail has received in COVID-19 relief funds in a voicemail that they thought had ended.

“We’ve gotten so much money out of there, and we’ve only had 3 people die. Well, we had three people that died that had tested positive,” Opgrande said.

Brown spoke with News 4 about the comments on Wednesday.

“It was it was a poor choice of words, yeah. But the truth is that that money was used to make things better at the jail, including pay and health care,” Brown said.

Last year, a large group of citizens protested after the county commissioners voted to give the jail all of those CARES dollars, including small business owner Sean Cummings.

“It’s disgusting. This is one of the worst admissions I’ve ever heard because they literally show, there’s a joke made in in that recording about only three or four people dying and the joke goes back and forth,” Cummings said.

Cummings and other local activists spoke about their concerns at Wednesday’s county commissioners meeting during public comment.

“These people don’t care about lives in the county jail. Greg Williams is unfit to serve. He is unfit to serve,” Mark Faulk said.

“This is absolutely unacceptable. Greg Williams needs to immediately resign. It bewilders me that he has not yet stepped up with dignity and humility and submitted his own resignation,” Sara Bana said.

In a statement sent to News 4, Williams said:

“We regularly host media inside the jail and requests are always evaluated with safety, availability of staff and appropriateness of the request in mind. In this situation, a French reporter was working on a documentary about women in prisons; since we’re a jail we were trying to identify a facility that was a better fit for the story.

Additionally, COVID-19 has presented safety concerns throughout the pandemic, requiring us to limit access to visitors. I regret the insensitive nature of our comments recorded in an unguarded moment and recognize the hurt and pain this pandemic has caused. I apologize for any offense or discomfort our words caused.

As evidenced by our recent report on cases in the jail, we take COVID-19 mitigation matters seriously and will continue to do so. Federal funding in response to COVID has provided the jail much-needed resources to improve conditions for our detainees and employees. We have utilized those funds and implemented COVID-19 protocols effectively – as of Monday we only had one active COVID-19 case among detainees and one among employees. We will continue to prioritize the safety of people in our care.”

In a separate statement, Jail Trust Chair Jim Couch said:

“We are disappointed in these comments, but we know how hard this team has worked to improve conditions at the jail for detainees, staff and vendors. Funding in response to COVID has been beneficial in addressing new challenges from the pandemic and improving long-standing infrastructure issues. The jail trust prioritizes the safety and wellbeing of those in the jail’s custody and we are pleased that the spread of COVID has been limited. We remain committed to transparency and openness.”

District 1 Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert said:

“I am appalled and deeply concerned by Mr. Williams’s comments regarding COVID-19 and his perception that “COVID is our friend.” This is yet another incident where the jail’s leadership has failed to understand their responsibility to operate our county’s detention center. The attitudes expressed raise concerns about the jail’s COVID mitigation policies, transparency, and the overall safety and well-being of detainees and staff.

COVID-19 has not been a friend to anyone. We cannot callously dismiss the permanently lost or altered lives as a worthwhile trade for infrastructure improvements. Oklahoma County residents trust us to keep people who are awaiting trial safe. This “unguarded moment” reveals an alarming disregard for the level of responsibility Mr. Williams’s job requires.”

“I kid and say things that, you know, that really aren’t true, but they’re done in a kiddy manner between two friends. And those friends kind of understand what it means, and they get it. So I, you know, I hate that this is being blown up,” Brown said.