OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel announced his retirement Wednesday.
KFOR has confirmed Sheriff Whetsel is retiring after coming under investigation for an audit that alleged financial mismanagement.
Whetsel, 67, has been sheriff of Oklahoma County for 20 years.
He was re-elected to the position in Nov. 2016.
The Oklahoma County Commissioners voted to continue investigating the sheriff after his tight re-election bid.
Whetsel maintains he simply made errors – nothing illegal – when he chose not to pay a medical provider, even though his office had the funds.
The provider sued Oklahoma County, and a judge awarded the provider $3.3 million.
Whetsel also spent approximately $900,000 on vehicles when other financial obligations were not being met, according to the audit.
“As to the audit, let me emphatically say there was no money missing,” Whetsel told the Board of Commissioners in a statement that included an apology. “There were no funds embezzled. And, there was no money spent unlawfully. Every decision made by me or the leadership of the sheriff’s office was made in an effort to best serve our county.”
Attempts to suspend the sheriff failed.
“I didn’t think it rose to the level of a suspension or a removal or an ouster petition,” said Commissioner Ray Vaughn, who voted for the investigation. “What we need to do is complete the investigation that’s already ongoing.”
In Nov. 2016, District Attorney David Prater said an investigation into the sheriff would begin in Jan. 2017.
Today, Whetsel sent his retirement letter to the governor, the county clerk, and the citizens of Oklahoma County.
You can read the sheriff’s retirement letter below:
Dear Governor Fallin, Mr. Hooten and The Citizens of Oklahoma County.
I am retiring from The Office of Sheriff of Oklahoma County effective at 5 p.m., on Wednesday, March 1, 2017.
I thank the citizens of Oklahoma County who have supported me throughout my fifty-year career, especially by electing and re-electing me Sheriff six times. I apologize to those who may feel I have let them down by my retirement. That is not my intent. I am doing what I think is best for the future of the Sheriff’s Office. I am convinced that new leadership is required to solve the problems with the jail and overall funding of the many responsibilities of the Sheriff’s Office.
I am proud of the many changes and improvements that we made during the past 20 years. Working together with our supervisors and employees, we modernized the operation of the Sheriff’s Office and molded it into an efficient and effective law enforcement agency that actually provided law enforcement and crime fighting services for the protection of our citizens.
There are still many needs to the Sheriff’s Office, including:
- Replace the jail:
- After 15 years and four studies, there still is not an actual plan to replace the aging and deteriorating county jail that I inherited. In each study, professional jail architects and engineers have recommended building a new jail as the most efficient use of tax dollars. In less than five years, including decreased operational costs, new construction is actually less expensive than remodeling the current jail and building annexes.
- Stable funding:
- A stable funding source is sorely needed to operate the Sheriff’s Office, especially the jail. The pay scale for all Sheriff’s Office employees is extremely low and employees deserve to be paid a living and competitive wage to attract and retain employees. Sheriff’s Office employees have not received a cost-of-living wage in years. In addition, there has been the loss of 155 authorized positions in all areas of operations due to budget cuts.
I support the very important work of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Task Force and remain committed to a positive outcome and implementation of recommendations. I will continue to be available to provide whatever input I can to the work of the task force.
I began my law enforcement career in 1967 with the Midwest City Police Department and have served with the Office of the Commissioner of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (now the OBNDD) and police departments in Spencer and Nicoma Park before joining the Jones Police Department in 1972 and being named the youngest certified Chief of Police in state history. In 1973, I was recruited and joined the Choctaw Police Department and was named Chief of Police in 1976, a post I held until I retired in 1997 and when I became Sheriff.
I have been fortunate to have had so many opportunities during my career. I have given back to my community and to the profession I love.
I am humbled to be the only Oklahoman to have ever served as President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, with 27,000+ members in 125+ countries. I have also been honored to serve as President of the Oklahoma Associations of Chiefs of Police, the Oklahoma Sheriff’s and Peace Officers Association, and the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association.
I have had the opportunity to meet with law enforcement leaders from around the world, to meet with Presidents and have a private audience with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican.
I stood on hallowed ground at the Murrah Building while victims were being removed and I was at the Spencer Elementary School during the rescue of children who were injured and killed by a boiler blast. I have had so many opportunities to make a difference in the lives of our citizens.
My passion for traffic safety was fueled after I was dispatched to a traffic crash only to find the crash involved my family and resulted in the death of my first wife Darlene and our two-year-old child Rebecca, and critically injured our four-year-old daughter Stacy.
I am a national traffic safety advocate and serve as Chair of the Traffic Safety Committee of the National Sheriff’s Association, serve on the MADD Child Endangerment Panel, have served with a group that has made traffic safety training videos, and make traffic safety presentations across the country. My mission has been to save lives and I know we have.
I have been awarded the highest national traffic safety award, the J. Stannard Baker Award, and am currently nominated to receive the Michael J. Garner Award, Oklahoma’s highest traffic safety award.
While I am proud to have received these awards, I am especially proud of having been named Sheriff of the Year and having received the Bill Tilghman Award with my induction into the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Hall of Fame.
I must say a special thank you to the employees of the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office is blessed to have employees who serve, due to their dedication and compassion for our citizens. I am very proud of them and pray for their safety daily. We have dedicated and professional men and women who have made me look good because of their work, in the jail, the courthouse, investigating crimes, serving process, transporting prisoners, keeping records, dispatching calls, maintaining buildings and vehicles, in personnel and fiance, interdicting drugs, protecting children in schools and patrolling the streets.
I also must say thank you to my management team of Undersheriff Paul D. Taylor, Chief Deputy Rickey Barrow, Major Russell Dear and Major Jack Herron. They carried the load and made sure the Sheriff’s Office remained effective and efficient.
Finally, let me thank my Lord who has granted me the wisdom and health to be a public servant these 50 years and who has provided and discernment in decision making throughout my career. All good things have come from the Father who has guided and protected me.
I especially thank my family for their continued support and love. I know this decision deeply impacts each one of them.
I am so blessed with a strong, supportive, beautiful and understanding wife of 22 years, Mitzi, who has been my partner walking beside me through life’s journey. Mitzi spent many hours volunteering at the Sheriff’s Office to help with projects that benefited our employees and senior citizens. I cannot say enough about just the fact that she was and still is always there, always supportive and always caring.
I am also the proud father of two beautiful and brilliant daughters who both serve in the public arena. Stacy Moore and Jonna Whetsel are God’s gifts that will never outgrow my heart.
I am also blessed with two fantastic grandchildren, Kailey Moore and Bailey Moore, one in college and the other in high school, who allow us to cherish and love them.
In the Bible, 2 Timothy 4:7 says, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” and Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “And in to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith, and now this is the season and the time for my retirement. I thank the citizens for allowing me to serve them.
John Whetsel, Sheriff