Drama continues to unfold in Nowata County after the entire sheriff’s office resigned due to conditions at the jail.
Nowata County Judge Carl Gibson ordered former sheriff, Terry Sue Barnett, and her undersheriff to appear in court Tuesday morning at nine.
While many people involved assumed the hearing would be a continuation of issues at the jail, it quickly went out of hand.
What unfolded was a confusing hearing that only resulted in people questioning the future of NCSO, the jail, and the county itself.
“I don’t think one person walked out of there with any clear direction on anything that happened today,” said Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton.
At the start of the “administrative hearing,” Judge Gibson gave some on-the-record remarks on the situation. He said, as a judge, he has an “obligation to live within a budget.” He continued, saying that the sheriff (Barnett) has shown a “willful indifference” to the budget.
Right now, Nowata County prisoners are being held in Washington County after a carbon monoxide leak at the jail in February. On Monday, Gibson ordered Sheriff Terry Sue Barnett to bring the prisoners back to Nowata. She refused and resigned, along with the entire sheriff's office.
At first, Gibson seemed concerned about the cost of housing prisoners elsewhere. He stated that the prisoners being housed elsewhere could be “putting the financial integrity of Nowata County, perhaps, at risk.”
However, he did not list any reasons or provide inspection results that showed the jail was now safe and fixed. He did call some witnesses in law enforcement to testify. However, some of the questions veered away from the jail and focused more about what the former sheriff did or said.
“That was one of the most bizarre proceedings. I’m not sure what the judge thinks he was doing," said Paul DeMuro, the attorney representing Barnett. "No orders were issued. It was just his personal vendetta, attack, with no notice of what he was doing.”
Throughout the hearing, DeMuro questioned the legitimacy of what was happening, at times appearing both visually and verbally frustrated. DeMuro said he was not told what this hearing would entail and that it seemed more like an “evidentiary hearing.” At one point, he told the judge, “I don’t know what’s going on here.”
After the judge finished calling his witnesses, he asked DeMuro if he’d like to call any witnesses. DeMuro declined, saying that the hearing was an “ambush.”
He even questioned the judge’s motives during the hearing, saying he was entitled to “cross examine [the judge],” and that he was “concerned about [the judge's] communications” with the witnesses the judge called to testify.
DeMuro questioned the judge’s authority to control the budget and the jail, saying it’s the County Commissioner's job to do so.
Judge Gibson argued that what he was doing was for the safety of the community. He said, “Anybody who tries to say I don’t have the authority to do it... your move sir.”
After about an hour and a half, the judge decided to end the hearing. The judge did not make any decision or come to any conclusions.
Even Nowata County Commissioner Burke LaRue said he didn’t know what the future of the NCSO may be.
“I don’t think we gained anything,” said LaRue. “I just know we destroyed this county.”