Tulsa World by Omer Gillham - May 5, 2011
A federal trial for three police officers who are accused of planting drugs on people and stealing money during an FBI sting has been delayed for two weeks because defense attorneys need additional time to interview dozens of potential witnesses. U.S. District Judge Bruce Black of New Mexico heard various pretrial motions Monday for a trial involving Tulsa Police Officers Nick DeBruin and Bruce Bonham and retired Officer Harold R. Wells. After hearing arguments about the need for additional time, Black rescheduled the trial for May 31. The trial had been set to begin May 16. The officers were indicted as part of an investigation being led by special prosecutors from Arkansas. Attorneys for DeBruin and Wells asked for additional time to complete interviews of potential witnesses, who could include numerous police officers and police personnel, said Warren Gotcher, Wells' attorney. Gotcher said he has 23 interviews to conduct this week. Although the Tulsa Police Department has made potential witnesses available, Gotcher said he has been hindered because of the number of witnesses and the cumbersome task of scheduling them. Black ruled on several other pretrial motions as well, including a motion by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane Duke to block attempts by defense attorneys to raise questions about the character of two key government witnesses in the case. Duke asked Black to deny attempts by defense attorneys to question former Police Officer John K. Gray about his alleged involvement in a burglary ring, her filing states. Gray, who retired in May, has pleaded guilty to stealing U.S. funds during an FBI sting in May 2009. He is cooperating with Duke's office and is expected to be a key witness against Wells, DeBruin and Bonham. Gray's chief accuser is convicted felon Jerry Clyde Stephenson, a bank burglar who alleges that Gray took several stolen televisions from a previous burglary and stole $16,000 from him, Duke's filing states.
During a polygraph test administered by the FBI in September, Stephenson gave deceptive responses when questioned about some of the allegations against Gray, Duke's filing shows. After being confronted about his alleged deception, Stephenson stopped the lie-detector interview after stating that he was not lying, Duke's filing states. Black said he was "inclined" to prohibit Gray from being questioned about Stephenson's claims. Gray, who was a burglary detective, has denied any involvement with Stephenson's burglary ring or any of the claims coming from the Tulsa Police Department and its interview with Stephenson. Stephenson was initially interviewed July 7, 2010, by Tulsa police detectives Max Ryden and Mark Clement, Duke's filing states. According to Ryden's report, Stephenson wanted to cooperate in a Police Department investigation involving some of his past associates. Stephenson claimed to have information related to previous burglary cases as well as information related to several homicides, Duke's filing states. During the interview, Stephenson reportedly identified Gray and others as corrupt Tulsa police officers associated with previous burglary cases. He stated that Gray had knowledge of the location of multiple televisions stolen from Best Buy and that Gray actually took some of those televisions, the filing states. Stephenson claimed that Gray threatened to plant a gun in Stephenson's vehicle if he cooperated "with the feds" related to that burglary, Duke's filing states. During his interview with police, Stephenson also claimed that Gray informed him that a GPS device had been placed on his vehicle by law enforcement, Duke's filing states. Gray also gave Stephenson the name of the lead investigator and the tag number of the investigator's car, the filing states. Stephenson reportedly claimed that Gray stole $16,000 from Stephenson's car. In return for his cooperation, Stephenson wanted a pending burglary case dismissed; reinstatement of a probationary sentence in Missouri; and transfer to a federal prison closer to his family, Duke's filing states. In a separate motion by Duke involving former Officer Eric J. Hill, Black said he was inclined to prohibit Hill from being questioned about a misdemeanor domestic assault and battery charge that was dismissed in January. Hill, who was fired by the Tulsa Police Department, has admitted to stealing drug money and is expected to be a government witness in the Wells, DeBruin and Bonham trial. In another pretrial motion, Black ruled in favor of a request by the Tulsa World not to withhold the names of jurors in the police trial. Duke asked the court to withhold the names, saying the media might contact jurors during the trial, her motion states. Tulsa World attorney Schaad Titus argued that the names of jurors are traditionally not withheld and that it serves the public purpose in knowing the names of those who will be deciding the police trial. Black said: "I have never had an anonymous jury, and I don't see this case having one."