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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cop Denies Accusations at Police Corruption Trial

Police corruption trial: Tulsa police officer denies accusations
Tulsa World by Jarrel Wad and Omer Gillham - August 13, 2011

A veteran Tulsa police officer who is accused of corruption testified in his defense Friday, denying that he threatened a federal agent with a gun or asked one jail inmate to assault another. The officer, Bill Yelton, also testified that he conducted proper searches and did not lie on search warrant affidavits. Yelton, 50, testified that he never threatened former ATF Agent Brandon McFadden by chambering a bullet into his handgun while sitting in a car with McFadden and Officer Jeff Henderson in the summer of 2008, as one of the charges against him alleges. "I don't know how to answer that, because it never happened," Yelton said during the first day of the defense phase of the trial. "We don't do that with the Tulsa Police Department. That would be dangerous." Yelton is charged with eight counts alleging civil rights violations, witness tampering and perjury. Henderson, his co-defendant, is charged with 54 counts alleging civil rights violations, drug distribution, perjury and other crimes. Yelton said he did not ask a Tulsa Jail inmate to beat up another inmate who was cooperating with federal authorities. A Tulsa Jail sergeant testified earlier this week that Yelton visited the jail and met with an inmate. The inmate, Durrell Collins, told Sgt. Carla Housely that Yelton asked him to "take out" another inmate, Housely testified. The other inmate was Waylon Dumas, the World has reported. "I never asked Durrell to harm anyone, and I would never do that," Yelton said. "And I absolutely never threatened Brandon McFadden at the water treatment plant or anywhere. It never happened. We did not meet Brandon anywhere and threaten him." Yelton also testified that police supervisors allowed him and Henderson to give a tape recorder to an informant named Rochelle Martin. That was so she could record her boyfriend lying about seeing Henderson engaged in illegal drug activity, Yelton testified. Martin is a key government witness who has testified that she sold drugs for Henderson and accepted drugs from Henderson for personal use. Martin testified last week that Henderson and Yelton gave her the recorder last year. She said Henderson told her to record her boyfriend, Demarrio Oates, saying he lied when he said he saw Henderson deliver marijuana to Martin. "I said, 'Why did you tell a fib?' and he said, 'I didn't.' So I just stopped recording him. I couldn't do it," Martin testified last week. Yelton testified Friday that he and Henderson worked closely with Martin. "She was a source of information. She was just incredible. We probably should have given her a medal. ... She was part of the unit," Yelton said. Prosecutors allege that Martin was a so-called "throw-down informant" who actually did not provide the information attributed to her on numerous search warrants prepared by Henderson and Yelton. During her testimony, Martin said she lied for the two officers to help frame Bobby Wayne Haley Sr. Yelton denied having coached Martin for her testimony that helped send Haley to prison on drug charges. Haley was freed from prison in May 2010 after serving about four years. He is one of at least 38 people who have been freed, had sentences modified or charges dropped as a result of the police-corruption investigation. Martin testified earlier that she was not the informant listed by Henderson and Yelton on numerous search warrant affidavits they used to bring felony cases against individuals in Tulsa. Defense attorneys questioned Yelton about a series of statements on search warrant affidavits, and Yelton repeatedly said the information in the affidavits was truthful. Yelton denied entering Jose Angel Gonzalez's home and moving a shotgun with other officers. He also denied searching Nathan Sanders' car. Both things were alleged in prior testimony. The prosecution's cross examination of Yelton initially focused on a 2009 search warrant that led to the arrest of a man who provided evidence that he was in Arlington, Texas, when the officers said they saw him in Tulsa. Yelton said he and Henderson saw the man, Ronald Crawford, at his home Jan. 5 and on the morning of Jan. 6 that year. However, Yelton agreed that if Crawford was in fact in Arlington at 7:50 a.m., he could not have been seen at his home in Tulsa when Henderson and Yelton had testified at a hearing that they saw him there. Crawford has provided evidence in court that he was enrolling his daughter in school at 7:50 a.m. that day. Crawford also provided evidence that he was at a Texas bank after 11 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2009.

Prosecutors also questioned Yelton about his use of confidential informants. Yelton told the court he maintained five to six informants throughout the time examined in the case against him. However, he said he shared informants with Henderson and said he had not filed reports with the Police Department about any of his own informants since his previous ones were last purged from TPD records. Yelton said he didn't know about the department database that tracked confidential informants. Yelton and Henderson have spent more than a year in jail awaiting trial. Yelton was hired by the department in 1985 and is assigned to the Special Investigations Division, as is Henderson. Prosecutors rested their case Friday morning, shortly after court resumed during the trial's 10th day. Prosecutors called 40 witnesses during two weeks of testimony. The trial is expected to last up to five weeks. On Friday, a federal agent testified on behalf of Henderson and Yelton as the first defense witness, saying the two defendants are honest, good officers. ATF Agent Josh Petree testified that he had been on more than 100 search warrant executions with Henderson and Yelton since he started working with them in 2003. "They are hard-working and excellent police officers," Petree said. He also testified that he had never seen either Yelton or Henderson do anything "untoward or illegal." His testimony also turned to McFadden, whom Petree described as dishonest. Petree has been an agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for nine years. McFadden was hired by the ATF in 2002 and resigned in 2009 as the federal investigation was under way. He pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy May 6, 2010, in federal court. He is cooperating with prosecutors and was released to his home in Lubbock, Texas, while he awaits his sentencing. Petree said that during a spike in crime and gang activity in 2003, he was assigned to a unit working extensively with Henderson and Yelton. Additionally, Petree worked in the same office with McFadden. "At first, McFadden and I were friends," he said. "But I didn't find him to be very honest or a hard worker. He was manipulative." Petree said he believed that McFadden tried to get other agents in trouble so that he could transfer to Lubbock, Texas, where his family lived. On cross examination, the prosecution established that Petree worked closely with Henderson and Yelton from 2003 to 2005 but worked much less frequently with them during the focus of the indictments, from 2007 to 2009. When asked if he was familiar with many of the individuals against whom Henderson or Yelton are accused of gaining false search warrant affidavits, he said no.

Thursday's developments - The defense began its case after nine days of prosecution. Indicted Officer Bill Yelton took the stand as the defense's second witness. He went over many of the major points in the case with attorneys from both sides, testifying about accusations against him and Henderson.

Key moment - Yelton described informant Rochelle Martin as a part of the Tulsa Police Department's crime team. "She was just incredible," Yelton said. "We probably should have given her a medal. She was part of the unit." Prosecution attorneys have alleged that Martin was a so-called "throw-down" informant whose name was used when the indicted officers wanted a search warrant. Yelton stood by his and Henderson's search warrants, saying Martin was used every time she was claimed on the cases he helped investigate.

Key testimony - Yelton testified that he knew of no wrongdoing or illegal activity during his years working with Henderson. "I've never seen Jeff Henderson do anything he is accused of," he said. Yelton admitted no wrongdoing when faced with evidence from one alleged victim of a falsified search warrant affidavit. The witness showed evidence that appeared to dispute Yelton's claims that he saw him outside his residence before his arrest. Yelton stood by the affidavit and his testimony, which said he and Henderson personally observed the man.

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