In addition to a legal claim, the attorney for a former investigator for Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater has sent a series of letters alleging Prater misused the state’s multicounty grand jury process to get donor and payroll records of a criminal justice reform group.
In the letters, which were sent to Prater, Attorney General Mike Hunter, Oklahoma County commissioners and others, the attorney for fired investigator William Muller raised the possibility of other district attorneys discussing investigations of former House Speaker Kris Steele and his group, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform. Muller said there was no criminal wrongdoing alleged against Steele or the group, and Prater’s investigation stemmed from a personal dislike of Steele and criminal justice reform efforts.
Muller, a former U.S. Secret Service agent, filed a claim of intent to sue last month with state and county authorities alleging a hostile work environment, wrongful termination and retaliation by Prater. He is seeking at least $125,000 in compensation, as well as punitive damages. The state and Oklahoma County have 90 days to respond. The matter could be settled before any lawsuit is filed. Prater has denied any wrongdoing.
In his claim, Muller said Prater fired him in January after he refused to continue an investigation into Steele and Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform. Muller said Prater also interfered with his future job prospects by emailing a list for Oklahoma police chiefs saying Muller had been fired.
Muller’s allegations raise questions on how district attorneys use the multi-county grand jury to start or escalate investigations into criminal wrongdoing. Muller’s attorney, Robert D. Gifford, said it appears district attorneys have wide latitude to request subpoenas from the multicounty grand jury and there is little oversight. The secret nature of grand jury proceedings also tend to work in prosecutors’ favor because few people are allowed to divulge anything that goes before a grand jury.
“In this matter, Prater (an attorney and not an investigator) did not even have ‘reasonable suspicion,’ much less the legally required ‘probable cause’ to seek from your office a multicounty grand jury to use as his own personal weapon for a personal agenda or against ‘political enemies,’” said an Oct. 22 letter to Hunter from Gifford.
Prater has not responded to several requests for comment from Oklahoma Watch. Earlier, he told the Tulsa World he denied wrongdoing, calling Muller’s allegations “ridiculous.”
But in a letter sent Monday to Gifford, the attorney general’s office, which runs the multicounty grand jury, appeared to confirm that Prater obtained the subpoena and it was customary for him to determine whether or not to file criminal charges based on material produced by a subpoena. The letter did not address Muller’s claim that the subpoena was obtained despite a lack of evidence of wrongdoing.
To get a subpoena from the multi-county grand jury, a law enforcement officer usually has to file a subpoena request form, although the Attorney General’s office said the multicounty grand jury “may use whatever information it receives, in whatever form it receives it, to carry out its duties under the law.” After the records or testimony is obtained, the investigating agency is supposed to follow up with a report to the grand jury.
The multicounty grand jury, which meets for several days each month, may issue hundreds of subpoenas in each of its 18-month sessions. Interim reports are prepared each month, and at the end of each session, a report is prepared listing actions and the number of subpoenas issued in the multicounty grand jury’s name.
Gifford, who asked Hunter to launch an internal review into the issuance of multicounty grand jury subpoenas, said Muller’s description of Prater’s requests for records and donations to Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform were troubling.
“It is clear that Mr. Prater did not hesitate in using your multicounty grand jury subpoenas in attacking criminal justice reform, Kris Steele, and the ACLU; so, it begs the question as to how many other times has he done the same without any of the required probable cause?,” Gifford wrote in one of his letters to Hunter.
Another letter from Gifford alleged Prater asked Allan Grubb, the district attorney for Lincoln and Pottawatomie counties, to investigate Steele, who lives in Shawnee. Steele endorsed Grubb in his race for district attorney in 2018.
Grubb denied that he was asked by Prater to investigate Steele. But he said he attended a meeting of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association, a private group, during which some fellow DAs talked disparagingly about Steele and suggested someone should investigate him and his reform group. As a newly elected district attorney, Grubb said he wasn’t sure if they were joking or not, but he left the meeting.
On Monday, Hunter’s office sent a letter to Gifford saying multicounty grand jury subpoenas are subject to judicial review before their issuance. The letter said district attorneys have used the process to gather evidence for more than 30 years.
“As important as it is to law enforcement to gather evidence supporting the prosecution of crimes, it is also vital that law enforcement have sufficient information to determine that no criminal wrongdoing occurred,” said the letter by Mary Ann Roberts, Hunter’s chief deputy.
The letter didn’t get into specifics, but it suggested that records were turned over after the subpoena was issued.
“It is not at all unusual for a prosecutor to determine criminal charges should not be pursued after evaluating material produced via a MCGJ (multicounty grand jury) subpoena,” Roberts wrote. “It appears that in this matter, that is just what happened — the district attorney made the decision not to seek an indictment or file an information after assessing material produced per a MCGJ subpoena.”
Gifford said he wasn’t satisfied with the attorney general’s response and called the judicial review of multicounty grand jury subpoenas “perfunctory” at best. Gifford, a former federal prosecutor, said the state’s subpoena process had fewer safeguards than the federal grand jury process he used when he was an assistant U.S. Attorney.
“The AG’s letter might come as a surprise to the presiding judge of Oklahoma County,” who oversees the state’s multicounty grand jury, Gifford said.
Steele said Monday he had not seen Hunter’s reply to Gifford and was focused on the ongoing efforts of criminal justice reform.
“My focus is on the truly historic commutations and the need for additional criminal justice reform in our state,” Steele said.