MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

February 14, 2013

Former jail managers indicted

Alleged assaults of inmates yield federal charges of rights violations, lying

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Two former Muskogee County jail administrators indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury face multiple charges stemming from allegations of widespread inmate abuse.

Raymond A. Barnes, 42, who was a jail superintendent before he was fired in October 2011, was charged with three civil rights offenses. Christoper A. Brown, 31, who was an assistant superintendent, also was charged with three civil rights violations and one charge of making false material statements to the FBI.

A third former jailer, Dennis Frisbie Jr., is named in a federal charge of making a false material statement to FBI investigators. Prosecutors allege that Frisbie, 32, told investigators he was shot in retaliation for his cooperation with the investigation of inmate abuse at Muskogee County/City Detention Facility.

The indictments against Barnes and Brown allege they would “unjustifiably strike, assault, harm and physically punish inmates ... who were restrained, compliant and not posing a physical threat to anyone.”

Prosecutors also allege the pair would “organize meet-and-greets,” during which “jailers would scare, punish and harm incoming inmates from neighboring counties.” The alleged conduct included “throwing and slamming the handcuffed inmates to the ground.”

The indictment alleges Barnes and Brown coerced other jailers to take part by threatening termination if the conduct were exposed and encouraging them to file false reports justifying the use of force.

Online court records show Barnes has been identified in at least six lawsuits filed against Muskogee County, the jail or the sheriff since 2007. Brown was named in three  lawsuits.

Muskogee County Sheriff Charles Pearson said Wednesday he was unable to comment about the indictments or the alleged conduct of his former employees. Pearson, who said his office cooperated with the federal investigation, did comment about how the indictments might affect civil liability.

“As soon as we found out there might be a problem, we took immediate action to correct the situation,” Pearson said, citing the terminations of Barnes and Brown as an example. “If what they are alleging is true, they were acting outside the scope of the authority that was granted. When that happens, you are on your own.”

Pearson said that since he became aware of the allegations of inmate abuse, a high-tech surveillance system has been installed at the jail. Pearson said he can monitor activities at the jail 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from any remote location.

The allegations of misconduct were investigated by the Muskogee resident agency of the FBI’s Oklahoma City office. The charges are being prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division.

Barnes and Brown face up to 10 years in prison on each of the civil rights charges. Brown and Frisbie face up to five years in prison on the charges alleging false statements to federal investigators.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.