MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

October 10, 2012

Laptop issue could slow justice

Judge to decide if cases will be postponed over access to surveillance

By Dylan Goforth
Phoenix Staff Writer

— A judge will rule today on motions to delay trials for three men charged in Muskogee County with separate crimes.

Attorneys for the three men asked District Judge Mike Norman to postpone the trials from next week’s felony jury trial docket, pending investigation into surveillance footage access the Muskogee County District Attorney’s Office has had.

Norman said he would rule at 2 p.m. today.

The three men requesting to be removed from the docket are:

• Donnie Gibson, 46, charged with three counts of first-degree rape and two counts of forcible sodomy.

• Derek Gattenby, 26, charged with child abuse; and

• Martin Miller, 19, charged with first-degree felony murder.

Gibson and Gattenby are represented by Eric Jones. Miller is represented by Larry Vickers. Moore said Miller, who is one of six defendants in last year’s shooting death of Ryan Satterfield, will be stricken from this docket anyway, as those defendants will be tried separately.

Issues arose last month when attorneys learned the DA’s office and its investigator, Richard Slader, were in possession of two laptops which were tied into the courthouse security feed.

Concerned over whether any confidential attorney-client conversations had been listened to by the DA’s office, those attorneys met with Norman and eventually decided to request three outside agencies — The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Oklahoma Attorney Generals Office and the Oklahoma Bar Association — investigate whether the DA’s office has committed any impropriety with concern to its access of courthouse security cameras.

The Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office IT administrator, Matt Staggs, testified Tuesday during the hearings. The sheriff’s office oversees courthouse security, and Staggs testified he was there for the planning, installation and usage of the system.

Staggs testified the laptops were given to the DA’s office “eight to nine months ago” to cut down on time and money spent printing paperwork and looking for information the office was entitled to.

Staggs also said he had recorded “about two dozen” DVDs of courthouse activities since the surveillance equipment was installed “five or six years ago.” Moore said his office had requested only six of those two dozen DVDs, though Staggs testified it might have been as many as 10.

Jones and Vickers presented no evidence of any wrongdoing, Moore said, and called no witnesses.

“Basically, they’re saying ‘we don’t have any evidence,’ and hoping some will show up eventually if these trials get postponed,” Moore said.

Staggs testified judges’ chambers and certain rooms in the courthouse where attorneys and their clients meet for confidential conversations are considered off limits to security cameras, and no recordings are done there.

Moore, who again denied himself or anyone else in his office ever eavesdropping on conversations lawyers deemed private, did tell Norman that in law school, students are taught that by allowing a third party to listen in on a conversation, attorneys waive that confidentiality.

“It’s no secret there are cameras in here recording,” Moore said. “If an attorney met in here with a client with the knowledge these rooms are being recorded, that’s their own doing. In fact, their client might have a malpractice suit.”

After the hearing, Jones said the allegations of potential wrongdoing happened too close to the upcoming felony jury trial docket to ensure fair trails for his clients.

“We asked for an investigation less than a month ago,” Jones said. “We don’t have a resolution to that yet, but it’s only been a month. In the legal world, that’s just the blink of an eye.”

Both attorneys, Moore and Norman said they’ve heard nothing from any of the requested agencies in regards to any type of investigation.

“If these trials are passed, what assurances can you give me an investigation will be complete by the February jury trial term,” Norman said.

Jones said he or the Muskogee County Bar Association would likely have heard something back before February.  

Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or dgoforth@muskogeephoenix.com.