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Former Oklahoma Sheriff Convicted of Sex Crimes Now Where to Put Him?

by Gary Hunter

Oklahoma officials are trying to decide the best way to incarcerate ex-sheriff Mike Burgess, 56, now that he is a convicted sex offender. On January 9, 2009 the former Custer County lawman was convicted on 13 of 35 felony counts of sexually abusing female prisoners under his care. [See: PLN, May 2009, p.1]

The charges against the former sheriff included rape, forcible oral sodomy and bribery of a public official. The prisoners said Burgess coerced them into participating in wet T-shirt contests for the entertainment of jail employees, and that as a member of a drug-court panel he bargained with them for sex in exchange for recommending probation rather than prison.

One former prisoner, Joy Leigh Mason, drew a sketch of the inside of Burgess’ home for investigators; the sheriff had taken her there for trysts. Incriminating testimony against also came from a former deputy, Jennifer Tyler. Tyler claimed that Burgess had slipped his hands down her pants and fondled her buttocks while she was being fitted for her uniform.
Following Burgess’ conviction, the jury recommended a cumulative punishment of 94 years in prison. Instead, he received a 79-year sentence in March 2009. Now his former colleagues are faced with the problem of where to house the convicted and disgraced sheriff.

“I think it would be difficult to put him in the Custer County Jail,” said Mills County Sheriff Joe Hay. “I’d bet half those people in that jail he’s had a hand in arresting. Keeping him safe would be really, really tough.”

Sheriff Bruce Peoples, Burgess’ successor, concurred. “We’ve started to re-think bringing him here to Custer County. ... We agreed it would probably be awkward, and there would be safety issues for everyone involved.”

Nor will those safety issues stop at the county jail. Jerry Massie, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, remarked that Burgess may have to be shipped to another state where he is less well known, placed in protective custody, or sent to a county jail that houses state prisoners. Meanwhile, the ex-sheriff, clad in an orange jumpsuit, remained in isolation awaiting a decision on where he will serve his time.

As if his 79-year sentence wasn’t bad enough, Burgess (and other Custer County officials) also face a federal lawsuit filed by 12 former prisoners who allege that Burgess used them as sex slaves. The plaintiffs are represented by the Garrett Law Office and the Seymour & Graham law firm, and their suit is still pending. See: McGowan v. Burgess, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Okla.), Case No. 5:07-cv-01168-HE.

If the lawsuit results in a damages award or settlement, local property owners will likely foot the bill. Four years ago, Sheriff Melvin Holly in nearby Latimer County was sentenced to 25 years for sexually abusing female prisoners and jail employees. A suit filed by Holly’s victims resulted in a $665,000 settlement, which was paid by the county over a three-year period through property tax increases. [See: PLN, Aug. 2006, p.1].

Sources: Associated Press,,

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Related legal case

McGowan v. Burgess