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Oklahoma DPS Hires Former DOC Guard Dismissed for Excessive Force

On November 15, 2011, Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (DPS) Commissioner Michael Thompson 'created a high-rank, $60,000-per-year job and hired an old friend, who had been fired for beating prisoners while a guard captain in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) in 1994 Scott Barger, Thompson's new executive assistant, supervised a "shakedown" of ten "troublemakers" at the DOC's Lexington Assessment and Reception Center. Nine of the prisoners were black and the other had a black girlfriend. For the shakedown, 15 members of the prison's Emergency Response Team, dressed in "light riot gear." They handcuffed prisoners, who were than forced to face a wall and beaten with riot batons after having been told that the beating would be much worse if they fell down. Officers switched out during, the lengthy beatings. Barger was one of the team's supervising officers.

In 1995, the DOC fired Barger. He appealed to the Merit Protection Commission. Other guards testified against Barger at the commission's hearings and the commission upheld the firing. Barger appealed the commission's ruling to the district court and lost. He then filed an appeal with the court of -appeals. The court of appeals issued a final order upholding the Firing.

According to court documents, Officer Keith Newkirk, "testified he witnessed Barger hit an inmate in the back of the legs with a PR-24 riot baton."

"Officer Newkirk also testified that Barger came into the control room and said they were going to get as many officers as they could to hit inmates that night so there would be collective guilt and if anyone spoke Up they would all [all."

Barger threatened Newkirk, attempting to prevent him from testifying. This prompted Newkirk to resign The witness intimidation was listed as one of the reasons for the firing in Barger's termination letter.

Ten prisoners filed a federal civil rights action against 20 guards. Fifteen of the guards were dismissed from the suit before it was settled for $13,500 in November 1996.

"I think it is important to know in the civil suit that r was dismissed from that," Barger said in a Tulsa World interview.

But that is not true. Barger was one of the five remaining defendants when the suit was settled.

Barger, 43, attended Purcell High School and National Guard officer candidate school with Thompson. Thompson also worked with Barger for four years at Lexington before quitting that job to become a state trooper in 1990. Thompson said that he was unaware of Barger's firing or the civil suit, neither of which appeared in the "limited" background check performed before Barger was given the job. Barger said he did tell Thompso about them. Thompson said he would have hired Barger anyway.

"I don't see the relationship between something; that happened in 1994 and what he is doing for me now. He is doing a great job, and I have full confidence in him," said Thompson. Yet Thompson admitted that he. wouldn't have hired a trooper who bad been fired for excessive use of force.

Barger's new duties include working on a variety of DPS policy matters such as manpower, tracking prisoners who might be a threat to troopers and recruiting female troopers. Previously, he had worked for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, having gone to work for the association after he was fired by the DOC. He had worked his way up to deputy director of the association when Governor Mark Fallin appointed Thompson DPS commissioner in March 2011. Thompson then hired Barger as assistant director of the highway safety division of the DPS before creating the executive assistant position and promoting him into it.

So, a trooper who beat a member of the public without justification wouldn't be hired, but a guard captain who unconstitutionally beat prisoners and supervised other guards" beating prisoners is fine for the high-level DPS job. What kind of message does that send?

Source: Tulsa World

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