NOWATA COUNTY, OK — Nowata County commissioners appointed Erich Richter as interim sheriff on Monday to lead an agency in disarray, but a judge wouldn’t swear in Richter because he doesn’t live in the county.
Richter was stricken from the special election ballot for Tulsa County sheriff in December 2015 for switching political parties — twice — too close to the filing period for the race. The Tulsa World vetted Richter’s law enforcement history during his short-lived campaign and uncovered a trail of complaints and disciplinary actions from stints at two prior agencies.
After the commission’s regular meeting Monday, Chairman Bud Frost told the Tulsa World by telephone that the three commissioners had unanimously selected Richter and that he would be sworn in that afternoon.
However, Commissioner Curtis Barnes confirmed early Monday evening that the district judge wouldn’t swear in Richter because Richter doesn’t live in Nowata County. The District Attorney’s Office supported the judge’s decision, Barnes said.
The interim sheriff issue will be addressed again at a 9 a.m. meeting Wednesday, he said.
Frost and Commissioner Doug Sonenberg didn’t return multiple messages from the Tulsa World seeking comment after their appointee wasn’t sworn in.
Monday’s developments were the latest in a saga involving disorder at the Nowata County Sheriff’s Office.
The county clerk told commissioners in a public meeting on March 13 that she was unable to determine how deep a financial hole the Sheriff’s Office was in because the office didn’t use “proper accounting procedures.”
That revelation followed the abrupt resignations of Sheriff Rick Miller, Undersheriff Billy Scott and Jail Administrator Michael Scott within two weeks of each other in late February and early March. Those three were only the latest in a wave of employee exits from the agency, according to records obtained by the Tulsa World.
The person ultimately appointed and sworn in as sheriff will serve until voters can elect a sheriff in November 2018 to fill the second half of Miller’s four-year term.
Richter didn’t respond Monday to multiple phone messages seeking his comment on being appointed but not sworn in.
His history includes two arrests in 2012 that were expunged from his record, according to Tulsa Jail records archived by the World.
“It was taken care of in the courts, and everything was dismissed at preliminary,” Richter told the World during his Tulsa County campaign. “Just because somebody’s charged doesn’t mean somebody’s guilty.”
Richter had “numerous complaints” filed against him during about a year’s stint at the Payne County Sheriff’s Office in 2009 and 2010, but he left that agency before the paperwork could make it through the system for possible disciplinary action, according to Capt. Kevin Woodward.
The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office general counsel said Richter was disciplined during his two years there in 2006 and 2007. The reason for the discipline wasn’t a public record because it didn’t involve loss of pay, suspension, demotion or termination.
Richter denied to the World that there were any issues. Richter called himself “an outstanding deputy” and accused the World of “trying to dredge up stuff to sell your papers.”
In speaking with the World on Monday prior to the planned swearing-in, Frost said he had heard of some of Richter’s past but that “it was all expunged, so I wasn’t too worried about it.”
”Seemed like a nice feller, and I like how he talked,” Frost said.
Frost said he hopes Richter is able to perform his job because the Sheriff’s Office’s finances are “still about as bad as it’s ever been.” Frost said he wished the voters of Nowata County could have voted on a new sheriff now instead of waiting for the special election. However, that isn’t possible with how state law is written, he said.
Sonenberg, also prior to the swearing-in snag, said he was unaware of what the World had previously reported about Richter.
“My first impression was a decent impression, so I’m comfortable with him now,” Sonenberg said.
He said Richter presented commissioners with good credentials from the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training.
“We’ll do the best we can with what we have and who we have, and in time you’ll see some good things come out of Nowata County,” Sonenberg said.
From The Tulsa World