Jury trial set for sheriff in nepotism case

Jerry Niles

ENID, Okla. — A jury trial has been set in June for Garfield County Sheriff Jerry Niles on two misdemeanor counts of nepotism.

Niles appeared with attorney Gary James on Monday before District Judge Jon Parsley. James told the court an agreement could not be reached with District Attorney Chris Boring, who was specially appointed to try the case. James said he and the sheriff were requesting a trial date.

After the attorneys and judge checked their schedule, a June 3 date was set to begin the trial, which is set for three days. Boring told the court he thought the trial could be completed in two days, but James said he worried publicity over manslaughter charges filed against the sheriff could complicate voir dire during jury selection.

Parsley ordered motions to be filed by April 22 and the state's response to be filed by May 5. The judge set discovery deadline of April 30. He also asked Boring and James to present him with copies of proposed jury instructions for the trial and set a hearing for May 31 to review the instructions.

The nepotism charges, filed Feb. 14, 2018, accuse the sheriff of appointing his son Logan Niles and daughter-in-law Jennifer Shay Niles "to a new position and duties of employment with the Garfield County Sheriff's Office and increased the salary, wages, pay or compensation" for them.

The affidavit in the nepotism case was prepared by District 26 investigator Steve Tanio.

On Aug. 22, 2016, Garfield County District Attorney Mike Fields requested the Oklahoma attorney general appoint a prosecutor to investigate allegations of official misconduct by Jerry Niles in the appointment of his son and daughter-in-law within the sheriff's office, according to the affidavit. In Fields' request to the AG, he attached correspondence with Niles consisting of legal advice regarding nepotism on two occasions: Dec. 6, 2012, and June 21, 2016.

In the December letter, Fields told the sheriff his son could continue his employment with the office after the sheriff's official election. However, Fields advised Niles there could be no change in his son's "position, duties, responsibilities and compensation after you take office as sheriff. ... There can be no changes in his status after you take office without that being a new 'appointment' and thus being in violation of the nepotism laws," according to the affidavit.

In the June letter, Fields again referenced his legal advice from the previous letter. It also states, "It has come to my attention that Jennifer Niles, your daughter-in-law, may have a different title, position, duties or responsibilities (than) when you took office. If this information is accurate, then you may very well be in violation of Title 21, Section 481."

Fields also noted he'd had a "handful of conversations with Sheriff Niles. ... In these conversations, Sheriff Niles indicated to Fields that he did not believe he had violated the state's nepotism laws," according to the affidavit. Fields reviewed payroll certifications from the Garfield County Clerk's Office and determined changes in compensation for both Logan and Jennifer since Jerry Niles had been in office, as well as changes in the "nature or work" column for Jennifer.

The attorney general's office appointed Boring to investigate the allegations.

Tanio obtained records Nov. 20, 2017, pertaining to the sheriff's office, according to the affidavit. The records show in 2012 Jerry Niles was employed as undersheriff for then-Sheriff Bill Winchester. In December 2012, both Logan and Jennifer were employed as deputy sheriffs.

On Aug. 28, 2012, Jerry Niles won the sheriff's election with the term beginning in January 2013, according to the affidavit. On Dec. 10, 2012, Winchester promoted Logan to sergeant.

Tanio reviewed a letter from Jerry Niles dated May 29, 2014, "To: All Staff, Ref: Changes in Staffing," according to the affidavit. The letter states, "Effective 1 June 2014, Deputy Jennifer Niles will be assigned as the Jail Administrator with Bill Winchester as the Assistant Jail Administrator. Effective 1 June 2014, Sgt. Helm and Niles will be setting their work schedules. Sgt. Helm will, along with his shifts, have Fleet Inspections and Equipment, and training. Sgt. Niles will, along with his shifts, have canine, dispatch and training. They will report to Undersheriff Fagan."

Also on Nov. 20, 2017, Tanio obtained records from Garfield County Clerk Lorie Legere for Jerry, Logan and Jennifer Niles.

In July 2012, Logan Niles was employed as a K-9 deputy with a monthly salary of $2,780, records show. In December 2012, he was promoted to sergeant with a salary of $2,992. Due to cost-of-living adjustments in June 2014, Logan's salary was $3,170, according to the affidavit. On July 14, 2014, Jerry Niles reclassified Logan as a second deputy/sergeant position with a new salary of $3,300, which was an increase of $130 per month.

Records for Jennifer Niles showed in December 2012, she was employed as a deputy sheriff with a monthly salary of $2,678. In mid-June 2014 Jennifer still was employed as a deputy sheriff and due to cost-of-living adjustments had a salary of $2,835, according to the affidavit. Jennifer was reclassified as jail administrator with a salary of $3,357 and had changes in her job duties.

Niles placed himself on paid suspension July 28, 2017, and has remained under paid suspension since.

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Rains is police and court reporter for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @cassrains. He can be reached at crains@enidnews.com.