OKC officer on leave during investigation into theft ring connections
OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) —
An Oklahoma City Police Officer has been on paid leave for eight months as part of an internal investigation that began after his family member was connected to an alleged interstate theft ring.
Documents obtained by FOX 25 show the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry (ODAFF) law enforcement division conducted interrogations as part of an investigation into stolen agriculture-related equipment. One of those interrogations was with an Oklahoma City Police officer.
According to federal court records, Dakotah Henderson, Amanda Czermak and Dakota Epperly were allegedly involved in stealing property out of state and selling it in Oklahoma. These three are charged with multiple federal criminal charges including conspiracy, possession of stolen property and aiding and abetting the interstate theft ring.
The Oklahoma City police officer is not charged, however investigators with the ODAFF provided information to prosecutors that allege the officer used police equipment and federal law enforcement databases to aid the alleged crime ring.
The records obtained by FOX 25 detail the allegation that came from an interview with the officer and his attorney. According to the ODAFF investigators the officer denied running reports through city’s police internal database or running vehicle identification numbers (VINs), license plates or names through the various law enforcement databases.
Oklahoma City police would not comment on camera, but did confirm that one of its officers is on administrative leave because of the information included in the documents obtained by FOX 25.
According to the report, the officer denied assisting any of the members of the theft ring. However the investigator included “facts to show deception and inconsistencies” with the officer’s answers.
The report details how the Oklahoma City Police database shows the officer ran a family member’s name who was involved in the investigation through the internal reporting system. Records referenced in the report say the office also searched for information on the ODAFF agents who were investigating his family members.
The ODAFF details text messages the officer exchanged with one of the accused ringleaders of the alleged theft ring. Investigators recovered a text from Daokta Epperly sent in February of 2016 asking the officer to run a VIN from a truck
According to the report, the officer replied “I may go in later tonight to work some gang overtime. If I do I will.”
Later that same evening the report shows Epperly asked again and sent a picture of the VIN. The officer texted back saying the vehicle was stolen. The text message reported by the ODAFF investigator indicates the officer was worried he would get in trouble because his computer went “red” when the stolen vehicle’s identification number was entered.
The officer’s attorney confirmed that the officer was interrogated by those investigating the theft ring, but denied any wrong doing. The attorney said they could not do an on camera interview at this time because of the ongoing nature of the investigation. However, the attorney said they were confident there was no wrongdoing on the part of the officer and they are cooperating with all investigations.
However, the attorney said he had not been provided the text messages retrieved by the ODAFF and had not seen the investigative report prepared for prosecutors.
According to the Oklahoma City Police Department, using a national crime database to run VINs for any non-law enforcement reason could be a crime. It is also a violation of department police. Abusing or improperly accessing the federal databases could result in the entire department losing access to these vital records the department told FOX 25.
The officer has been on paid leave since early November of 2016, shortly after a search warrant was served on a family member connected to the investigation. The officer was never charged and in the eight month’s he has been on paid leave there has not been an administrative hearing.
This is not the first time the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western District of Oklahoma has not charged a police officer accused of accessing law enforcement records in connection to a theft ring.
The U.S. Attorney’s office told us they could not comment on the specifics of this ongoing investigation and prosecution. However a spokesman said that each prosecution is weighed on the merits regardless of the target’s position within law enforcement.