Sheriff Whetsel to retire

County Treasurer Butch Freeman celebrates with John and Mitzi Whetsel following the November, 2016 election win. (Photo by Ryan Horton)

County Treasurer Butch Freeman celebrates with John and Mitzi Whetsel following the November, 2016 election win. (Photo by Ryan Horton)

Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel officially announced his retirement Feb. 1.

Effective at 5 p.m. March 1, the longtime Oklahoma County Sheriff will end his career after 20 years holding the office.

Whetsel, 67, was re-elected in November in a close vote to a sixth four-year term.

“I thank the citizens of Oklahoma County who have supported me throughout my 50-year career, especially by electing and re-electing me Sheriff six times,” wrote Whetsel in his official resignation letter. “I apologize to those who may feel I have let them down by my retirement. That is not my inetent. I am doing what I think is best for the future of the Sheriff’s Office. I am convinced that new leadership is required to solve the problems with the jail and overall funding of the many responsibilities of the Sheriff’s Office.”

Whetsel went on to voice his concerns over the need for a plan to replace the county jail and provide stable funding.

During the last year the OCSO has come under much criticism for alleged mismanagement of funds.

The state auditor did a special audit of the sheriff’s office last year at the request of Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater.

In an audit report released Oct. 18, auditors concluded funds were used inappropriately and possibly illegally.

Among the missteps, a failure to pay millions of dollars in debt, including inmate medical bills, resulted in a lawsuit that could cost property owners millions.

Armor Correctional Health Services Inc. provides medical care to inmates. The Florida company filed a breach of contract lawsuit over the unpaid bills. It was awarded $3.3 million in June. If an appeal fails, county property owners may have to pay the award, through increased taxes over three years.

Whetsel has explained in the past that the medical bills didn’t get paid because of an unplanned loss of income from the state Corrections Department.

Oklahoma County Commissioners voted in November to allow Whetsel to keep working despite the controversial audit. Whetsel said he released more than requested to the auditors because he had nothing to hide, and proceeded to run and win a sixth term.

The retirement is not expected to end the investigation.

The state’s new multicounty grand jury could still hear witnesses on the financial issues at the sheriff’s office when it meets Feb. 27 – March 1.

Current undersheriff P.D. Taylor will step up to replace Whetsel until Governor Mary Fallin schedules a special election, within 30 days of his retirement, to determine a new Sheriff for Oklahoma County.

The special election is estimated to cost taxpayers $300,000.

Taylor, 70, is currently in the No. 2 position in the office after serving as undersheriff since 2003 and the OCSO for a total of 20 years. He was with the OKC PD for 26 years before that.

“The sheriff’s office has become a big part of me,” he said. “They have issues, yes. They need changes, yes. Their employees work for nothing, yes. There’s a lot to be done. It’s time.”

He plans to step up as Whetsel’s permanent replacement, but he’s not alone.

Two former opponents of Whetsel have announced their intentions to seek the office.

Republicans Mike Christian, 47, of Oklahoma City, and Darrell Sorrels, 63, of Midwest City, lost to Whetsel during the two most recent elections, and they’re ready to again square off for the job.

Christian, a former state representative and retired state trooper, lost to Whetsel in November in a close race. Sorrels, a former sheriff’s supervisor, lost to Whetsel in 2012.

“I’m not really going to go into detail about John, because it’s a new chapter,” Christian said at a press conference that came shortly after Whetsel’s announcement. “I admire anybody who wants to run for political office. It takes courage. We know it’s going to be a challenge. We look forward to the race.”

Whetsel concluded his farewell letter with a reference to the Bible, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith, and now this is the season and the time for my retirement. I thank the citizens for allowing me to serve them.”

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