Law Blog

PHILLIPS & ASSOCIATES Oklahoma Criminal Defense Attorneys

NYPD PR Campaign Backfires in Epic Fail

April 23rd, 2014

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it quickly went horribly wrong. In an effort to show the public the community outreach side of the New York Police Department, the NYPD asked Twitter users to post pictures of themselves interacting with members of the police department:

“Do you have a photo w/ a member of the NYPD? Tweet us & tag it #myNYPD. It may be featured on our Facebook.”

The public relations campaign believed that New Yorkers would post pictures of themselves interacting with police in such a way that their public image would be enhanced: police helping people, police showing acts of kindness, police working for the community good. You know, like this:


Instead, they got this:


And this:


And this picture of officers helping an elderly jaywalker across the street:


And this picture of police helping a young woman to style her hair:


To protect and serve:


Many people are calling the failure of the public relations campaign “predictable,” particularly in light of criticism of the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” policy. Under state law, the police are allowed to “stop, question, and frisk,” pedestrians at any time. Critics of the policy say it unfairly targets minorities, particularly African Americans and Latinos. They say the policy is racial profiling, and in many cases, judges have ruled that the stops were conducted without probable cause for suspicion.

#myNYPDtweet #myNYPDtweet2

It stands to reason that if your public image is bad, you should try to improve it. However, asking the public that is against you for help in improving that image does not seem to be the best plan.

It is unfortunate that a social media campaign intended to improve the organization’s image could be so destructive. Obviously, there are many good police officers who work hard to protect the public safety. These men and women put their lives on the line day in and day out. However, it does not take many bad examples to put the whole force in a negative light–and the #myNYPD campaign gave the department the wrong exposure.


Nationwide Manhunt Underway for Preacher Accused of 59 Counts of Sex Abuse

April 21st, 2014

Law enforcement agents across the United States are seeking 52-year-old Victor Barnard, a religious leader accused of molesting young girls in his congregation. Barnard, who is charged in Pine County, Minnesota, was last seen in Spokane, Washington, according to Washington State Police.

Barnard was charged with 59 felony sex crimes after a two-year investigation that began when two young women came forward saying they had been repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted by their minister beginning when they were 12 and 13 years old.

Police say Barnard was the leader of a church called the River Road Fellowship. One of his accusers says that when her family joined the church in 2000, she became one of about 10 girls in a group Barnard referred to as “The Maidens,” or “Alamoth.” Alamoth, a musical term for virgins, is found in the Bible in Psalms.

The woman told police that she and the Maidens were invited to join Barnard at his lodge in a secluded part of the communal property for what they believed would be a summer camp. Instead, Barnard’s lodge became their permanent home until they reached adulthood and left the group.

She said that Barnard preached to her that he was Jesus incarnate, and that it was God’s word for her to have sex with him. She says that he began having sex with her when she was only 13 years old, and that he sexually abused her and raped her several times a month until she moved away at the age of 22.

The woman says that in 2011, a year after she left the group, another of the former Maidens contacted her and told her that she had endured similar sexual abuse. The two women went to police with their allegations against Barnard.

The second accuser says that Barnard began raping her when she was only 12 years old, and that she and other Maidens were forced to perform a ritual in which they swore to remain unmarried and loyal to Barnard for the rest of their lives.

Ironically, River Road Fellowship fell apart in 2011 or 2012 after Barnard admitted that he had been having affairs with married women in the church. After the church split, Barnard moved to Washington.

Both of his accusers, identified only as “B” and “C” in the criminal complaint, say that they were called to Barnard’s room for sex on multiple occasions, and that other Maidens were also called to his room. However, none of the girls talked about what happened in his quarters, and his accusers say that Barnard told them to never discuss what happened.

A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Victor Barnard, and reports say he has been “flagged” by the Department of Homeland Security. He is charged with 59 criminal counts, including 43 counts of first degree criminal sexual conduct by penetration or contact with a victim aged 13 to 15 by a person in authority. Each of these 43 counts carries a maximum of 30 years in prison.

Read the full criminal complaint here.

Anyone with information about the whereabouts of Victor Barnard is urged to call Washington State Police at (509) 227-6644 or the Pine County tip line at (320) 629-8342.

‘Truth or Dare’ Ends in Sex Crime Charges for Moore Man

April 18th, 2014

When kids play “Truth or Dare,” the challenges are typically innocent, and dare requires a child to overcome a fear or disgust to complete the challenge. Among teens, the game may take a more sexual turn as they begin to explore their curiosity about such matters. For adults? Well, let’s just suffice it to say that it’s probably not a good idea for adults to play truth or dare with minors–especially if the “game” is an excuse to get teens to engage in sexual activity.

A 20-year-old Moore man is accused of doing just that–playing truth or dare with two teen girls, aged 14 and 15, and daring them to commit sex acts with him and with each other.

Danny Hilton was charged in Cleveland County District Court earlier this month with three counts of second degree rape by instrumentation and two counts of forcible sodomy. Reports say that the charges are the result of an incident in February in which Hilton allegedly played truth or dare with the minors in his bedroom, encouraging sexual activity among the three players. Investigators say the February incident was not the only time in which Hilton played this sexual version of truth or dare with the girls.

The younger girl told her mother about the “game.” Hilton’s father told reporters that he questioned his son about the allegations, and that when the young man denied them, he kicked him out of the house. An affidavit claims that Hilton later admitted engaging in sexual activity with the younger girls.

The age of consent in Oklahoma is 16, which means that even if the girls were willing participants in the game, as alleged, participation in sexual activity with them by an adult over the age of 18 is illegal. Click here to learn more about Oklahoma statutory rape laws.

Second degree rape by instrumentation is a felony sex crime. The penalty for second degree rape is 1 to 15 years in prison as well as lifetime sex offender registration.

Just as sexual intercourse is prohibited between an adult over age 18 and a minor under 16, so is oral sex. Even if the minor participant is willing to engage in such activity, the crime is Forcible Sodomy, and it carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Like rape and statutory rape, forcible sodomy is a Level 3 sex offense that requires anyone convicted to register as an Oklahoma Sex Offender for life.

Learn more about sex offender risk level assessment here.

Man Sentenced for FEMA Fraud after Deadly Moore Tornado

April 16th, 2014

It is April in Oklahoma, and that means the severe weather season is upon us. Sure, spring means warmer weather and sunshine, but here in tornado alley, it also means the impending threat of disaster. In the Sooner State, spring cleaning includes sweeping the dead critters out of storm shelters. We get ready by going over our emergency plans, making sure our shelters are stocked, and tuning in to see if a local weather expert is wearing the bedazzled tie that indicates the threat of a significant storm.

We also remember. We remember the deadly tornadoes that have swept across our state in recent years, claiming lives in Moore, in Piedmont, in El Reno, in Woodward, in Shawnee, and other towns across the state. We remember the destruction these tornadoes carved into our communities, and we remember the past and ongoing efforts to rebuild.

Contrasting with the resiliency and support of most Oklahomans, however, we also remember those who have taken advantage of the devastation of others. Last year, a number of people were arrested for looting in Moore; many of them had traveled from other states to prey on tornado victims. Others were arrested in the weeks and months to come, after their attempts to defraud the federal government and disaster response services were unveiled.

Last week, just in time for the start of tornado season, one such man was sentenced for his role in trying to claim undeserved benefits following the May 20 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.

Blake Lynn Self was only 18 years old when he told FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, that his primary residence, a home in the 900 block of S.W. 14th Street in Moore, was damaged by the tornado. Self received more than $12,000 in FEMA benefits to rebuild the home, but when the real homeowners came forward seeking benefits, Self’s fraud was uncovered.

He was indicted in November and pleaded guilty in January of this year to committing benefits fraud. Now 19, Self was sentenced early this month in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. He is ordered to serve 3 months in prison, followed by 60 days in a halfway house, followed by 90 days of home confinement–roughly 8 months of varying types of confinement. Upon the completion of his confinement, he must serve 5 years of supervised release. He is additionally ordered to pay $12,885.45 in restitution to FEMA.

In Oklahoma, we are fiercely protective of those who are affected by a tornado. We rally together, providing tools and supplies for emergency responders, helping homeowners sift through their belongings, and donating food, clothing, and cash to assist those who are stricken by a tornado. We band together to chase out of town those who would use such a tragedy as a platform for hate, and we prosecute those try to profit from a disaster.


Tulsa Man Arrested for Rape of Unconscious Woman

April 14th, 2014

More than 20 years ago, a student organization created an anti-rape slogan that became known worldwide: No Means No. Since the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS-FCEE) launched the No Means No campaign more than 20 years ago, it has become one of the most well-known public service campaigns, even showing up in pop-culture references.

However, 20 years later, some people are saying that the slogan does not go far enough. Sure, no means no, but what else means no? What means yes?

The CFS-FCEE has expanded the meaning of “no” in its current incarnation of the No Means No campaign:

  • “No thanks” means no.
  • “I’m not sure” means no.
  • “I’d rather be alone” means no.
  • “I don’t feel like it” means no.
  • “I changed my mind” means no.
  • Silence means no.

That last one creeps up in headlines again and again, reaching fever-pitch during the trial of two high school football players in the Steubenville rape case. The two teens had cell phone video of them raping and sexually assaulting a teen girl who was heavily intoxicated and unconscious. Supporters of the boys argued that, by getting so drunk she passed out, the girl was essentially responsible for  her own rape. Some believe that because she couldn’t say no, she was in essence saying yes.

Those who hold such a belief need to take note: If a person can’t say no, he or she can’t say yes, either. If a person doesn’t assent, there is no consent. Sex without consent is rape.

A Tulsa man was arrested late last week after police acting on a tip identified him as the man seen having sex with an unconscious woman in a cell phone video. Police showed the video to the alleged victim, who was “visibly shaken” upon seeing her assault.

The woman told police that she had gone to her boyfriend’s apartment earlier in the week, where she, her boyfriend, and his roommate drank alcohol and smoked marijuana.  She says that she passed out after drinking and smoking and does not recall the assault; however, she says she did not consent to sex with the man in the video, identified as Willie Donnell Jackson, 20. In fact, she says she does not even remember him being present at the apartment that day.

A police report says the video shows the woman to be “obviously unconscious and unresponsive.” Other men were seen in the video manipulating the woman’s body “like a rag doll” to pose for pictures with her.

Oklahoma rape law identifies specific acts that constitute rape. Among them is “an act of sexual intercourse involving vaginal or anal penetration accomplished with a male or female who is not the spouse of the perpetrator . . . where the victim is at the time unconscious of the nature of the act and this fact is known to the accused” (21 O.S. 1111A5).  This is one of the seven acts of rape classified as rape in the first degree.

Jackson was charged with first degree rape and rape by instrumentation in the assault. He is being held in the Tulsa County Jail on $75,000 bond.

Former Juvenile Affairs Manager Charged with Second Degree Rape

April 11th, 2014

In Oklahoma, the age of consent is 16. This means that if a teen has reached the age of 16, he or she can legally consent to sex with anyone else aged 16 or older. Well . . . almost anyone else.

State law prohibits sexual contact between certain individuals even if one of the parties involved has reached the age of consent. In general, these statutes are intended to prevent an abuse of power or authority, and they criminalize sexual intercourse or other sexual contact between employees or agents of certain institutions and anyone in the custody or under the oversight of those institutions.

Oklahoma’s rape law, sexual battery law, and forcible sodomy law all prohibit sexual contact between certain individuals. These include:

  • A person under the legal custody or supervision of a state or federal agency, a county, a municipality or a political subdivision and an employee or contractor of that agency
  • A student aged 16 to 19 and any person aged 18 or older who is an employee of the same school system.

Because the “victims” in these cases often provide verbal consent, the crime is charged as second degree rape. Despite a victim’s apparent willingness to engage in sexual contact, state law determines that the minor, the student, or the person in the custody of a government agency does not have the legal ability to provide such consent.

Often, when we think of second degree rape, or statutory rape, we think of a person engaging in sex with a minor under the age of 16. When we think of statutory rape in cases where the willing victim has reached the age of consent but is otherwise prohibited from consenting, we often think of student-teacher relationships, but this is not the only scenario. With the designated prohibitions listed above, the “victim” can be a fully grown adult, as in cases of sex between an inmate and a Department of Corrections employee.

A recent Oklahoma case straddles that line between the two. A former program manager with Sequoyah Enterprises, a juvenile affairs facility in Enid, Oklahoma, was fired in November and criminally charged earlier this week for her alleged relationship with a 17-year-old who had lived at the facility.

Police say the teen was discharged on November 1, 2013, but was still under the supervision of the Office of Juvenile Affairs. At his release from the facility, program manager Susan Fraser, 32, allegedly gave him her cell phone numbers. According to a probable cause affidavit, the woman and the teen met for sex on at least two occasions.

Second degree rape is a Level 3 sex offense, in the same category as first degree rape. Because of this risk level classification, a statutory rape conviction mandates lifetime sex offender registration. The prison term associated with a second degree rape conviction is one to 15 years in prison.

All in a Day’s Work: Shoplifting Arrest Turns to Topless Wrestling Match at OKC Mall

April 9th, 2014

Sometimes, things just don’t turn out the way you expected. Saturday was such a day for a shoplifter, a Penn Square Mall security guard, a store manager, and dozens of shoppers who witnessed a bizarre scene unfold.

Reports say Heather Lynn Hall, 41, also known in court records as Heather Fennel, was attempting to shoplift merchandise from The Buckle in Penn Square Mall. When she was approached by a mall security guard, she wrestled out of her shirt in an attempt to evade apprehension, and the guard and the topless woman struggled on the floor for several minutes before an Oklahoma City police officer arrived and arrested the shoplifting suspect.

According to a police report, Hall told police that she blamed her shoplifting on drug addiction. Police indicate that the woman has at least four prior arrests for larceny from a retailer.

Additionally, an Oklahoma court records search shows that the woman has received several deferred sentences in Oklahoma County and Cleveland County. Her prior record includes the following offenses:

  • Simple possession of oxycodone (felony) – 1 year deferred sentence in 2007, including mandatory AA meetings four times a month during that year
  • Unauthorized use of a vehicle (felony) – 2 year deferred sentence in 2008
  • Larceny from a retailer (misdemeanor) – 1 year deferred sentence in 2010, but updated to a conviction the following year when the defendant failed to pay restitution or probation costs as ordered
  • Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance/cocaine base (felony) and possession of drug paraphernalia – 5 year deferred sentence in 2010

Often, drug addiction and shoplifting go hand-in-hand. Fueled by addiction and a need to get more drugs, many addicts turn to simple theft to get the money required to buy the painkillers, narcotics, and illegal drugs their addiction demands.

Last month, the United States Supreme Court rejected the appeal of an Oklahoma woman sentenced to life in prison for shoplifting. Cecilia Cathleen Rodriguez was sentenced to life in prison in 2009 after rejecting a plea that would have given her a sentence of 17 years. The Oklahoma Attorney General said that Rodriguez’s life sentence was not about her theft of two purses from a Dillard’s store, but rather the 28 prior convictions that led the sentencing judge to call her a “one-person crime wave.”

Rodriguez’s attorney argued that his client’s long history of theft could be tied to her heroin addiction. He noted that prison clearly wasn’t the solution to stopping the thefts, but rather treatment for her addiction would be the best outcome.

Oklahoma County District Judge Ray Elliott was unmoved by the story of an addict who was caring for her elderly mother and living on disability and food stamps. He called her the “poster child” for why thieves should be incarcerated, saying, “It’s past time to say, ’Enough is enough.’ She needs to be warehoused for the rest of her life.”

But when is enough enough? Hall told police that people should be sympathetic to her mental health issues. Rodriguez’s mother calls her a “good girl” who “has a problem.” Is it reasonable to lock up these repeat offenders for prolonged sentences, or should we instead try to solve the root problem of addiction through extensive treatment, counseling, and supervision?

Baby Shampoo Leads to Domestic Assault Arrest

April 7th, 2014

There probably isn’t anyone among us who hasn’t done something stupid, something we’ve immediately regretted. We may blow something out of proportion. We may speak hurtful words out of anger. Maybe we broke something. Maybe we did something spiteful that only served to hurt ourselves in the long run.

One Oklahoma City man may be regretting his actions last week after something impulsive and foolish ended up with him behind bars.

The wife of Billy Alexander Stephenson, 24, of Oklahoma City, filed for divorce on March 24, but despite their separation, the pair decided to take their children shopping together last Wednesday.

According to his wife, the two began arguing, and she decided to take Stephenson home. When they arrived at his home, they continued arguing, so she tried to drive away. Instead, she says, her estranged husband leaned in through an open passenger window to put the car in park. He then allegedly grabbed a bottle of baby shampoo that was lying in the passenger seat and squirted it on his soon-to-be-ex-wife, before throwing the bottle at her. She told police the bottle hit her in the face.

Stephenson was arrested on a complaint of domestic assault and battery and transported to the Oklahoma County Jail, where he was booked and released. His wife filed a protective order against him the following day, barring him from contacting her or their children.

For many of us, no one can push our buttons like our spouses. Often, when a marriage is falling apart and heading for divorce, tensions run especially high. However, domestic abuse is never okay, and it will never help the abuser to reach a better outcome.

Obviously, we don’t have all the details in this case. We don’t know if the accuser’s story is accurate. We don’t know if the accused shows a prior pattern of abuse. All we know is that the story sounds like an argument got out of hand–that out of anger, a person is accused of impulsively grabbing the nearest thing and using it against the object of his anger.

We’ve all seen the image of a woman getting angry with a man and dumping a drink on his head. This is similar, only instead of a beer, it was baby shampoo. Instead of stopping with drenching the person, the man went ahead and chucked the bottle at his wife.

Stupid, right? But it serves as an important reminder to people to keep their cool, even in the most heated arguments.

Domestic abuse is typically a misdemeanor on the first offense, punishable by a maximum of one year in jail, a fine of up to $5,000, and participation in a year-long domestic abuse treatment program certified by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Beyond any criminal penalties the defendant may face, having a VPO against him and a domestic violence arrest on his record will not likely do him any favors in his pending divorce proceedings.

The best thing he can do for himself is to hire a good lawyer to fight the domestic abuse charge and the VPO, as well as finding a divorce lawyer who can help protect his interests in the aftermath of the accusations of violence.

Prison Nurse Charged with Sexually Battery of an Oklahoma Inmate

April 4th, 2014

A former nurse at a private prison has been charged in Payne County District Court with sexual battery against an inmate.

Linda Juanita Boganski, 49, was working as a nurse for an agency that subcontracted with the Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing, Oklahoma, a private prison run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). She was removed from the facility after she was accused of touching an inmate in a sexual manner and of bringing the inmate contraband, including tobacco and a cell phone.

Boganski was charged March 25 with one count of sexual battery in violation of 21 O.S. 1123(B) and with one count of bringing contraband into a penal institution in violation of 57 O.S. 21 (D) (E), for offenses that allegedly occurred in December. According to a Letter to Appear issued to Boganski by the Payne County Court, the defendant has one month–until April 24–to appear voluntarily, or a warrant will be issued for her arrest.

According to the statutes which the former nurse is accused of violating, it is a misdemeanor to bring tobacco products–including cigarettes, cigars, snuff, and chewing tobacco–into a jail, state prison, or “other place where prisoners are located.” Bringing tobacco into a penal institution is punishable by a $500 fine and a maximum term of one year in county jail.

Bringing a cell phone into a penal institution is a bit more serious: “ Any person who knowingly, willfully and without authority brings into or has in his or her possession in any secure area of a jail or state penal institution or other secure place where prisoners are located any cellular phone or electronic device capable of sending or receiving any electronic communication shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a felony . . . ” (57 O.S. 21[E]). Bringing a cell phone into a jail or prison is punishable by a maximum of 2 years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.

Still, the penalties the defendant faces for bringing contraband into a penal institution pale in comparison to those associated with conviction of sexual battery, a felony sex crime. Sexual battery is defined as touching the body or private parts of anyone aged 16 or older in a lewd or sexual manner without the consent of the person or “when committed by a state, county, municipal or political subdivision employee or a contractor or an employee of a contractor of the state, a county, a municipality or political subdivision of this state upon a person who is under the legal custody, supervision or authority of a state agency, a county, a municipality or a political subdivision of this state.” In other words, a jail or prison inmate cannot legally consent to sexual activity with any employee, contractor, or employee of a contractor of the agency that holds the inmate in custody. Typically, such relationships are seen between prison guards and inmates, but any corrections employee or subcontractor will be charged as a criminal for engaging in sexual activity with an inmate.

Sexual battery is a felony punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison. It is a Level 3 sex offense which mandates lifetime Oklahoma Sex Offender registration.

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PHILLIPS & ASSOCIATES Oklahoma Criminal Defense Attorneys