By Traci Chapman
A prominent investigator for Canadian County Sheriff’s Office has been dismissed amid charges he compromised a federal criminal prosecution and allegedly possibly failed to indict a suspect for financial gain.
According to records obtained in response to an Oklahoma Open Records Act request, Sheriff Chris West on Sept. 13 fired Lt. Ken Thompson, who worked for the department since March 2001.
According to West’s dismissal letter, he took the action after learning about Thompson’s contract with El Reno based Gatlin Brothers Heat and Air. West stated in the letter Thompson purchased a $4,300 air conditioning system from Gatlin after receiving a $1,500 discount.
The issue with the transaction came, at least in part, due to Thompson’s assignment through CCSO to an FBI task force assigned to investigate organized theft operations. In that role, Thompson helped uncover an alleged major Oklahoma City theft ring that netted the indictment of metro area builder Richard Lee, West said.
“Your investigation discovered a co-conspirator in the organized theft ring, Mr. Gatlin,” West stated in the letter. “You developed evidence that connected Mr. Gatlin as an active participant in the organized theft enterprise you were investigating.”
According to West, Gatlin, after first denying his involvement, eventually cooperated with the investigation. That cooperation included Gatlin allegedly providing both testimony and evidence that assisted in the criminal prosecution of Lee and others in the case. That “crucial prosecutorial testimony” led prosecutors to forego seeking an alleged criminal indictment against the El Reno man, the sheriff said.
Both Gatlin and Thompson were set to testify against Lee in an upcoming federal trial, prosecutors said. The air conditioner contract, however, “has damaged the prosecutorial efforts of Mr. Lee” because ethical canons dictate the federal prosecutor must disclose the matter to the Oklahoma City man’s defense team.
“In the best light it appears you received a (sic) $1,500 for not pursuing an indictment against Mr. Gatlin,” West stated. “That perception clearly breached your sworn oath of office.”
The current matter wasn’t the first time Thompson was involved in what were described as questionable situations at the sheriff’s office.
In 2010, Thompson was involved in an officer shooting done by deputy Andrew Todd, which prompted a lawsuit against Todd, Thompson, then-Sheriff Randall Edwards and the county. According to the complaint, Thompson was listed because witnesses allegedly said he tried to pressure them into a particular story, in order to exonerate Todd. The plaintiff, Yukon resident Marcus Stephenson, agreed to settle the case before it went to trial.
West referred to a second incident in his Sept. 13 termination letter. According to West, Thompson was involved – again, during Edwards’ tenure as sheriff – in a suspect pursuit, during which he allegedly attempted a tactical vehicle intervention, or TVI, which West said caused extensive damage to the deputy’s vehicle. While the car was in the shop, West said he, as undersheriff, learned there was a bullet hole in a spotlight and confronted Thompson about it.
“At no time did you disclose to anyone you fired gunshots during the incident,” West stated. “You admitted to me that during the chase you fired your gun out of your driver side front door window at the fleeing suspect; you could not provide me a good reason why you fired your guy or why you didn’t report it – I was profoundly troubled by your failure to initially disclose your use of deadly force, and I believed your employment then should have been terminated.
“However, the sheriff decided otherwise,” he concluded.
It was unknown as of press time what, if any, impact the Thompson-Gatlin matter might have on the Lee criminal case.