In Oklahoma’s Delaware County, Sheriff’s deputies were too busy figuratively raping motorists in the village of Bernice to supervise guards who were literally raping inmates in the county jail. As a result, the County Commission has put the screws to the entire county in the form of an 18 percent sales tax increase in order to pay the victims a $13.5 million settlement.
Bernice, which has a population of about 600, is bisected by Highway 85A. For the past quarter-century, the town has been one of the most notorious speed traps in the Midwest. Until recently, the town didn’t have a police department; instead, it contracted with the Delaware County Commission, paying $5500 a month to rent sheriff’s deputies to write speeding tickets and other citations.
A recent investigation conducted by Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Gary A. Jones discovered that since 1977, the municipal government had never published its ordinances as required by state law – which meant that its schedule of fines and court fees was invalid: The trustees never published the ordinances, as required by state law.
"Any ordinances (other than those pertaining to the appropriation of money) that are not published within 15 days of their passage are not in force," notes the audit. As a result, "the municipal court should not have collected fines of more than $50. The court has over-collected approximately $106,308 in fines through the end of June 2011"; in addition, the court also "over-collected" nearly $8,000 in court costs. The auditor directed the Bernice Town Board to reimburse those who had been subjected to illegal fines (in one instance, a motorist was given a ticket for $545). More importantly, from the perspective of those higher up in the tax-feeding chain, the auditor slammed the Town Board for withholding a cut of ticket revenue and court fees from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and state Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training.