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Sheriff Quits Over Allegedly Unconstitutional Jail Conditions In One Of Oklahoma’s Poorest Counties

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Evie Fordham Politics and Health Care Reporter

The Oklahoma sheriff who resigned Monday over dangerous conditions in the county jail, including carbon monoxide buildup, was replaced with an interim sheriff Wednesday.

Former Nowata County Sheriff Terry Sue Barnett resigned after a judge mandated she reopen the jail, something Barnett characterized as “just wrong” in a statement, according to NBC News. County commissioners named Mirta “Mickey” Hallett, a retired major with the Nowata County Sheriff’s Office, as Barnett’s interim replacement Wednesday, reported the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise.

Four sheriff’s office employees were sent to the emergency room in late February due to high levels of carbon monoxide at the jail, reported NBC News. Inmates were transferred to neighboring Washington County, where they remained as of Wednesday. (RELATED: Democrats Want To Investigate Former Operator Of The Spa Entangled In Robert Kraft Scandal. The Reason Why Is Not What You’d Think)

“I’ve said from the beginning that if I became sheriff, I would serve the citizens by standing up and doing the right things,” Barnett said in a statement. “This is just wrong, and I wasn’t going to put human beings in that jail until we knew what was going on.”

Mirta Hallett was appointed interim sheriff of Nowata County in Oklahoma on Feb. 20, 2019. YouTube screenshot/KJRH-TV

Mirta Hallett was appointed interim sheriff of Nowata County in Oklahoma on Feb. 20, 2019. YouTube screenshot/KJRH-TV

Barnett was not the only member of the Nowata County Sheriff’s Office to resign over reportedly uninhabitable jail conditions, including black mold and exposed wiring near the showers, according to NBC News. Twelve people resigned (including K-9 officer Ranger, who signed his resignation letter with a paw print), and now the office is down to just five people on staff.

Nowata District Judge Carl Gibson had told Barnett last week she would be held in contempt of court if she did not return more than 12 inmates to the county jail. She refused, in part because no one has gotten to the bottom of the high carbon monoxide level, which Barnett said was nearly lethal on Feb. 28, according to NBC News.

Barnett’s county is the third poorest in Oklahoma.

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