Former Okla. sheriff faces 35 felony charges


By Tim Talley
The Associated Press

ARAPAHO, Okla. — A former sheriff groped a deputy and grabbed her buttocks several times while she was employed at his office, the deputy testified Tuesday.

Jennifer Tyler, now a deputy sheriff in Washington state, said that before her first day of the job, Custer County Sheriff Mike Burgess put his hand down the back of her trousers and touched her waistline and buttocks during a uniform fitting.

"It's degrading to have someone who just hired you to stick his hands down your pants," Tyler said.

She also testified on the first day of a preliminary hearing on charges that Burgess had inappropriate sexual contact with women he oversaw in the county's drug court program. He faces 35 felony charges, including 14 counts of second-degree rape, seven counts of forcible oral sodomy and five counts of bribery by a public official.

Tyler said told her husband but did not report the incidents to anyone in the sheriff's office.

"Why didn't you turn around and knock him out right there?" defense attorney Tim Henderson asked.

Tyler responded: "I needed a job."

Burgess, 55, faces up to 467 years in prison if convicted on all counts. His attorney, Steve Huddleston of Oklahoma City, has said Burgess is eager to go to court and clear his name. Burgess resigned in April.

A female state prison inmate who served time in the Custer County jail testified later Tuesday that she performed oral sex on Burgess in exchange for better treatment. The 46-year-old inmate, who is serving five years for forgery and possession of stolen property, testified that while she was serving a one-year sentence on an unrelated misdemeanor in Custer County in 2006, Burgess approached her about being a trusty.

She said Burgess indicated he knew she had been a prostitute told her they could "exchange favors."

After becoming a trusty, she said, she was escorted to Burgess' office and performed oral sex on him.

"I knew what I was there for, to pay my part of the bargain," the woman said.

Special prosecutor James Boring is expected to present evidence of allegations by 12 former jail inmates that sheriff's employees had them engage in wet T-shirt contests and offered cigarettes to those who would flash their breasts.

The a federal lawsuit filed last year claims Burgess threatened to send a drug court participant to prison if she didn't comply with his sexual demands and gave special status to another after she agreed to perform a sex act on him.

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