Anarchy (Kind of) in the Heartland: <br/>Okla. Mayor and Police Force All Quit

Ringling, Okla. turns circus after frustrated mayor, police chief and force walk

February 26, 2009, 6:47 PM

Feb. 27, 2009&#151; -- A dispute – part personal, part political – among elected officials in a small Oklahoma town has resulted in the resignation of the entire police force, the police chief, town attorney, vice mayor and mayor.

On a very small and very sardonic scale, Ringling, Oklahoma's descent into anarchy mirrors that of failed states in places like Afghanistan and Haiti.

The town has been abandoned by its elected leader, forced out by an increasingly powerful opposition. Outside forces – namely, the Jefferson County sheriff -- have been called in to keep the peace. Allegations of influence peddling and cover-ups abound. An illicit narco-economy has sprung up, and the drug trade, from manufacturing to dealing, is booming. And the remaining city council members are conducting purges and "kangaroo courts to get rid of whoever they don't like," according to the outgoing mayor.

Depending on your perspective, it's either Mayberry meets realpolitik or they're all just a bunch of "dummies."

Jerry Reid, the mayor of Ringling, has yet to tenure his resignation in writing, but he has "had it with" small town politics and "the dummies involved" and intends to officially quit soon.

Reid said he decided to quit soon after police Chief Jeremy Wilson and his entire police force turned in their badges and guns on Tuesday, after weeks of being threatened with dismissal from some members of the town's council.

To hear the mayor tell it, the 1,200 folks in Ringling are good, hardworking Americans -- most of them farmers, but a few too many drug addicts.

"There's a lot of real good people in Ringling. But there's a lot of dope there too. They smoke pot and make crack cocaine. I've got word we've got several good crack cookers in town," Reid said.

In an effort to clean up what he calls the town's "dope problem," Reid hired Wilson four months ago to run the town's nine-member volunteer police department. As chief, Wilson was the only paid member on the force.

Wilson either did his job too well -- allegedly arresting on drug charges the relative of one city council member -- or not well enough, once hiring a felon to serve on the force and maybe botching an arson investigation.

Ringling's Political Circus

For the mayor, Wilson was a breath of fresh air, replacing the former chief of 17 years, who spent most of his time at a local coffee shop.

Wilson could not be reached by ABC

Earlier this month the town council held an emergency meeting to consider firing Wilson and the entire police department.

"There were three council members who got together and were going to fire him over some crap that simply wasn't the truth," Reid said. "That's about when I decided to resign, and the vice mayor, and city attorney all did the same thing."

Terri Blackwell, the council member in charge of overseeing the police, called the emergency meeting without first alerting the mayor, the chief or the eight officers whom she wanted to fire.

Blackwell is the neighbor of a woman whose two teenage daughters were killed in a house fire last month.

Blackwell did not return calls left at her home. Nichola Fraiser, the mother of the two girls, told ABC affiliate KSWO that she was being harassed by the police and had gone to Blackwell for help.

Fraiser said the police believe she was responsible for the house fire, and are trying to arrest her.

"You've got people you don't know taking over -- follow you, stalk you, drive around your house with their lights off," Fraiser told KSWO.

"They're always watching, watching...watching. I'm like, 'Can ya'll leave and just let me have peace here?' You know," she said.

The mayor disputes Fraiser's claim. He insists the investigation was handled professionally and overseen by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the FBI.

He says some council members wanted to get rid of the cops because they were going after the town's drug dealers – some of whom, he alleges, are related to the members.

"We hired this police chief because we wanted our town cleaned up, but when it became clear that they were going to pick up everyone ,even council members' kids, they had a problem," said Reid.

Two other council members, Mary Elliot and Tony Bortz, did not return calls from ABC

Dave Mordy, the city's attorney who resigned along with the mayor and police officers, was reluctant to blame any one person for the political dustup that has brought the town to standstill.

"Ringling is having some issues right now. It's small town and the people don't have a lot. It doesn't have a Wal-Mart and it's just trying to survive," he said.

"They'll get through this," said an attorney who lives 35 miles away, in another town. "What other choice do they have?"

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