Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane said new charges and a resurrected case against the self-described "Video Vigilante" Brian Bates happened because Bates wouldn't shut up about the case.
Bates and his attorney, Scott Adams, say Lane is using the law to attempt to silence a political critic.
Although Oklahoma County District Judge Ray Elliott threw Lane's case against Bates out of court earlier this year, Lane has resurrected the charges, tacked on several more, included Bates' wife as a defendant and presented the new case to the multicounty grand jury, which indicted Bates and his wife, Vickie Bates.
The charges include the previous allegations that Brian Bates, who calls himself a "video activist" against Oklahoma City prostitution, was acting as a pimp by asking prostitutes to conduct sex acts in public with their clients so he could catch them on video. In a previous Oklahoma Gazette story, Bates said he had paid some prostitutes for on-camera interviews, but denied he paid them to conduct sex acts.
According to the indictment, the charges against Bates are five counts of pandering (or pimping), two counts of preventing a witness from giving testimony, and one count of unlawful use of radio equipment. Charges of aiding and abetting prostitution were offered as an alternative to pimping. One charge of aiding and abetting prostitution was included against Bates' wife, Vickie.
Lane told Oklahoma Gazette Brian Bates' criticism of his office pushed him into seeking the grand jury indictment. Bates maintains several Web sites, two of which are www.johntv.com and www.districtattorneyweslane.com, both of which criticize Lane often.
"The only thing that has made this of public interest at all is that Brian Bates has made it very public," Lane said. "Otherwise, this is another run-of-the-mill case for us, that but for his squawking, no one would know about it. He is the one saying that this is a big important case. He has promoted himself so much that I have come to a point where, OK, you're saying this is unjust and all that "¦ we'll just "¦ in order to deal with it, we will just let 12 citizens decide."
'Perception of justice'
Lane asked specifically to meet with both The Oklahoman and Gazette, separately, about the case, asking that his statements not be released until the case was presented to the grand jury and an indictment unsealed revealing charges against Bates. Gazette agreed.
Lane told Gazette that what the public thinks is true is the same thing as what is true, and that he wants to be sure the public thinks he is fair.
"I am taking an unusual step here. The public's perception of justice is what is reality," Lane said. "From a perspective of what is the public's perception "¦ and since Bates was such a vocal critic of the Oklahoma City Police Department and my office, I decided that it might be the best thing to do to let 12 citizens on a grand jury review the facts of this case and let them decide whether there was a reasonable basis to proceed in the allegations regarding Brian Bates."
However, when the indictment was unsealed, two assistants working for Lane's office attempted to have a gag order put on the case, which would have resulted in only Lane's comments being available to the two newspapers. Comments of Bates, his wife, or that of their attorneys would have been silenced.
"That is what this case is all about," Bates' attorney Scott Adams told the court at the unsealing of the indictment. "They are trying to silence this man."
Judge Elliott refused to gag the case for now. Elliott's wife, Sandra Elliott, is a prosecutor working in Lane's office.
Bates said he wasn't surprised about the attempt by Lane's office to gag the case.
"When I learned that Wes was doing a very dirty trick, and getting only one side of the story out and cloaking it in 'fairness,' it frustrates me," Bates said. "However, my faith in the system proved out and the gag order was denied at least at this point. Does it surprise me Wes wants only his version heard? No. It's why he is trying to silence me."
Requests for comment from Lane following the gag order attempt by his office were refused. However, Lane's spokeswoman Debbie Forshee said Lane wasn't attempting to get only his side of the story told.
"That's ridiculous," Forshee said. "He went to the grand jury out of fairness."
Bates insists that the charges against him " allegations of a well-known, self-admitted prostitute " are a vendetta against him by Lane and the Oklahoma City Police Department over his videotaping of the police beating of Donald Pete, a black man found by police with a prostitute in a van in 2002. When the video aired, OklahomaCounty officials feared it would spark riots similar to the aired videotaping of the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police and prompted city officials to call for calm.
Prior to the airing of the Pete beating, Bates enjoyed good relations with the police and Lane's office. Both lauded his efforts to catch prostitutes in the act of public sex with clients as having the effect of ridding prostitute-plagued neighborhoods of hookers and their johns.
However, such goodwill by law enforcement officials toward Bates evaporated after the airing of the tape.
Lane brought up the Pete beating tape in his meeting with Gazette.
"It's important that the public's perception of the process we used is a just one, a fair one," Lane said. "The reason I say that is because for quite some time Brian Bates has publicly excoriated the Oklahoma City Police Department and me and my office on a variety of things. He has gone so far as to accuse me of fraudulent videotapes in the Pete matter and all that."
'I embarrassed him'
Bates said in previous interviews that the district attorney's office altered the sound on the videotape of the Pete beating so that viewers could not hear an officer threaten to kill the man.
"It started the day he presented the Donald Pete tape and he took out the audio," Bates said. "It embarrassed him and it was the first time I embarrassed him. And I got on his radar screen. That was the complete 180 from him having people applaud me."
Bates said Lane's comments underscore his own assertion that the case against him is really a vendetta. Bates said it is also in Lane's political interest that he pursues this case, in order to curry favor with Oklahoma City's chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Wes Lane has drawn an opponent in the coming election, David Prater. Most metro-area F.O.P.s have announced their support for Prater but Oklahoma City's F.O.P. has yet to commit to a candidate.
"He needs the F.O.P. to back him in the election. I think he doesn't need a critic," Bates said. "I'm not only a critic, I'm a well-informed, articulate critic and he doesn't like that. I see through his BS and then I spell it out for the public."
Lane said he sought the grand jury process to bolster the view that his office is handling Bates' charges fairly. He said that by going to the jury, he was seeking uninvolved parties to decide if the case against Bates was motivated by vendetta.
"I am removing my office from being the decision maker in that, and that is solely because Mr. Bates has cried foul loudly and longly and that our conduct is solely out of some sort of vendetta," Lane said. "Well, these grand jurors have no care in that and we will let them make the final call."
Bates said the grand jury process is far from unbiased. He said the grand jury only hears the case as it is presented by the district attorney " in this case, Lane " and that opposing views are not allowed.
"What do you call the fact that you don't get to face your accuser, you don't get to present any testimony on your own behalf, you don't get to cross-examine anybody and you don't get to qualify a jury?" Bates asked. "If there ever was a modern-day equivalent of a kangaroo court or a lynching, it is a grand jury."
Bates said the two things that trouble him now about this case are that Lane filed charges against Vickie in order to attack his family's second source of income, and that now she faces possible jail time.
Vickie Bates said she has no idea what act might have facilitated the charges against her, but that she, her family and her husband's family are shocked Lane is targeting her.
"I'm terrified. I'm blown away. There are no words. I don't even know how one aids and abets a prostitute," she said.
She said she knows people think her husband's work is strange, but that she considers it important.
"I'm not actively involved with what he does, but I support him," she said. "I understand peoples' feelings "¦ but he drove me down there. I saw the women working on the streets. I saw. I had no idea this happened in Oklahoma City. I was saddened and sickened seeing these women selling themselves on our streets. I just thought, even the poor people deserve a clean place to live. I felt proud of Brian. And I've supported him ever since."