Forcing inmates to listen to the children’s song “Baby Shark” on repeat is “cruel” and “inhuman” punishment, according to Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater.
Prater has charged two former detention officers and their former supervisor on misdemeanor counts. According to the criminal complaint obtained by Heavy, the officers forced inmates to stand while handcuffed to the wall for hours. The choice of the song “was said to be a joke” between the officers, the complaint reads.
The criminal complaint does not identify the song by name, referring to it only as a children’s song. But an Oklahoma County DA employee confirmed the song was “Baby Shark” in a phone call with Heavy.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Two Detention Officers Cuffed Inmates to the Wall in Empty Visitation Rooms at Random Hours, the DA Said
The district attorney named three men in the charging document, which was filed in the District Court of Oklahoma County on October 5. The two detention officers were Gregory Cornell Butler Jr. and Christian Charles Miles. Their supervisor, Christopher Raymond Hendershott, was also charged.
Miles and Butler were accused of repeatedly isolating inmates in a visitation room in November and December 2019. On November 23, 2019, the two officers took an inmate out of his assigned cell around 3:15 a.m. and put him in an “attorney visitation room on the 8th floor.” All furniture was removed from the room before the prisoner was handcuffed to the wall at an angle that forced him to remain standing. The song “Baby Shark” was played on a continuous loop.
In the November 23 incident, the inmate was forced to stand for about an hour and a half. According to the criminal complaint, several other inmates reported they were handcuffed in the visitation room all night long.
The complaint identifies four inmates who received the same treatment and notes there was evidence to suggest at least six additional men may have been victimized. Surveillance footage, as well as witness statements by other jail employees, provided additional evidence. In all of the identified cases, the inmates were cooperative and eventually were returned to their cells, according to the complaint.
2. Miles Admitted He & Butler Wanted to Teach Inmates a ‘Lesson’
Miles and Butler admitted to using the visitation room to punish inmates. According to the affidavit, Miles confessed to investigators that “he and Butler systematically worked together and used the benches, bars and attorney booth as a means to discipline inmates and teach them a lesson because they felt that disciplinary action within the Detention Center was not working in correcting the behavior of inmates.”
Miles added that “the inmates often ‘pissed off’ Butler which evidence suggests led to those inmates being taken out of their cells/pods and mistreated.” The complaint noted that Miles and Butler secured inmates at a point on the wall that was about three feet high, thus ensuring the inmate could not sit or kneel. This treatment was described in the affidavit as “corporal punishment.”
The “Baby Shark” song was a “joke” between Miles and Butler, according to the affidavit. The investigation wrote that by playing the song on repeat, at a loud volume, the officers inflicted “undue emotional stress on the inmates who were most likely already suffering from physical stressors.”
3. Hendershott Received Nearly 20 Complaints About Miles & Butler But Did Nothing to Stop Their Actions: Affidavit
Hendershott was identified in the affidavit as the shift commander. He was charged along with Miles and Butler because according to the complaint, Hendershott was aware of what they were doing to the inmates but did not intervene.
The affidavit lists a series of dates when Miles and/or Butler were accused of mistreating inmates:
- November 2, 2019
- November 23, 2019
- November 29, 2019
- November 30, 2019
- December 7, 2019
Hendershott was made aware of what Butler and Miles were doing on November 23, investigators said. But according to the affidavit, Hendershott “took no immediate action to either aid the inmate victim or discipline the officers. This appeared to have led to the officers continuing to mistreat inmates where at least an additional six inmates were physically victimized.”
Hendershott also received nearly 20 written complaints from inmates about Miles and Butler. Hendershott did not open an investigation nor take any “corrective action.”
4. Investigators Initially Recommended 12 Charges Including ‘Corporal Punishment’
District Attorney Prater could have leveled several more charges against the three officers. According to the affidavit, investigators initially recommended 12 charges each against Hendershott, Miles and Buttler: 4 counts of cruelty to prisoners, 4 counts of corporal punishment to an inmate and 4 Conspiracy charges.
Prater decided against charging the men with corporal punishment. All three are charged with one count of “conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor” and three counts of “Cruelty to a Prisoner.” Hendershott is facing four cruelty counts.
Prater commented on the charges to the Oklahoman: “It was unfortunate that I could not find a felony statute to fit this fact scenario. I would have preferred filing a felony on this behavior.”
The charges are misdemeanors. Cruelty to a prisoner is described in Oklahoma’s legal code:
If any officer or other person treat any prisoner in a cruel or inhuman manner he shall be punished by a fine not exceeding One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00), or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding twelve (12) months, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
No attorneys were listed for the three former offers on the Oklahoma State Courts Network website. Future court dates had not yet been scheduled as of this writing.
5. All 3 Officers Resigned After the Internal Investigation Was Opened
The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office opened an internal investigation on December 6, 2019. Miles, Butler and Hendershott were all immediately barred from having direct contact with inmates. By the end of that month, all three of them had resigned or quit, the sheriff’s office confirmed to Heavy.
Department spokesperson Mark Myers explained via email that the internal investigation was conducted by the Jail Trust, which was a division within the sheriff’s department. The Jail Trust is now an independent entity, called the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, and took over jail operations on July 1, 2020.
Myers wrote in a news release that the sheriff’s department “completely supports the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s decision to file charges on these former jail employees. Public trust is earned and criminal behavior cannot be tolerated by those who are sworn to protect inmates who are in their custody.”