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Press-shy Sykes opens up about refusal to hear controversial civil asset forfeiture bill

Heide Brandes / Red Dirt Report
Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-OKC).
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Sen. Loveless claims Sykes’ comments don’t make sense

OKLAHOMA CITY – After months of avoiding the state Capitol press corps about the controversial civil asset forfeiture issue, Sen. Anthony Sykes finally disclosed to Red Dirt Report his reasons for not hearing the reform measure.

At the end of a Senate education committee meeting earlier this week, Red Dirt Report approached Sykes (R-Moore) before he could leave the hearing and asked why he refused to allow the asset forfeiture bill proposed by state Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-OKC) to be debated in the Senate judiciary committee, which he chairs.

“He promised one version and filed a new version. Plus, I have many issues to consider and I’m a person who doesn’t hear a lot of bills (in committee),” Sykes said.

Loveless has received significant criticism from law enforcement agencies for his measure to reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture system. Critics claimed changes would drastically alter law enforcement’s ability to stop drug trafficking in Oklahoma.

At present, state law requires property owners to prove money or property seized by police was not used in a crime. Loveless sought to change the law by requiring a criminal conviction before police can permanently seize a person’s property or money.

Loveless contends Sykes’ comments about not hearing his bill made no sense.

“Look at the bills he heard (in committee). A handful of them died or were defeated on the Senate floor. As prominent as this bill was, you would have thought it would have at least seen the light of day in his committee,” Loveless said.

For example, SB 1328, known as the Right of Conscience measure, failed in committee after a lengthy discussion, questions and debate. A second Senate bill, SB 1126, focused on eminent domain but failed on the Senate floor after passing the judiciary committee, 31-15.

Loveless contends he never guaranteed specific language for the civil asset forfeiture bill.

“For him to say I promised one thing and delivered another, I don’t see that to be the case. I don’t recall promising anyone anything on my legislation. If he had a problem with my bill, he should have let me know,” the senator said. “I don’t recall saying I was going to work on one specific part of the bill.”

Capitol insiders told Red Dirt Report Sykes refused to hear the civil asset forfeiture bill because he wants to befriend law enforcement officials and collect their support for a run at the state Attorney General’s position in 2018.

If Sykes is soliciting support from law enforcement, he’s losing it with members of the Capitol press corps. Reporters who cover the Capitol beat have acknowledged Sykes tries to avoid them by exiting back doors or ducking into other rooms if he suspects the media wants an interview. Reporters also claim Sykes won’t return their phone calls for comment. But they’re not alone. Some of Sykes’ legislative colleagues claim he won’t return their telephone calls, either.

At least three Capitol reporters said they’ve sat outside Sykes’ Senate office and waited for him to return, but to no avail. Other political insiders told Red Dirt Report Sykes stopped press interviews after his legislative colleague and friend Randy Terrill, also of Moore, was convicted on a bribery charge and sentenced to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine. Terrill, convicted in 2013, began serving his prison term in May 2015.

Meanwhile, Sykes claimed in this rare interview that Loveless did not communicate with him enough about the reform measure.

The interview with Sykes was interrupted when colleagues and patrons attending the education committee meeting began approaching the senator.

Loveless contends he kept in contact with Sykes about his bill while the legislature was out of session.

In January, Loveless sent Sykes a letter explaining the asset forfeiture bill and requesting his help on reaching a compromise with law enforcement.

In part, the letter reads, “Mr. Chairman, I believe this new version shows a good-faith effort on my part to address the concerns of the law enforcement community. This effort has never been an assault on police officers or prosecutors. It is about restoring due process to this judicial procedure and ensuring forfeiture is only used to deprive criminals of ill-gotten gains. I respectfully ask you to review the newly introduced omnibus reform legislation and provide feedback to make this effort even more successful. The first step is to request the bill to be heard in your committee, which I will do in the coming weeks, but I respectfully request your advice and help in this matter to present to your committee something that (is) reasonable but yet accomplishes the goals of my legislation.”

Sykes never sent a reply to the letter or any other correspondence, including a handwritten note, emails or texts, Loveless said.

“Nothing, I never received anything back from him,” the senator said.

In the January letter, Loveless informed Sykes that he filed three stand-alone bills and one omnibus measure that included all of the reform efforts.

The conflict between the two senators took a turn for the worse a few months earlier when Sykes, without explanation, decided to switch an interim hearing on asset forfeiture from the state Capitol to the Tulsa police academy. Upset over the move, Loveless went ahead with his own hearing, calling several expert witnesses, including two who appeared on Skype because they were out of state.

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Tim Farley

Tim Farley is an award-winning journalist with more than 30 years of experience, including...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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