OKLAHOMA CITY -A Senate leader is warning Governor Keating not to force a "rush to judgment" on corrections chief Larry Fields, saying an immediate ouster would confirm suspicions that the Governor is just looking for a scapegoat in the triple homicide involving an inmate on early release.
"It's pretty obvious that Governor Keating is trying to avoid any responsibility in this tragedy and he's using Larry Fields as a scapegoat to accomplish that goal," said Senator Larry Dickerson, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government and Transportation.
"Governor Keating is apparently bent on destroying the career of a highly-respected public servant just so he can save his own political hide. It's unconscionable, and the Governor should be embarrassed by it."
The corrections board is scheduled to meet on Tuesday to consider the fate of director Fields.
Governor Keating ordered the emergency meeting on Friday after asserting that Fields had lied to him about the background of an inmate eligible for early release. The Governor contended he wasn't provided with the inmate's juvenile records, even though his office had directed that only adult records be examined.
Governor Keating said he wanted to fire Fields and then conduct an investigation of the Department of Corrections to determine if other heads should roll.
"It's like Governor Keating is saying, 'Let's hang the man and then make sure he gets a fair trial afterward.' That's the kind of frontier-style justice a lynch mob might practice in the old west, but it's not the way things are done in the modern, democratic society of today," said Senator Dickerson.
"I guess in the Governor's book, everyone is guilty until proven innocent. Fortunately, the US Constitution reads differently."
The Poteau legislator said a thorough investigation should be conducted before any decision is made on Fields' future. That probe should focus not only on the DOC, according to Senator Dickerson, but on the Governor's handling of the situation as well.
"The DOC and director Fields were working together with Governor Keating on the inmate screening process. For all we know, the breakdown in that process may have occurred in the Governor's office because that's where the final release order was given.
"The key point now is we don't know and that's why a thorough investigation is imperative before Governor Keating forces a rush to judgment on Larry Fields. If we don't conduct an exhaustive probe, this tragedy could be repeated, and I know the Governor doesn't want that," said Senator Dickerson.
The lawmaker said the long-time corrections chief deserves better treatment than he has received at the hands of Governor Keating in recent days.
"Anyone who has worked with Larry Fields will tell you that he is one of the best corrections directors this state has ever had. I think it would be a great tragedy if his career is sacrificed just to protect the public image of a politician," said Senator Dickerson.
He is urging the corrections board to resist the pressure to approve an immediate ouster of Fields, and instead seek out the truth in the case.
"Governor Keating has played the eeny-meanie-meiny-moe blame game since the day of the murder, trying to pin responsibility on anyone but himself. He's apparently picked Larry Fields to take the fall for him, but I would hope that corrections board members would resist any kind of railroad job and give Mr. Fields a better shake than Frank Keating has."