The Frontier: Prior Spousal Assault Allegations Surface Against Gov. Fallin Cabinet Member
TULSA, Oklahoma - Tulsa Police officers responding to a domestic violence call at Preston Doerflinger’s home in 2012 were told by his now ex-wife that Doerflinger choked her twice during an argument and abruptly ended a phone call with emergency dispatchers, according to records.
Doerflinger, currently the interim director of the state’s embattled Health Department and one of Gov. Mary Fallin’s top aides, maintained a Tulsa residence after Fallin appointed him as the director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (formerly the Office of State Finance) in 2011.
Despite his ascension to some of the top appointed positions in the state, Doerflinger has had a number of missteps over the years, including more than a dozen traffic citations and a 2015 arrest alleging he had “actual physical control” of a vehicle while drunk. A caller told Oklahoma City police at the time that it looked like Doerflinger, who was in the car with a crying woman, was holding the woman “hostage” in the car.
Doerflinger was not jailed or charged with domestic violence after the alleged 2012 incident, with his then-wife although he was placed in handcuffs “for detainment purposes,” according to a police report. The Frontier filed an Open Records request for all reports of 911 calls from Doerflinger’s address but was not provided the report in response. However, a police spokesman read the report to a reporter from The Frontier.
Shane Tuell, a TPD spokesman, said the report, taken Sept. 8, 2012, was assigned to a detective in the Family Violence Unit on Sept. 13, 2012, but was “immediately” ended by a supervisor that same day. The case was never forwarded to the district attorney’s office.
The supervisor, Tuell said, has since retired.
Tuell said the report states that when officers arrived at Doerflinger’s home they were greeted by his wife, who was “crying, sweating and thanking the officer for arriving.”
Tuell said the report states that Doerflinger’s wife told the officer the couple had begun arguing, and that Doerflinger began to choke her. She broke away, according to Tuell’s retelling of the report, and called 911, to which she stated Doerflinger took the phone and ended the call.
“He then forced her into the laundry room and choked her again,” Tuell said the report states.
Tuell said the report states Doerflinger’s wife filled out a victim’s statement, but later asked to retract it, saying her husband “was head of (the Department of Human Services) and she did not want him to lose his job.”
Doerflinger was appointed by Fallin in March 2012 as interim director of DHS.
Tuell said the report noted that an officer was “worried about (Doerflinger’s wife’s) safety,” and gave her a domestic violence packet from Family & Children’s Services as well as information on how to file a protective order.
Officers then took Doerflinger “to a hotel of his choice” to stay for the night, Tuell said.
That report lines up with other police documents obtained by The Frontier.
Doerflinger, according to a transcribed conversation between an emergency dispatcher and a responding Tulsa Police Department officer, allegedly held his crying wife up against a wall after she confronted him about his mistress at their Tulsa home.
The records were released to The Frontier through an Open Records request and include a list of two police responses to Doerflinger’s Tulsa home and a partial transcript of dialogue between emergency dispatchers and responding police officers. The city has refused The Frontier’s requests for audio of the calls.
The records twice identify Doerflinger’s now ex-wife as a victim of domestic violence. She declined to comment to The Frontier about the story, and The Frontier is not naming her since she is the alleged victim of domestic violence.
Fallin recently appointed Doerflinger to run the state’s health department, praising him for his “stable and capable” leadership during his time as interim director of DHS.
“Secretary Doerflinger has served on my Cabinet for seven years, and I have complete confidence in his ability to fix the financial problems that have occurred at this agency,” Fallin wrote in an October 2017 press release.
Doeflinger did not respond to attempts to reach him through both Fallin’s office and the Oklahoma State Health Department. Tony Sellars, the spokesman for the OSDH, said there “will not be a statement” from the agency. The Frontier asked Michael McNutt, a spokesman for Fallin, if Fallin had ever been made aware of the allegations in the years since the alleged incident.
The Frontier did not receive a response by publication time.
The health department, which Doerflinger is in charge of, no longer runs any domestic violence programs, according to Brandi Woods-Littlejohn, the department’s program manager for violence prevention programs.
“In the past we had some surveillance programs where we would see, for instance, how many people were entering (emergency rooms) with domestic violence related injuries,” she said. “But that was probably about 10 years ago.”
The agency’s focus now is on sexual violence and rape prevention, Woods-Littlejohn said.
The first police response to a domestic violence report from Doerflinger’s south Tulsa home was at 9:29 p.m. on Sept. 3, 2012, records show. The call is identified in police records as “DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IP,” which stands for “in progress.”
Though records show the call came from Doerflinger’s wife’s phone number, Doerflinger is identified as the caller. A CAD (computer-aided dispatch) log states a male, presumably Preston Doerflinger, spoke to the dispatcher and attempted to “cancel” the call, saying there was “no prob” at the address.
Less than an hour later, however, his wife called 911 again, saying her husband had “held her” against the wall after she confronted him about his mistress.
The call log notes: “Before call ended, also decided there was no need for ofcrs & she would just stay in the backyard and away from him.”
Five days later police were again notified of an incident between Doerflinger and his wife, records show. The CAD log of that call identifies the caller as Doerflinger’s wife and the “Problem” as “911 Trouble Unknown,” although a separate police report calls the incident “simple assault/non-aggravated.” A box on the report used to identify if the call is for domestic violence is checked with a “Y” for yes.
A note on the bottom of the incident log notes that it was a “hangup call,” but that officers were assigned and arrived at the home shortly after midnight. Officers left the home about two hours later.
Tuell said officers investigating strangulation cases where the alleged victim eventually declines to cooperate face a challenge moving the case forward. Typically, Tuell said, to forward the case to the district attorney’s office, police need either a cooperative victim, a third-party witness, or physical marks such as bruising.
Physical marks, Tuell said, often take at least a day to appear following a strangulation. There were no third-party witnesses, according to the report, and Doerflinger’s wife declined to cooperate, leaving investigators in a bind.
In April 2013, about seven months after the two domestic violence calls, Doerflinger’s wife filed for divorce from her husband, citing “complete and irreconcilable incompatibility.” Court records show it was eventually granted last December.
William Grimm, who served as Doerflinger’s wife’s attorney in the divorce, told The Frontier that it was “an amicable” divorce and he did not recall any domestic violence reports being brought up during the proceedings.
“You know that old saying, ‘By the grace of God go I,’” Grimm asked. “What really is domestic violence?”
Tulsa Police Department denied requests for 911 call audio
Requests for the audio records of all 911 call to the Doerflinger home were denied by the Tulsa Police Department. That decision appears contrary to the state’s Open Records Act, as well as a previous ruling by a Tulsa County District Judge.
Roger Norman, TPD’s records clerk, provided the dispatch log and list of police calls to The Frontier, but said in an email that “audio requires a subpoena.”
It’s unclear when that became the official position of TPD, as audio of 911 calls has been released to the media several times in the past.
For example, on June 1, 2016, during a televised mayoral debate, then Tulsa-Mayor Dewey Bartlett called 911 when Paul Tay (also a candidate for mayor) stormed the broadcast and began ranting.
On June 2, 2016, The Frontier requested the audio of Bartlett’s 911 call from TPD. The entirety of Bartlett’s call was released the following day, not only to The Frontier, but to all local media through TPD’s media portal.
The posting, and the audio, are still available on TPD’s portal.
In 2015, during a pre-trial hearing in the Bever family slaying case out of Broken Arrow, Tulsa County District Judge Bill Musseman said 911 calls are synonymous with radio logs — a specified category in the act — and that “transparency is expected” under Oklahoma open records statutes, the Tulsa World reported.
The Open Records Act does not list a definition for “radio log,” but a 1984 Oklahoma Attorney General’s opinion states radio logs include “any recorded electronic transmissions made between the police dispatcher(s) and other parties.”
Despite Musseman’s ruling, he did not release the 911 audio. Instead he ordered the release of the CAD transcript (just as TPD did in the Doerflinger case) saying he felt it would fulfill the public’s interest in what happened that night.
Asked for comment on why the 911 calls related the alleged Doerflinger incidents were not being released, City Attorney David O’Melia said TPD policy is “generally” that they have to be subpoenaed to release audio.
Asked to cite a statute in the state’s Open Records law allowing TPD and the city to deny the release of the 911 call, O’Melia said only “There’s nothing in the Open Records Act that says we have to respond like that.”
Oklahoma’s Open Records Act states that in the case of a denial, “the person, agency or political subdivision shall at all times bear the burden of establishing such records are protected by such a confidential privilege.”
Joey Senat, one of Oklahoma’s leading experts on the Open Records Act, told The Frontier that O’Melia’s response was “most troubling.”
“The refusal to cite a statutory exemption, that’s clearly established that says if you’re going to deny a record you’re going to be required to cite a statute because it’s presumed to be open,” Senat said. “To not do that, that is just the height of arrogance by a government, to tell the public that they can’t have a record to which they are entitled to, and then say but we’re not going to tell you why you can’t have it.”
Doerflinger’s checkered legal past
Despite his quick ascension from city of Tulsa auditor to state finance secretary and one of the governor’s top aides, Doerflinger has had a series of high-profile legal missteps over the years.
Doerflinger has had more than 15 traffic violations reaching back to the mid-90s, including multiple violations for speeding, not wearing a seatbelt as well as driving under suspension.
In 2015 he faced a more serious allegation after Oklahoma City Police arrested him on a complaint of actual physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. Police were told by a passerby that “it looks like a female is being held hostage in a black Range Rover,” according to a police report.
The caller gave police the vehicle’s tag number, and said the woman “was crying and trying to get out as the vehicle drove away.”
When officers arrived they found Doerflinger smelling of alcohol, with “red and watery” eyes and “unsteady” posture.
More than an hour after police began talking to Doerflinger, he took a “breath test,” according to the report, to see his level of “breath alcohol content.” The police report states his “breath alcohol content” was a 0.15, nearly twice the legal limit.
Rather than being charged with driving under the influence, police arrested Doerflinger on a municipal charge for “actual physical control” of a vehicle, for which he pleaded no contest, paid a fine and was placed on unsupervised probation.
State health department in crisis
In October, with the Oklahoma State Department in a financial crisis that resulted in — among other resignations or firings — the resignation of OSDH commissioner Terry Cline, Doerflinger was tapped to lead the agency.
It was a decision that surprised some. The OSDH was reeling from mismanagement and misspending that resulted in a deficit of upwards of $30 million. Doerflinger, whose degree from Southern Nazarene University is in “Organizational Management,” has a lengthy financial background as an auditor for the city of Tulsa, as well as the his role as the state’s Finance Secretary.
But Doerflinger’s time as Finance Secretary also coincided with a decline in state revenue and massive budget holes amid tax cuts for both corporations and individuals.
His appointment to lead OSDH been criticized by some lawmakers who’ve noted he lacks the minimum statutory requirements to lead the agency.Laws state the OSDH commissioner must:
- Have a doctor of medicine degree and a license to practice medicine in this state; or
- An osteopathic medicine degree and a license to practice medicine in this state; or
- A doctoral degree in public health or public health administration; or
- A master of science degree and a minimum of five (5) years of supervisory experience in the administration of health services.
Last week OSDH CFO Michael Romero — one of the initial whistleblowers who brought attention to the agency’s missteps — resigned. Romero said in his resignation letter he believed that Doerflinger learned of testimony Romero had given a state grand jury through the OSDH’s general counsel, Julie Ezzell.
Romero also said Doerflinger angrily confronted him about the testimony he’d given the grand jury, insinuating that the interim OSDH director had been keeping tabs on the confidential testimony given by witnesses.
The OSDH, in a follow-up release, called Romero’s claims false and said Romero had been notified of concerns over his work, to which he had reacted “defensively and aggressively.”
Doerflinger appointed Ezzell to her post after he was named interim commissioner of the OSDH.
“The employee was under the clear indication from OSDH general counsel that she was acting as the employee’s attorney in the matter and nonetheless, after the submission of my memo to the interim commissioner, he was apparently capable of fact-checking my points with those made by the employee in that investigative meeting,” Romero wrote. “These matters should be kept confidential by the general counsel and yet this general counsel has been present throughout the grand jury process.”
Josh Cockroft, R-Wanette, chairman of the House of Representatives’ Special Investigation Committee, said in response to Romero’s memo that having Doerflinger “lashing out in anger to an employee who was simply doing his job is concerning.”
The OSDH, in response, called his statements “disappointing,” criticized Cockroft for going to social media “to spread false facts” including stating that Interim Commissioner Doerflinger was “shaking in rage towards a state employee for simply doing his job.”
“It is deeply troubling that rather than being focused on ascertaining the truth, the Chairman of the Committee immediately takes as true slanderous allegations with no attempt to verify their accuracy,” the OSDH said in its release.