The Law Blog of Oklahoma

Ex-Sheriff Facing Two Felony Charges Pleads No Contest to Misdemeanor

Posted: Tuesday, March 07, 2017


Former Love County Sheriff Joe Russell, who served as sheriff from 2000 until his resignation last October, has pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor after having two felony counts dismissed.

Russell, 63, was charged with willful omission to perform an official duty, harboring a fugitive, and maintaining a house where drugs were kept.  He was accused of allowing his son to keep and use methamphetamine at the home they shared from April 2011 through May 2015. His son, Willie Russell, was ultimately convicted in federal court of dealing meth.

The harboring a fugitive charge was the result of Russell allowing his son's girlfriend, Sara Bamburg, to live in the house as well. Bamburg had active warrants, and Willie Russell reportedly told her that as long as she lived with him, she would be safe from arrest. As soon as Bamburg moved out of the Russell home and moved in with another man, Sheriff Joe Russell arrested her.

Joe Russell resigned from his position as Love County Sheriff when he was charged with the two felonies. He was also facing a civil ouster for corruption in office.

Yesterday, the former sheriff accepted a plea bargain in which he pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of willful omission to perform an official duty in exchange for the dismissal of the two felony charges. Russell was given a deferred sentence of one year of probation and ordered to pay $277 in court costs and $30 to the Victims Compensation Fund. 

If the former sheriff adheres to the terms of his probation and pays all associated fines and fees, then his case will be dismissed after a year, with no criminal conviction on his record.

In addition to the case involving his son and son's ex-girlfriend, Russell is also accused of corruption in allowing James Conn Nipp, a Love County Jail inmate who is a relative of Russell, to meet unsupervised with family member's in a deputy's office. Nipp is the primary suspect in the disappearance of Molly Miller, 17, and Colt Haynes, 21. Miller and Haynes were passengers in a vehicle driven by Nipp during a high-speed chase. Although Nipp and the vehicle were found, Miller and Haynes were never seen again. Nipp has not been charged in connection with their disappearance.

Image credit: love.okcounties.org


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