It Could Have Been Worse

By Lee White

Life is getting back to normal in Butler County government after a ransomware attack essentially shut it down for the better part of last week. Although the damage the attack caused in lost productivity, inconvenience to citizens, and to the county’s image can never be fully remedied, the attack could have been much worse had it occurred during tax season or a natural or man-made disaster.

County Administrator Will Johnson briefed commissioners on the ransomware attack during Tuesday’s meeting. Click here for the El Dorado Leader’s story. Among the revelations:

  • The attack began between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday, September 9 and was first noticed in the 911 dispatch center.
  • The county had an offsite backup, but recovery took so long because of the amount of data stored there.
  • Johnson said he doesn’t know whether the ransom was paid, but county officials had instructions on breaking the ransomware’s encryption by the evening of Tuesday, September 12.

Questions remain:

  • If all data was backed up offsite, why was it necessary to crack the ransomware encryption?
  • How much was the ransom and was it paid?
  • Could the county have moved faster in the early stages of the attack? For example, should an emergency have been declared and county commissioners called into session prior to their regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday, September 12?

Indeed, there will be much Monday morning quarterbacking inside and outside county government. That is as it should be. These are, after all, the people’s computers.

It is a testament to the excellent training of 911 dispatchers that the loss of their computer-aided dispatch system apparently resulted in no injury or loss of life to citizens or emergency personnel in the field. Computer-aided dispatch systems not only record dispatchers’ notes about calls, they help the dispatcher choose which responders to send and guide them to the location of the call. To go from 2017 to 1990 in the blink of an eye is difficult and dangerous. That nobody got hurt this time should not lull the county into complacency about next time.

It is imperative that county officials look at ways to prevent a future attack from infecting these vital dispatch computers. Impartial outside consultants should be hired to look into this aspect of computer security and others.

Save for a deductible and possible premium increases, it appears as if taxpayers won’t be on the hook for the ransom paid, if any, or for the law firm that its insurer recommended hiring. This is good news.

As to the question of whether the ransom was paid, I believe it almost certainly was. The amount is in question, but messages and comments to the Watchdog Facebook page fairly consistently peg it at $30,000. It is understandable that the county wouldn’t want to acknowledge paying the ransom. That only encourages crooks to try again. Nonetheless, I don’t think most folks believe the narrative that nobody at the county knew whether the ransom was paid.

Now is a good time to take stock of one’s own cybersecurity. Even individuals can be hit with ransomware. It’s far more profitable to go after a business or government, but such attacks can and do target individuals. Using a paid or free cloud backup system (e.g. Google Drive) is a good way to make sure one can access files in the event of a ransomware attack. Using an online e-mail service such as Gmail, setting up security software to scan e-mail attachments before downloading, and never clicking on links unless one is sure they came from a reputable source are other ways to prevent an infection.

Nameless, faceless cyber criminals brought county government to a standstill and cost its insurer and taxpayers money. It could have been worse, however, and it’ll be up to county commissioners and the people who elect them to ensure that future attacks, if any, are swiftly contained by supporting common-sense upgrades to computer systems and personnel.

HARD TIMES: Documents Show Former Deputy Endured Family, Financial Troubles

By Lee White

Five marriages, three ending in divorce and one in his spouse’s death. Two paternity cases. Back taxes. A foreclosure. A protection-from-abuse order filed against him. A protection-from-abuse order he and his mother filed against his father. His mother’s illness and death. Public records show life has been difficult for Michael Anthony Stone, the former Butler County Sheriff’s deputy who had his state law enforcement certification revoked Tuesday.

The Kansas Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (Kansas C-POST) revoked Stone’s certification following a complaint I filed July 10 concerning his 1995 misdemeanor domestic violence conviction in California. Click here to view the court records. Although the conviction was expunged, Kansas law does not allow officers to serve even with an expunged domestic violence conviction. Nevertheless, Stone did serve, first as a deputy from 2001 to 2010, then as police chief in Florence, and finally as a police officer and dog handler on the Marion Police Department from 2012 until he resigned August 5.

This account of Stone’s life was gleaned from court documents or online searches of court or public agency databases in California, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Due to privacy concerns and, in some instances, agreements with sources, many names are withheld and certain supporting documents are not published on the blog.

On December 15, 1995, Stone pleaded no contest to inflicting corporal injury on his wife, Misty, whom he had married exactly three months earlier. The two were living in Rosamond, California, an unincorporated community of 18,000 in the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles. The first of their two sons had been born in 1993. Stone completed probation early and, by September 1996, the family had relocated to El Dorado. Their second son was born the following April.

On March 11, 1997, Stone telephoned the California court stating that he needed something indicating that he could carry a gun because he was applying for a job as a correctional officer. Nine days later, his public defender sought and was granted an expungement of the case under California Penal Code 1203.4. The law (click here to view it) has its limitations — federal courts have repeatedly held that it does not restore gun rights — and some of those limitations are required to be spelled out in the judge’s written order:

“The order shall state, and the probationer shall be informed, that the order does not relieve him or her of the obligation to disclose the conviction in response to any direct question contained in any questionnaire or application for public office, for licensure by any state or local agency, or for contracting with the California State Lottery Commission.

“(2) Dismissal of an accusation or information pursuant to this section does not permit a person to own, possess, or have in his or her custody or control any firearm…”

Stone got the job at the El Dorado Correctional Facility. When he filed for divorce from Misty in July 1998, he provided much of the timetable above and listed his employer as “EDCF” on the petition’s Domestic Relations Affidavit. Stone alleged in the affidavit that Misty had taken their two boys to California against his wishes on June 20. Michael Stone secured from the court temporary orders granting him custody of the boys and awarding him child support. His father, Andrew, served the papers on Misty in Los Angeles County on July 14.

The children eventually went to live with Misty in Derby until her death at the age of 32 on March 10, 2008. The autopsy report lists the cause of death as methadone toxicity. It notes that she was severely injured in an on-duty traffic collision in 2001 while serving as a Wichita police officer and subsequently became dependent on prescription pain medication.

About two years before her death, Misty filed this protection-from-abuse order against Michael Stone. The order was eventually dismissed for lack of prosecution, but in her affidavit, Misty described the events that led up to the filing of the California domestic violence case:

“One night it was so bad I called his father for help. His father, Andrew Stone, called the police and fire dept. Mike Stone left and they issued a warrant. They took myself and my 1 1/2 year old son down to the station to take pictures and to take my statement. He was charged and convicted of DV assault in 1995, while we lived in Rosamond, Kern County, CA.” 

Following the 1998 divorce from Misty, Michael Stone would face a paternity case filed in 2000 by the State of Kansas on behalf of a Wichita woman who gave birth to a son on December 1, 1999. The court found that Stone was the father and ordered him to pay child support. In a separate case filed in Butler County in 2008 by the state on behalf of a Maryland woman, a judge determined he had fathered a girl born October 14, 1992, while he and the mother resided in California. The court ordered child support withheld from his paycheck until 2012.

Stone would marry again in April 2001, according to a marriage license application filed in Garfield County, Oklahoma. The marriage was short lived and Stone subsequently married Rebecca Anne Denchfield, a Eureka woman who worked at the El Dorado Correctional Facility. That marriage ended tragically late in the evening of June 21, 2003, when Becky died of a gunshot wound to the head. Her death was ruled a suicide.

On March 13, 2004, Stone married a Towanda woman named Debbie. While he was married to Debbie, Stone lost his house in Douglass to foreclosure. A judge signed the journal entry of judgment on December 6, 2006.

About two months later — on February 8, 2007 — Michael Stone and his mother, Hilda, sought a protection-from-abuse order in Butler County District Court against his father, Andrew. That same day, Stone’s wife, Debbie, sought a protection-from-stalking order against Andrew. Both orders were later dismissed, the former for lack of evidence and the latter for lack of prosecution. The Butler County District Court Clerk’s office refused to release the affidavits for either case because they are sealed.

By October 1, 2008, Stone’s marriage to Debbie was ending. She filed for divorce that day, claiming in the Domestic Relations Affidavit that Stone was self-employed at Creek Decorative Concrete, which was located at his residence near hers in Towanda. In response to a Kansas Open Records Act request, Butler County reported Stone was employed as a deputy from October 25, 2001, to July 21, 2010.

Court records also indicate Stone ran afoul of the Tax Collector. Butler County sought a $1,075.36 garnishment for property taxes in 2009. That same year, the Kansas Department of Revenue sought a $9,150.08 garnishment against Stone for back income taxes in a Sedgwick County District Court case.

Also in 2009, a Butler County District Court judge appointed an Augusta woman as guardian for Stone’s mother, Hilda, who was living in a nursing home. Stone was advised of the action, which was filed by the State of Kansas, but court records do not indicate why a volunteer for the Kansas Guardianship Program and not Stone was appointed to oversee Hilda’s medical decisions.

Records indicate Hilda Stone died of lung cancer on January 25, 2012. A photo on the K9 Legion Facebook page showed an urn with Stone’s mother’s ashes near an urn containing the ashes of a police dog he handled while a Marion officer. Stone took the page down shortly after this blog post appeared. This post originally contained a link to the page. Stone also removed the page for a few weeks after news of his resignation broke in early August.

Stone married his current wife, Alicia, in February 2010 some five months before leaving Butler County for the Florence Police Department. They remain together today. She recently went to work as a community corrections officer for the Eighth Judicial District, according to her Facebook page.

Cemetery Flap Ensnares Sheriff

By Lee White

A Facebook post circulated this weekend about an incident at McGill Cemetery near Potwin accused Sheriff Kelly Herzet of threatening to arrest a man who drove over the grave marker of Herzet’s father. Adriane Young Bowlin posted the photos (above) and this account of the incident on her Facebook page:

On the afternoon of August 17, my husband Grant, along with my 6-year-old son was out at McGill cemetery helping my father put dirt on my grandparent’s graves, that for quite some time has been sunken in about 6” and not taken care of properly. This process consisted of pulling trailer up next to the grave site. My husband was very careful not to disturb any of the other grave sites. Once my husband reached my grandparents grave site, he was approached by Dave Hall. Dave said that he would appreciate it if they did not drive through the cemetery. Grant asked him what he should do. Dave’s attitude immediately changed and he said, “I would have used a f@$#ing wheel barrel.” To which Grant responded “there are 3 tractor bucket loads to fill the neglected sunken grave. I wouldn’t have had to drive through the cemetery if the grounds keeper/township properly maintained the grave sites. Dave Hall then told Grant move his vehicle. Grant went ahead and unloaded the dirt and raked it out to make it look nice (see pic). Under Dave’s watchful eye Grant drove forward, which was the only way to get out of his location. There was a foot stone that was impossible to avoid. Slowly and carefully Grant proceeded to drive out. The foot stone was undamaged but there was tall unmowed grass laying over it. So Grant drove my father home and then decided to stop at the store to get him and my son something to drink. When he returned to the vehicle, Sherriff Kelly Herzet approached the passenger side of the vehicle without announcing who he was. Herzet then blurted out “Are you the son of bitch that ran over my dad’s WWII plate (footstone)”. My husband apologized to Sherriff Herzet. But Herzet began threatening to arrest Grant for desecration of a grave over and over again. The whole time Herzet is threatening Grant, my 6-year-old son is sitting in the seat behind him. This I feel is and was inappropriate for the Sherriff of Butler County to conduct himself this way in front of a child. After this incident, my child was scared and crying asking Grant if he is going to go to jail. I feel like situation was not handled properly and conducted as the Sherriff of Butler County should act towards any citizen let alone in front of a child. So I proceeded to call the Butler County Sheriff’s office to try to get ahold of Herzet to speak with him about the situation and hopefully get an apology for the way he conducted himself in front of my child. I was told by the sheriff’s office that they would get a message to Herzet and have him call me. After some time, with no phone call, I called the sheriff’s office back only to be told that they could not bother Sheriff Herzet after 5 as his hours are from 8 to 5. Knowing Herzet my whole life, I decided to call him personally as I still have my child upset about not knowing why the police officer was yelling at his dad. After leaving message, Herzet finally called me back, only to be very rude and continue to threaten my husband with jail time and said that he was not to step foot out at the cemetery or he would be arrested. I told Herzet that I did not appreciate that way he acted in front of my child and that there were many ways that he could have handled the situation properly. I got an apology that I feel was not meaningful.
I returned the following afternoon to check out the so-called desecration of the WWII plate (foot stone). As you can see in the picture, nothing about the foot stone is damaged or even disturbed. As a matter of fact, the stone is deep enough in the ground that it can be mowed right over.

As a citizen of Butler County, the majority of my life, it worries me that the Sheriff feels like he can conduct himself in this unprofessional manor. If he was approaching my husband on a personal level then he should NOT be able to threaten Grant that he was going to arrest him. If he was approaching him as the Sheriff of Butler County then apparently Sheriff Herzet has forgotten his code of conduct. As stated on the Butler County Sheriff’s web site: 
It is our mission, as representatives of the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, to serve all citizens, whomever they may be, with respect. We accomplish this by being ethical, professional, courteous, and efficient in order to meet the issues of law enforcement in an ever-changing society, while respecting the rights of the individual citizen.

On a side note: I told Sheriff Kelly Herzet that because of the way he acted, he has lost out vote. He then stated to me that he doesn’t need our votes. Maybe he has forgotten that we the people of Butler County are the ones that put him in office.

Sheriff Herzet issued the following statement in an e-mail Sunday afternoon:

I was contacted by David Hall that Grant Bowlin and Robert Young had left ruts on my Father and Mothers grave. We had just had about two inches of rain the day before. I stopped by the cemetery and witnessed it myself. What upset me the most was driving over my dads  WW II gravestone. I did photograph the ruts and the stone being ran over. 
When I pulled into Potwin where I live I saw Grant sitting in his suburban with a trailer attached across from the grocery store. I. did approach him on the passenger side and told him to stay off my folks grave. He commented something back and I told him again if he leaves ruts on my folks grave again and I could prove it was him I would do my best to arrest him. Grant smarted off something else and I walked away. I didn’t see his son sitting in the back seat. 
I later called his wife Adrian and apologized to her and told her I didn’t see the boy in the back seat. While I was talking to her I could hear Grant yelling obscenities at me in the back ground.
I believe the matter at the cemetery could have been handled with a shovel and a wheelbarrow.
Lee after I got home I did get a visit from Robert Young who has been a friend of mine our whole life. Robert Young came to my home and apologized to me and I accepted his apology and I thought things were good. Robert did agree a shovel and wheelbarrow would have been better idea.
As I told Herzet, I wasn’t there, so I really don’t know what went on. I was going to hold off on writing about the incident until Monday, but since Herzet answered my e-mail on Sunday and gave his side, I’m going ahead and publishing it. There’s quite a bit of interest that has been generated via Facebook.
Both sides seem to agree it would be a good idea to use a wheelbarrow next time a grave needs fill dirt. The area has received more rain than usual for this time of year, so driving any vehicle over a cemetery is likely to produce ruts. I’ve already heard from a veteran who’s upset about either this incident or another one like it.
I don’t think the Youngs intended to cause damage or to show disrespect toward Herzet’s father, who was a veteran, but I can’t blame Sheriff Herzet for being upset that someone left tire marks on his parents’ graves. I’d feel the same way if someone did that to mine. I believe most of us would.
Perhaps those involved in this incident and those in Facebook Land should file this under “lessons learned” and move on. Emotions tend to run high when our deceased loved ones are involved. My last visit to the family plots at Sunset Lawns in El Dorado on Memorial Day weekend ended with an ambulance ride for my wife, who suffered her first-ever — and I hope last — grand mal seizure. I hope for a little less drama next time and extend those same wishes to the Young family, as well as Sheriff Herzet and his retired deputy, Dave Hall.

Time To Consider ‘Becky’s Law’

                                                                Rebecca Anne Denchfield Stone
                                                                      July 6, 1978-June 21, 2003

By Lee White

Rebecca Anne “Becky” Denchfield Stone died of a gunshot wound to the head from her sheriff’s deputy husband’s 40 caliber Glock service weapon around 11 p.m. June 21, 2003, at 1110 N. Ohio Street, Augusta, Kansas. Her death was ruled a suicide (click here to view the autopsy report). Investigating agencies included the Augusta Department of Public Safety (ADPS) and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI)

Acting on a tip from a former Butler County Sheriff’s deputy, I learned on June 21 — the 14th anniversary of Becky’s death — that her then-husband, Michael Anthony Stone, had been convicted of a misdemeanor violation of California Penal Code 273.5 (A), Inflicting Corporal Injury on a Spouse, in 1995. Click here to view the court “minutes” from the California case.

Although the case was dismissed in 1997 under California Penal Code 1203.4, the dismissal did not restore Stone’s federal gun rights because he was convicted of violating a state domestic violence statute (municipal violations no longer strip a citizen of gun rights due to this 2017 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling). In addition, the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Act prohibits anyone with a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction from serving as a police officer even if the conviction was expunged (click here and see (d) on Page 6 of the document).

So on that first night of summer 2003, Becky Stone died of a shot fired from a gun that never should have been there. The Butler County Sheriff’s Department was required to certify to the Kansas Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (Kansas C-POST) that Stone met the requirements to be a deputy. Stone was hired in 2001 as a jail deputy, then later promoted to road patrol both while Stan Cox was serving as sheriff. In 2006, one of Stone’s ex-wives filed this protection-from-abuse order in Sedgwick County District Court. Because Stone resided in Douglass, the Butler County Sheriff’s Department served him with the paperwork.

Although the order was ultimately dismissed because Misty Stone, the ex-wife, didn’t attend a hearing, it is important for two reasons. First, Misty was the victim in the California domestic violence case and detailed the circumstances of that case in the affidavit for the order. Second, it represented yet another opportunity for the sheriff’s department to discover and report to Kansas C-POST the existence of the domestic violence conviction. By then, Craig Murphy was sheriff. Cox resigned as sheriff in December 2003 to go on active duty with the U.S. Army. The current sheriff, Kelly Herzet, was not connected to the Stone case in any way that I’m aware of.

The investigation of Becky Stone’s death also either failed to uncover the domestic violence conviction or the investigating agencies failed to report it to Kansas C-POST. ADPS Chief Tyler Brewer, in this Butler County Times-Gazette story, detailed the agencies that had looked into the Stone case. The KBI and ADPS have yet to respond to my e-mails concerning when or whether they discovered the domestic violence case and whether they reported it to Kansas C-POST. The California court minutes contain several mentions of actions being entered into CJIS. The FBI operates a computer database known as Criminal Justice Information Services that virtually all state and local law enforcement agencies have access to.

Despite all these opportunities to discover the domestic violence case and report it, Michael Anthony Stone remained a cop until August 5 when his resignation from the Marion Police Department became effective as a result of my July 10 complaint to Kansas C-POST.

Perhaps officers who learned of the conviction would have reported it had a law been in place mandating that cops report to Kansas C-POST any disqualifying violations of law that they discover about other officers. Such a law would be similar to ones requiring educators, nurses, and doctors to report child abuse to the authorities. It should include language protecting officers from civil or criminal liability or employment retaliation for filing a report in good faith.

The vast majority of law enforcement officers are good people who do a dangerous and thankless job for which they often aren’t adequately compensated. There exists in that profession, however, a “code of silence” concerning officer misconduct. Even members of the news media are afraid to write stories questioning the behavior of law enforcement because they fear officers will no longer give them information if they do.

I’m certainly not advocating for a law that forces cops to think twice before defending their own lives or the lives of others. What I am asking the Kansas Legislature to consider is a law that gives officers permission and incentive to report misconduct they discover during the course of their employment.

There’s no guaranteeing that such a mandate will prevent what happened to Becky Stone. The sheriff’s department was, after all, required to certify his eligibility to Kansas C-POST under penalty of perjury and either failed to discover the conviction or covered it up. It might, however, prevent such cases from slipping through the cracks for years on end as this one did. It might also help strengthen Kansans respect for the badge and remove a bit of tarnish.

When Journalists Won’t Cover The News

By Lee White

I try to be as transparent as I can with what I do here on Watchdog. There are times when I can’t run something because I don’t have the information confirmed and don’t want to harm somebody’s reputation. There are other times, such as in the case of a sex crime or an incident involving a minor, when I don’t use names. But if I have documented proof, I believe I have an obligation to report a story even if it makes someone I know and like look bad. This is apparently not the case with some members of the mainstream media.

Largely because my source on the Stone case (click here for background on it) had already been working with a couple of large Wichita news organizations, I provided them in mid-July with documentation concerning Michael Anthony Stone’s California domestic violence conviction and the paperwork from Butler and Sedgwick County District Courts that confirmed his identity.

I believed it was important to involve the media because law enforcement had multiple opportunities to discover and report the existence of Stone’s conviction which, although partially expunged, disqualifies him from serving as a police officer in Kansas, according to the Law Enforcement Training Act. Those law enforcement agencies — the Augusta Department of Public Safety, The Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and the Butler County Sheriff’s Department — either didn’t discover the existence of the conviction or chose not to report it to the Kansas Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (Kansas C-POST).

One of the documents I sent these two news organizations I haven’t shared publicly until now. It’s a protection-from-abuse order that Stone’s ex-wife, Misty, by then a former Wichita police officer, filed in Sedgwick County District Court in 2006 (click here to view it). In the affidavit in support of the protection order — which was ultimately dismissed because Misty didn’t show up for a hearing — she describes the California domestic violence incident and gives the city and county where it occurred. Click here to view the California court records, which corroborate parts of the following statement.

“One night it was so bad I called his father for help. His father, Andrew Stone, called the police and fire dept. Mike Stone left and they issued a warrant. They took myself and my 1 1/2 year old son down to the station to take pictures and to take my statement. He was charged and convicted of DV assault in 1995, while we lived in Rosamond, Kern County, CA.” — Misty Stone, in sworn affidavit for 2006 protection-from-abuse order

The Butler County Sheriff’s Department, where Stone was employed, served the paperwork on Stone because he resided in Douglass at the time. He continued to work for the department until 2010, according to a response to a Kansas Open Records Act request. He then became police chief in Florence and later went to work for the Marion Police Department where he remained until Saturday, August 5.

On Friday, July 28, I learned from a Facebook page belonging to one of Stone’s friends that Stone was going through a difficult time. Sources told me he had left the Marion Police Department and that my complaint to Kansas C-POST was the reason. Late Monday, July 31, the confirmation came when Stone posted a link to a GoFundMe page where he sought money to attend a police dog training course. The page characterized him as a “former police officer.”

I notified the two Wichita news organizations of this information via e-mail, which included screenshots and links. I also notified the Marion County Record. David Colburn, news editor of the Record, was on the phone to me within minutes. He interviewed me and requested further documentation, which I sent him. The weekly newspaper’s deadline was the next day, so turning a story of this magnitude presented quite a challenge. Nonetheless, the Record had the story (click here to read it) in its Wednesday, August 2 edition. The two Wichita news organizations have yet to do the story. KAKE-TV ran The AP’s story on Friday, August 4.

With all due respect, I would be ashamed if the Marion County Record “scooped” me on a story I’d had access to for weeks. I can’t think of a valid reason for those two Wichita organizations not to do the story. Sure, it might anger law enforcement, but the little ol’ Record manages to survive and thrive and it does controversial stories about its cops and other public officials all the time. When people in power expect to be held accountable, they act accordingly.

The two news organizations involved are KSN-TV and The Wichita Eagle. I hope they’ll do the right thing and run stories about this matter. I continue to post links to their content on my Facebook page. Every time I do, I help boost their web page statistics just as their material helps draw “likes” and “shares” to my page.

Both these organizations do good work, but these errors of omission need to stop and not just in these two newsrooms. The local media in general need to do a much better job of holding public officials accountable. Perhaps part of the reason Wichita has stagnated and lost big-name corporations such as Boeing, Pizza Hut, and Rent-A-Center is that its leadership never felt the heat from a vigorous press and became too complacent and entrenched.

Awhile back, a friend of mine — a sister of the fellow who gave me my start in the news business many years ago — shared the photo, above, to my Facebook timeline. It is as true now as when George Orwell wrote it. If you are a journalist and you don’t like controversy, you’re in the wrong business. If you think you are doing your viewers or readers a service by passing up a controversial story just so you can get easy sound bites at car wrecks and shootings, you are sadly mistaken.

The Arkansas Gazette lost $2 million in an advertising boycott because it backed the Little Rock Nine, who were fighting for school desegregation. Here we are, 60 years later, and the cowardly Wichita news media won’t even turn a story because they’re carrying water for law enforcement. Pathetic! And it must change now!

Augusta Department of Public Safety Should Live Up To Its Motto

By Lee White

Integrity is the basis for community trust.Augusta Department of Public Safety motto

A former Butler County sheriff’s deputy, Michael Anthony Stone, resigned effective Saturday as a Marion police sergeant after I reported to his professional certification agency, the Kansas Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (Kansas C-POST), that he had been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor while living in California in 1995. Click here to read the story from the Marion County Record and here to read the story from The Associated Press. Click here to view the documents from Kern County, California, Superior Court.

As the Record’s story explains, I received a tip about the domestic violence conviction and partial expungement from a former Butler County sheriff’s deputy who first contacted me in 2008 regarding the death of Stone’s former wife, Becky. Click here to view the California statute Stone was convicted of violating and here to view the expungement statute, which has some limitations.

At the time of Becky’s death, which has been ruled a suicide, the Stones were living at 1110 N. Ohio Street in Augusta. According to an e-mail I received last week from Sheriff Kelly Herzet, the autopsy report on Becky Stone (click here to view it), and the newspaper account below, the Augusta Department of Public Safety (ADPS) and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) handled the probe of the June 21, 2003, shooting death. The autopsy report indicates that one of the ADPS investigators who attended Stone’s autopsy was Michael Stueven, who lost his Kansas C-POST certification last year (click here).

I had never written about the Stone case until last summer when some of Becky’s friends and family members showed up to protest at a sheriff candidate meet-and-greet at Butler Community College (click here for KAKE-TV’s story). Augusta Department of Public Safety Director Tyler Brewer issued this statement concerning the case to the Butler County Times-Gazette days after the protest.

“Brewer advised investigators from Augusta say they spent an enormous amount of hours investigating the Stone case with the uppermost transparency. During the initial investigation, investigators had a forensic expert from the KBI assist them with the scene. After the conclusion of the investigation, Augusta officials had investigators from the Wichita Police Department Homicide Unit, specifically Kenny Landwehr, and the head of the cold case squad from the KBI review the case, and their analysis determined the cause of death was suicide. Also the Sedgwick County Forensic Center, the Butler County Coroner, and the Butler County attorney reviewed the case and concurred with Augusta’s findings. In addition, the victim’s family attorney and a special investigator that the family had hired reviewed the case. They too came to the same conclusion as did Augusta and other investigators enlisted to review the case.” — Butler County Times-Gazette, July 20, 2016

If we are to take Brewer at his word, then, all these individuals and agencies reviewed the case and either missed the existence of the California domestic violence case against Michael Stone or discovered it and didn’t let Kansas C-POST know about it. Regardless, Stone remained a cop for 14 years following the death investigation.

Why?

That’s a question I think Brewer needs to answer. I asked him in the same e-mail I sent to Sheriff Herzet whether his department learned about the domestic violence case as part of the death investigation. If he doesn’t want to answer to me, then maybe he needs to answer to Augusta City Manager Josh Shaw, who also got a copy of the e-mail, or to the Augusta City Council, which allocates 28 cents of every property tax dollar to public safety, according to this story on augustaleader.com.

We may never know what really happened to Becky Stone that first night of summer 2003. The official version is “suicide” and, as I told the Marion newspaper, I haven’t discovered anything to contradict that finding. What I have found, however, is that the only individual besides Becky known to have been present at 1110 N. Ohio that night shouldn’t have been a deputy and that the gun that fired the fatal shot — a gun Herzet says remains in the custody of the ADPS to this day — shouldn’t have been there either.

If Brewer’s investigators didn’t find that out, what else might they have overlooked? And if they did find that out and said nothing to C-POST, well, what does that say about how seriously the ADPS takes its motto?

These are good questions and the people deserve good answers.

Former Butler Deputy Resigns From Marion Police Department

By Lee White

The Marion County Record (click here) and The Associated Press (click here) have reported on a complaint I filed with the Kansas Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training July 10 against a former Butler County sheriff’s deputy, Michael Stone. I may write a bit more about the matter later and share some of the public documents I found, but given that there are public agencies, news agencies, and individuals still looking into the case, I’ll leave you with links to the stories that the good and capable reporters for the Record and The AP have filed. Thanks for reading!

Cats And Indians

By Lee White

UPDATE: As promised below, click here for a link to the Augusta Leader’s story on the cat issue. And click here for Sue Jones’ response to the Augusta Leader story.

Augusta has been in the spotlight this week and not in a good way. First, the Senior Center posted an old joke about Native Americans on its sign. Then, former City Council Member Sue Jones and her husband were fined several hundred dollars for watering stray cats.

As anyone can imagine, these events set off a firestorm of debate. Although I’m not an Augusta resident, I’ve followed events there for many years and, because I continue to write about them, I believe it’s important to make clear my position on these two matters.

Regarding the sign, I wasn’t horribly offended by it and realize it was probably someone’s attempt at humor rather than racism. Nonetheless, the Senior Center is a public agency and the sign is public property. Anti-discrimination laws apply to government agencies and those private concerns that offer public accommodations (restaurants, hotels, real estate agencies, etc.). Someone could allege that the Senior Center discriminated against him or her and use the sign as evidence of a “pattern and practice” of discriminatory behavior. That’s why the sign had to go and, to their credit, officials moved quickly to remove it once someone complained.

Have Americans become too sensitive about such jokes? Well, maybe, but it is a historical fact that European settlers committed genocide against the native people and herded the ones who survived onto reservations. Granted, nobody alive today was responsible for these atrocities just as nobody alive today owned slaves. If somebody wants to crack jokes that some folks might find racist on their Facebook page or in their homes, that’s their right under the First Amendment. Those who are offended can “unfriend” the individual. A government agency by its very nature acts under what’s called “color of law.” We can’t “unfriend” it; we still must fund it with our taxes or go to jail. Its rights are restricted by the same Constitution that gives a private citizen free reign to act like Archie Bunker.

I chose to report on the sign because of its public nature and to start a conversation about the bounds of racially-charged speech. It looks as if I succeeded because, as of this writing, the Facebook post about it has been viewed 16,092 times — a Watchdog record. I’m fairly certain the transgression won’t be repeated, so I’m not going to beat it to death. One final thought: The areas of the United States that are doing the best economically are also the ones that are the most welcoming to those who are different in some way.

On Tuesday, an Augusta Municipal Court judge found Jones and her husband guilty of violating city ordinances that prohibit feeding and watering feral cats. Now, there’s some talk that Jones and her husband had been “hoarding” cats and going on other people’s property to collect them and feed them. A local reporter is working that angle of the story and when she has it ready, I’ll put a link here and on Facebook. Click here to read KWCH-TV’s version of events.

The Joneses are advocates of a trap-neuter-release program and say they’ve been running their own. Jones tried to get the City Council to adopt such a program officially in 2015. The matter was tabled and apparently never revisited, according to this story in the Times-Gazette.

It’s time to revisit it.

If the city’s plan of ignoring the feral cats — I hear the problem is centered downtown — had been successful, the population would have decreased. Even the ones who side with the City of Augusta on this issue admit that there are more cats than ever before. The city is apparently looking for a scapegoat to explain away its failed policy and has found one in the Joneses. If only Sue and her husband would quit feeding and watering them, they’d go away, right?

Well, except for the fact that cats (humans too) will continue to procreate unless they’re fixed or euthanized. One can argue that they may not procreate as fast if they’re not receiving high-quality food and water, but their population will still grow. And if the city isn’t going to address the problem, private citizens eventually will and that’s a recipe for disaster. It’s already a public relations nightmare for the City of Augusta, whose leaders apparently don’t care how outsiders perceive the community.

Now, the Joneses have probably been warned not to feed the cats and Sue was even cited in 2015 for putting boxes outside her business to shelter them. Her continuing to feed them is probably an act of civil disobedience. The City Council’s failure to do anything beyond perpetuating a failed system is an act of negligence at best.

The Joneses had better quit feeding the cats, but the city had better revisit the trap-neuter-release program. I believe any such program should include basic vaccinations, as well, so that a rabies problem doesn’t take hold. It works elsewhere and could be privately funded just as it is in Phoenix. I’d be willing to bet the Joneses would raise money to start the program. Although I don’t live in Augusta, I’d be happy to contribute and to publicize the fundraiser through Watchdog.

If the City Council won’t take another look at trap-neuter-release — or at least do something proactive about the feral cat issue — then folks can rightly conclude that its members are a bunch of control freaks who care nothing about solving community problems by means other than force. Augusta has traditionally had a difficult time finding candidates to run for council, but if the current heavy-handed manner of dealing with its citizenry continues, it should be no problem to find replacements in the next couple of election cycles. And you can bet I’ll help with that, too!

A Letter From The Operator Of Proposed Towanda Crematory

Mr. White,
Thank you for taking the time and doing your own research into the issues at hand. We very much appreciate someone who is willing to be impartial and present the facts to the communities we serve. My name is Shawn Snyder and I am one half of the partnership that owns Heritage Funeral Home in Andover and El Dorado. I have been a licensed funeral director and embalmer for 14 years and was working in the industry for 4 years prior to that as I finished my schooling. I was also a manufacturer licensed crematory operator before the state of Kansas began requiring crematory operators to  be licensed through the state. My business partners are Corey and Sherry Hagemeister who have been in the communities of Butler county for 40 years. We are all very supportive donors of many of the non profit groups and churches in our communities. We opened Heritage Funeral Home because we all had a vision of caring for families better than the corporate funeral homes were back then so we founded Heritage and opened our doors in Andover in 2005. Around 2010 there were many members of the El Dorado community that were hoping for other options for services in town; as the local funeral homes were owned jointly by a corporation in Houston, TX; so we opened a small office and have since expanded to our own building and chapel that is renovated from the original machine shop in town. Our proposed expansion into Towanda will be a crematory of which we are planning to purchase brand new state of the art, top of the line equipment.
We have scheduled an informational meeting for Thursday, June 22 at the United Methodist Church as you well know. We are hoping to introduce ourselves to the community and visit with them about who we are, why we’re here and why we’ve chosen Towanda.
In addition I want to give you some of the information that we will have available to the citizens and the city officials on thursday night and at the hearing in July. We will also have a book that shows the location of every crematory licensed by the state of Kansas.(all of which are in towns and located adjacent to residential neighborhoods, schools and shopping areas)
CANA (Cremation Association of North America) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jointly funded a 1999 study — the most recent one they’ve conducted — that tested crematory emissions over a seven-day period at the Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York. The tests showed evidence that crematories are capable of low emissions without the addition of pollution equipment and that higher temperatures can increase pollutants, according to the CANA study.
This document is from Pima County, Arizona. Page 3, paragraph 2 speaks to Mercury Emissions
This is a study done by Ensafe for Spring Hill, TN., page 24 gives their conclusions.

Mercury Spring Hill Modeling Report | Air Pollution | Cremation

EnSafe was engaged by the City of Spring Hill, Tennessee to review and document relevant scientific, engineering…
This is from the State of Georgia Department of Public Health, Page 1, paragraph 5 speaks to the EPA’s stance on cremations.
Thank you again for taking your time, being impartial and presenting the facts as they are.
Respectfully,
Shawn N. Snyder
Manager
Heritage Funeral Home
316-733-1020
316-321-1001
www.heritageofandover.com

The Reality Of The Brownback Veto Override

By Lee White

I received some messages this morning from a friend who lives in El Dorado. She and her husband work for a business that requires them to travel to distant states for heavy construction projects. My friend asked why everyone seemed happy that the Kansas Legislature overrode Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of the tax bill — a bill that is sure to increase income taxes for most Kansans, especially those whose limited liability companies (LLCs) have enjoyed a tax exemption since 2012.

To understand why so many people are happy about a tax increase, I told her, one need only look at the number of folks in El Dorado who depend on government for their livelihood, to wit:

  • USD 490 has 350 employees.
  • Butler County has 488 employees, according to 2016 data from KansasOpenGov.org.
  • Butler Community College, in this annual report, claims its staff and students created 8,558 “job equivalents.” Other sources list the academic staff alone at 1,200. Any way you cut it, BCC is a large employer.
  • The City of El Dorado has 140 full-time staff and 200 temporary or seasonal employees.
  • The El Dorado Correctional Facility had 446 full-time employees in 2010 (and that probably doesn’t include contractors such as nurses and psychologists).

Then you have others who depend on government indirectly. Consider all those who work in health care. How many of them do you think there would be if Medicare and Medicaid didn’t exist? Just ask the folks in Sumner County, who are at risk of losing their hospital, what the Legislature’s failure to expand Medicaid is about to cost them.

You see, folks, even in a “Red State,” the economy is positively and irrevocably addicted to government cheese. When Gov. Brownback and his supporters in the Legislature slashed and burned taxes and spending, they sent the state’s economy into a tailspin. The sad reality is, the overall economy of Kansas will probably benefit from the tax increases and higher (or at least stable) state spending.

This is not to say that reinstating taxes on LLCs and boosting income taxes won’t hurt some people. It definitely will and some of the hardest hit will be farmers. At least some Kansas farmers organized their businesses as LLCs to take advantage of the tax break, which is soon to be gone. Crop prices are low and President Trump wants to cut farm subsidies. There will likely be even harder times in the agricultural sector and energy is likely to feel the pinch, as well, because oil and gas prices are low. Maybe these folks can get government jobs.

Kansas was just a bit late to the party in restructuring its tax system. The Brownback reforms might have worked had he implemented them three decades ago when the overall Kansas and U.S. private sectors were stronger. They clearly didn’t work this time — or at least voters believed they didn’t and elected or frightened enough legislators in 2016 to force a change.

Those who don’t like the new taxes will vote with their feet. My El Dorado friend and her husband are moving to Texas later this year. Texas has no state income tax. Most Texas corporations are taxed at only one percent. The move is really a no-brainer — keep more of their money, prepare for retirement, and still be close enough to visit the grandkids. It will remain to be seen how many others follow suit and what effect their outmigration will have on Kansas’ already-weakened private sector.