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.

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!

Why A Police Report Matters

By Lee White

UPDATE 1:40 p.m. CDT 5/3/2007: I received the following e-mail from ADPS Chief Tyler Brewer:

I would have if you would have contacted me prior to writing the article. If you actually knew me, you’d probably have a different opinion of me but that’s okay….it comes with my job.

God Bless…. and I do mean that,

Tyler 

I received this letter today from the Augusta Department of Public Safety stating that there is no Kansas Standard Offense Report on file from anyone named Brewer for the period April 13 to April 24. The letter came in response to a Kansas Open Records Act request originally filed on April 24. I want to thank Kim Galgon, the records clerk for the ADPS, for the response, as well as City Manager Josh Shaw and Mayor Matt Childers. I know the vast majority of the sworn officers and civilian staff at the department are hard-working, honest folks. Nevertheless, no public agency can function well without accountability.

There used to be strong, local newspapers and radio and TV stations that would report on controversial matters. Due to a combination of factors, including newspapers’ flubbing the digital transition spectacularly, those entities have either gone out of existence entirely or operate as mere skeletons of their former selves with corporate owners who care nothing about anything but a stock price.

Maybe a misguided sense of duty motivates me to continue this blog, but Butler County is a place I know well. I know its history as well as about anyone, having lived it for the past 52 years despite residing elsewhere part of that time. I had great teachers, including the late BCC journalism instructor Bill Bidwell, who knew where every, single body was buried back to the beginning of time.

I see a county that was growing and thriving but has “stalled out” the past decade or so. Augusta, in particular, used to have more going for it economically and otherwise than El Dorado, where I grew up, even though Augusta’s population was less. Some of the stories I read and hear give me pause to consider whether that’s still the case and, as always, I want to get to the “why.” Life circumstances afford me the opportunity to do so. It’s more interesting to me than television or video games, so it’s what I do. And I’m going to continue doing it.

Maybe I’ll live in Butler County again, but I believe I must stay close to KU Medical Center, where my wife receives care for her MS, so I live in Harrisonville, Missouri, where her family resides. If I croak, her wonderful sister is only five blocks away. Such are the choices we have to make in life, but, man, wouldn’t it be fun to be “on the ground” turning stories like a blackjack dealer turns cards (and probably wearing a Kevlar vest)? In the meantime, I encourage you to read Olivia Haselwood’s reporting on the Leader websites. She’s an Augusta native who gives me great hope for the next generation of journalists.

So why did I ask for a police report in the first place? When I watched Chief Brewer’s interview with KWCH-TV in which he stated that his and his family’s lives had been threatened if he didn’t “take care” of the officer who shot and killed a veteran’s dog, I thought about what I would do if someone threatened to kill my family and me. The very first thing I would do is file a police report even if I was a cop. Even though threat reports are often a low priority for law enforcement agencies — and, in most cases, they probably should be — it is crucial to document a threat for a few good reasons.

The main reason is to give detectives a strong clue should the worst happen and the caller carries out the threat. A time, a date, a phone number, what the caller said, whether it was a male or female — all of those bits of information give detectives a starting point if a suspect is on the loose. If the suspect is in custody, investigators can use those clues to match him or her to the threat. That goes a long way toward proving premeditation in a homicide case and the fact that the victim or a member of the victim’s family memorialized information about the threat soon after it occurred strengthens that evidence in the minds of judges and jurors. It’s almost like a “dying declaration”.

Another reason to file a report is to launch an investigation of the threat. I’m not intimately familiar with the legalities of obtaining call trace information from phone companies, but I understand it can be had. Just about any action one takes over phone lines or the Internet can be traced. Making a threatening phone call to a police chief (or anyone) could be charged as a felony for criminal threat and as a misdemeanor for telephone harassment. And it should be! I can tell you that if it happened to me, I would take a civil judgment against the perpetrator for intentional infliction of emotional distress among other torts and obtain a restraining order.

The final reason to file a police report: It lends credibility to the accuser because the report is made under penalty of law. In Kansas, filing a false police report is considered interference with law enforcement and is a Class A misdemeanor. When one has a car accident, the insurance adjuster always wants a copy of the police report. One reason is that the report lends credibility to the insurance claimant because he or she was willing to sign off on a police report concerning the circumstances of the accident.

Police officers who are caught filing a false report can find themselves out of a job permanently or, at the very least, disciplined. There has been quite a bit of news coverage in Wichita concerning the so-called Brady-Giglio list. Being on this list likely ended the career of Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams. Williams had been disciplined for a rather minor report-writing error years ago. That was enough to get him on a list of officers who had credibility issues. The list is shared with defense attorneys if the officer is to testify at trial. Depending on the severity of the transgression, the attorney may use the information at trial to question the officer’s credibility.

Gentle reader, you are free to reach any conclusion you will concerning the absence of a Kansas Standard Offense Report in this case. Maybe there’s an investigation of the threat going on. Maybe there’s not. I certainly hope there is and that the individual who made this threat is swiftly and certainly brought to justice if, indeed, the incident occurred as the chief described it to KWCH-TV.

As for the incident that precipitated this screed, it’ll be up to the courts to decide what occurred on April 13 when the dog was shot. If I were the dog owner, I would hire an attorney named Richard Ney to defend me if I could afford him. If I were the Augusta city prosecutor, I might consider tearing up those tickets and buying Alan Fitzgerald a new dog.

ADPS Fails To Respond To Open Records Request

By Lee White

In the days and weeks since an Augusta Department of Public Safety (ADPS) officer shot and killed a dog belonging to a veteran, the department has done everything in its power to make me question its version of events. The official story as reported by multiple media outlets: The dog managed to break through a screen door and lunge aggressively at the cop and an animal control officer. The officer, fearing for their lives, shot the dog.

At first, I tended to believe the officer’s story. I even said so publicly. Then ADPS Chief Tyler Brewer and perhaps others on the department became involved. First, there was this report that some people who wanted to organize a candlelight vigil for the deceased canine were threatened with arrest. Then, Brewer told the news media that he and others on the department had received death threats as a result of the dog shooting. Brewer told KWCH-TV in this interview that a phone caller threatened his life and that of his family if the chief didn’t “take care of” the officer who shot the dog.

After I watched that interview, I sent a written request under the Kansas Open Records Act to the ADPS, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI), and the Butler County Sheriff’s Department. The letter sought the release of the front page of any Kansas Standard Offense Report filed by Brewer or anyone with the same last name between April 13 — the date of the shooting — and the date the letter arrived at the agencies, which was April 24. The requested document is unquestionably public information, as both the form itself and the attorney general’s website indicate.

The sheriff’s department and the KBI responded within three days, as the Open Records Act requires (click here). The ADPS has yet to respond at all.

The act also requires agencies denying access to records to provide, upon request, a written explanation for that denial including the legal grounds upon which the agency based its decision. On Monday, I sent this letter via overnight mail to Augusta City Manager Josh Shaw and Mayor Matt Childers requesting such an explanation. It arrived today, so Friday is the deadline for the city’s response.

The ball is squarely in the court of Shaw, Childers, and the Augusta City Council. If they fail to respond to yet another lawful request under the Open Records Act, they will face both legal and political consequences. If the document isn’t on file with the ADPS, then say it isn’t on file, just as the KBI and the sheriff’s department did. If it does exist, then either produce it forthwith or cite a legal reason for keeping it under wraps. It’s as simple as that. Anything else will illustrate that ADPS is a rogue department.

Watchdog Files Open Records Requests In Augusta Threats Case

By Lee White

((UPDATE 4/25/2017: The Butler County Sheriff’s Department reports that it has no such complaints on file.))

((UPDATE 4/28/2017: The Kansas Bureau of Investigation reports that it hasn’t yet received any such complaints.))

I filed written requests today under the Kansas Open Records Act with the Augusta Department of Public Safety, the Butler County Sheriff’s Department, and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. The requests, filed by certified mail, seek the front page of any Kansas Standard Offense Report filed between April 13 and today by Augusta Department of Public Safety Chief Tyler Brewer or anyone from Augusta with the same last name.

Under the Open Records Act, the agencies have three business days to respond in writing to the request by providing the requested record, declaring that the record does not exist, or citing a state law that closes the record to public inspection. The front page of a Kansas Standard Offense Report is known to be a public record. That fact is clearly printed on the form, as one can see by clicking here.

I made the request because Brewer asserted in two media reports, including this one from KWCH-TV and this one in The Wichita Eagle, that he and his family had been the subject of a death threat following an ADPS officer’s shooting of a dog. I chose to send requests to these agencies because one is Brewer’s own department and the other two — the KBI and the sheriff’s office — would be departments a law enforcement officer might call upon to act as a neutral third party in an investigation. As of this writing, I have not received a response from any of the three agencies.

A death threat against any law enforcement officer and his family is serious business. Anyone who is desperate or crazy enough to pick up a telephone and make such a threat knowing full well that technology exists to trace the call needs to be hunted down and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Lives of others in the community could be in jeopardy should one of these nut cases try to make good on a threat. The public needs to know that an investigation is, indeed, underway and providing a copy of basic information about the case is the best form of reassurance.

#chuckzuck On Inauguration Day

By Lee White

I’m going to tell y’all something that will probably cost me some friendships. At the very least, there will be people I’ve known for decades who will think ill of me and probably speak ill of me either to my face or behind my back.

I voted for Hillary Rodham Clinton for President of the United States on November 8, 2016. So did my wife, Sherri. It wasn’t because we have a great deal of admiration for her character or her economic policies. It came down to her social agenda versus that of the Republicans. Having many close LGBT friends, we just couldn’t in good conscience support a candidate who might gut recent reforms put in place to protect them from discrimination.

But the voters have spoken and elected Donald Trump president. The Democrats, apparently failing to understand that they lost the election because they betrayed large sections of their political base and not just in 2016, have blamed the Russians for costing Clinton the election by conducting a disinformation campaign — in other words, planting “fake news.”

In response, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, has appointed a panel of experts to label certain information as fake and even to keep it from showing up as readily on the site. You’d still be able to post a link to a story deemed “fake,” but the story might be labeled as such. Here’s the more sinister part: The link also might not show up in your friends’ Facebook feeds or in search results, so the only way anyone would see it would be if he or she visited your page directly. That would severely curtail the number of eyeballs on that link.

I’m going to give you two links to read more about Zuckerberg’s plans: This one from the New York Times and this one from Alex Jones’ Infowars. I’m going to let you decide which version to believe and where the “facts” from each intersect. This I’m doing because I believe you, Gentle Readers, are intelligent enough to spot BS on your own and, if not, to suffer the consequences just as I did when I fell for this ruse about a biscuit can exploding in a shoplifter’s vagina.

If all Facebook does is limit access to “exploding biscuit” stories, which are designed to drive traffic to clickbait sites that make their money when visitors click on advertisements, that would be fine. I don’t believe, however, that Facebook will stop there. I know the sting of censorship all too well and so do others.

A Circle High School student told me he was ordered to stop displaying a Donald Trump banner at Tuesday night’s basketball game against Buhler. Flinthills Services also filed a frivolous complaint against me with the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services after I reported on a developmentally-disabled client who had signed over his property rights to the county-funded agency. The mainstream media in Wichita and Butler County have failed to report on these stories.

Some readers, particularly Democrats, are probably asking, “What’s the big deal?” They may even believe that Facebook’s initiative is a good thing that will serve their political interests well in the coming years. They fail to consider that censorship will eventually reach their back yard.

Most of my Democratic friends supported Bernie Sanders in the primary. Many Sanders supporters believe he got a raw deal from party leaders, even going so far as to say that the election was rigged against him. What’s to stop Zuckerberg’s panel of experts from branding stories as fake if they support a Democratic primary candidate they don’t like in 2020 or beyond? The answer is, “nothing.”

Facebook is a business. As such, the type of censorship it proposes is perfectly legal because the First Amendment exists to shield the public only from government restrictions on free speech. But those of us who use Facebook also have the right to stop doing business with Facebook if we do not agree with its policies. We grant Facebook a tremendous amount of power over our lives by posting life events, photos, and other personal information to its massive network of servers. It is time to take some of that power back.

Please join me on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017, in disabling your Facebook account. Click here for instructions on how to do so. You may also download my Facebook profile picture above and use it as your own. Click here for a direct link to the file, or you Windows users may simply right click on it and select “Save image as.”

Facebook has been a wonderful tool for me to stay in touch with family and with friends old and new. It has also allowed me to get the message out concerning issues I feel strongly about. Although I don’t always agree when others do the same, I don’t want anyone but me telling me what is truth. I don’t trust the news media to do this for me because of the experiences I have had both as a reporter and while blogging. I realize I risk Facebook revoking my user account and maybe even suing me for undertaking this protest, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try.

One of my journalism instructors likened censorship to Carl Sandburg’s poem, “Fog:”

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
It is up to us, my fellow Americans, to be the foghorn.

The Real Reason To Hate The Media

By Lee White

I saw that bumper sticker the other day — the one that reads, “I DON’T BELIEVE THE LIBERAL MEDIA!” That thing has been around since the Reagan Administration. The first time I saw it, I was a young reporter doing afternoon traffic reports in Wichita. There it was on a dumpy little clunker driven by an older woman near Central and Ridge. The recent encounter made me swear time travel was possible.

After watching bits and pieces of ABC’s Election Night coverage, it is understandable why Republicans believe the media is biased toward Democrats. The commentators seemed positively incredulous at the notion that anyone had voted for Donald Trump — let alone that he was beating Hillary Clinton. She was clearly smarter, better organized, better qualified and all the cool people were voting for her. Except some of them didn’t. A lot of them didn’t. The media came face to face with the reality that their grip on the nation’s collective psyche is slipping away and they weren’t taking it well.

The media probably are biased toward liberals, but they are also biased toward incumbent politicians and the bureaucrats they hire or appoint. Reporters love the status quo and one needn’t venture far from Butler County to prove that assertion. Never in my 51 years have I encountered so many journalists so positively enamored with “the way things are” than I have in the Wichita metropolitan area.

All reporters, to some extent, are reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them. Advertisers feed them money. This is why one rarely sees a hard-hitting investigation of car dealers. Public officials feed them information. This is why one rarely sees a hard-hitting investigation of, well, anything.

Reporters have become so afraid that politicians and especially cops will cut off easy access to routine stories and sound bites that they won’t risk running any coverage that might embarrass sources even if the public good demands otherwise.

Time and again during the nearly six months this blog has been in existence, I’ve broken stories that needed to be told. Examples:

  • The whistleblower lawsuit against Flinthills services and the retaliation I faced as a result of reporting on it,
  • A dispute between the Augusta Department of Public Safety director and Rose Hill officials,
  • The fact that the EMS director lives almost as far away from Butler County as I do,
  •  The real reason an Augusta cop left the department and the fact that he continued to work for the chief’s private business long after,
  • Turnover in the EMS and sheriff’s departments, and
  • Questionable donations to Sheriff Kelly Herzet’s campaign.

The only story the mainstream media covered at all was turnover at the sheriff’s department and only after it became the central issue in the campaign. Even when there was little left for reporters to do but make a few phone calls and use this blog as political “cover” for running a story, they wouldn’t pull the trigger.

Granted, I started this blog as a way to help a friend, Walker Andrews, get elected sheriff. I’ve never lied about that or tried to hide it. I also involve myself in stories and offer opinions in ways mainstream journalists wouldn’t. I don’t pretend to be something I’m not and that I never really wanted to be in the first place.

I wouldn’t have a problem with the mainstream media being “liberal,” “conservative,” or refusing to do stories because they don’t want to offend a source or an advertiser. But, for the love of God, don’t pretend to be an unbiased source of information or an occupier of the moral high ground.

You’re not on my side. You don’t have my back. And the only thing anyone should expect more of is the same. And don’t think I’m picking on TV stations. It’s just that most newspapers don’t have catchy slogans. What some papers do have that broadcast outlets usually don’t is people who are capable of investigative reporting and in-depth writing. Unfortunately, they also have editors and publishers who won’t allow those people to use their skills to hold the powerful accountable.

If traditional media are going to abandon their, uh, watchdog role — and sources and advertisers are going to utilize the stick and carrot to make sure they do — something will fill the void. People, corporations, and even government agencies will tell their own stories via social media. Rogue reporters will start blogs. Special interest group “think tanks” such as the Kansas Policy Institute will similarly circumvent the media. Before you know it, there is no more “bubble headed bleach blonde who comes on at five.”

Maybe that’s part of the grand scheme. I mean, how relevant could she be in an age when news breaks at the speed of light on cyber platforms that didn’t even exist until the second Bush Administration? By the time five o’clock rolls around, everybody already knows what’s going to be in tomorrow’s newspaper if the presses even run the next day. And the news comes on at 4 p.m. because the stations that carried Oprah have never found a suitable syndicated replacement.

So hate the lamestream media if you will, but do so for the right reason. Loathe them not for the information they bring you but for that which they do not.

Better still, instead of hating the media — even if the media you hate is me — BECOME the media. Develop a following. Learn how to dig up facts. Write or speak or photograph or shoot video of what you believe isn’t getting enough coverage. Post it on Facebook, Twitter, or a blog. Sounds trite, but be the change you want to see in the world.

That’s what we’re doing with Watchdog. I thank you for being part of our growing audience.

A Teachable Moment

By Lee White

Today’s high school students and young adults have grown up with the Internet, yet it seems as if some of them haven’t a clue how it works. Specifically, they don’t seem to grasp two key concepts:

  1. What all but an expert hacker does in cyberspace is never truly done in secret.
  2. What anyone posts online has the potential to reach millions of others often with unintended and sometimes horrifying consequences.

I was reminded of this a couple of times the past week. Those who follow the Watchdog Facebook page have undoubtedly read about the two Augusta High School girls who posted a Snapchat photo showing their Halloween costumes, which included ripped T-shirts and fake blood. The photo contained the caption, “Rape victims.”

Someone copied the photo to Twitter and the thing went viral. By Tuesday, a couple of national zines — Mic and Teen Vogue — had picked up the story. I had seen the photo for the first time when one of my Butler County Facebook friends posted it on Halloween. I resisted sharing it until it became clear that the matter had become public.

One of the girls’ parents contacted Mic and explained that the teens were actually dressing as characters from the 2013 horror flick “The Purge.” The parent acknowledged that the girls made a serious error in judgment by captioning the photo the way they did. The controversy seemed to die down somewhat after that explanation, but not before the teens reportedly received threats and drew a whole bunch of unwanted attention to themselves, their school, and their town.

I’m glad the Internet and digital cameras weren’t around when I was their age. Just about everyone I know would say the same except for the ones who are revisionist historians. But the Internet is here to stay and the best advice I can give anyone is to understand and apply those two key concepts above when using it.

Every device we use to go online has its own unique identification number called an Internet Protocol (IP) address. The number exists so that the other computers and servers we access can know where our requests are coming from and where to send the information. IP addresses also function as something of a digital fingerprint.

Go to Google and type in, “What is my IP address?” You will likely see a set of four numbers separated by periods. If you click on some of the links, you might even get a hint as to where you are located. Location information is not entirely accurate, as the owner and renters of this northwest Butler County farmhouse discovered. Their property was identified as the default location of many IP addresses and the poor folks were harassed endlessly and unintentionally by everyone from cops to bill collectors.

Especially in the case of smart phones and laptops with wireless access plans, the IP address location may appear in a different place from where the user is actually located. For example, my iPhone still has a Contra Costa County, California, area code and phone number. I kept the number because my dad, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, could remember it until earlier this year. On one search I did, the IP address location was in the Los Angeles area about 400 miles south of Contra Costa County. When I did the search, I was sitting at my desk here in Missouri. Bottom line: Never rely on IP address location searches.

For the average Internet user, IP address searches reveal the name of the individual’s service provider, contact information for the provider, and some basic — often inaccurate — location data. Law enforcement officers and attorneys, however, can find out who the IP address actually belongs to, where that person lives, and sometimes even a current or recent location based on cell phone signals. This is how they track down criminals or prove allegations in a civil case. Most of the time, they need a judge’s order to obtain the information. Sometimes they don’t.

The blog you’re reading logs IP addresses of those who send messages or leave comments, which I can see on the blog’s administration panel. The server logs of any website collect time-stamped IP address data.

As a supporter of free expression, I give people wide latitude in the sorts of comments they leave on the blog or on Facebook. Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet recently took to his campaign Facebook page to complain about supporters of his opponent, Walker Andrews, making profane comments, which he or his campaign staff deleted. I strongly condemn such behavior. Although profanity-laced tirades are probably legal, Herzet has every right to delete those comments. If they cross the line into criminal threats of violence, I hope he uses the courts to discover the identity of the individual(s) making them and prosecutes them to the fullest extent of the law.

Remember, the First Amendment protects us from government officials restricting our right to free speech. It does not stop private citizens from complaining in a lawful manner about what we do or say or exposing our “speech” to the world at large as happened in the case of the Augusta teens. As a frequent user of e-mail and social media, I must constantly remind myself to think before hitting “post” or “send.” Now is the perfect moment to remind young and old alike to do the same.