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.

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.

Police Officer Continues Role In Chief’s Business After State Certification Revoked

By Lee White

A long-time Augusta Department of Public Safety (ADPS) officer who had his state law enforcement certification revoked apparently continues part-time work as a diving instructor at a business owned by ADPS Director Tyler Brewer. The Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training revoked Michael Stueven’s law enforcement certification on September 12, according to this website. Stueven was officially notified of the revocation on August 25 and apparently chose not to request a hearing to appeal the decision within the required 15 days.

Click here to view a copy of the commission’s Summary Order of Revocation obtained via a Kansas Open Records Act request. Among the allegations it contains:

  • Stueven, by his own admission, exchanged inappropriate Facebook and text messages with a female prisoner he was assigned to transport to Augusta from the Kansas Department of Corrections Women’s Correctional Facility in Topeka and back to prison. The prisoner transports occurred on January 26 and 27, 2016. The document identifies the woman as K.S.
  • Stueven encouraged his own department to issue an arrest warrant for an individual identified in the order as O.F. and pushed the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office to revoke O.F.’s bond. The order stated that the woman and O.F. were involved in a “violent relationship.”
  • Stueven, who was married but admitted “pursuing K.S.,” put her up in a motel for two days following her release from prison and O.F.’s arrest.
  • Stueven failed a polygraph examination during which he stated he never had sex with the woman.

The order indicates ADPS hired Stueven on June 21, 1994, and that his last day was March 4, 2016. Stueven had served as an investigations sergeant for several years. He was also trained as a firefighter, which is the norm for departments of public safety where officers are cross-trained for both law enforcement and the fire service.

Brewer is a former Wichita police major who has served as ADPS director since February 1, 2003, according to the department’s website. Brewer served as police chief in Jefferson City, Missouri, prior to taking the Augusta position.

On February 7, 2007, Brewer formed a limited liability company called Amber Waves Diving. This annual report to the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office indicates Brewer is president and treasurer of the company. Tim Follis, an ADPS lieutenant, is listed in the report as a director.

Amber Waves Diving operates a retail store at 307 S. Greenwich Road in Wichita, according to its website. The company also offers SCUBA diving classes. In addition to Brewer and Follis, two other members of the ADPS are involved with Amber Waves. Officer Derek Highbarger teaches safety classes and Sgt. Chad McCluskey handles information technology duties. Other prominent individuals from the emergency services community in Butler and Sedgwick counties also serve as instructors.

As of this writing, Stueven is still listed as a staff member on  amberwavesdiving.com. His biography has been changed to reflect his departure from the ADPS. Click here for a screen capture of his bio dated February 5, 2016, from archive.org.

I have sent e-mails to Augusta City Administrator Josh Shaw, Mayor Matt Childers, and Brewer, as well as a Facebook message to Stueven seeking comment. If and when I hear from them, I will publish their statements.

Why This Matters

In discussing this story with friends and family since I learned about it on Monday, some expressed the opinion that what Brewer does with his private business shouldn’t matter. Normally, I would agree except for the following reasons:

  1. Three of the men Brewer currently supervises at ADPS (and now one he used to) are involved with Amber Waves Diving. One is even part owner. Firefighters, rescue personnel, and a law enforcement officer from other agencies are also involved. I know a couple of these men and have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for them, but given the close relationship between the public agency and Amber Waves, this is a story worth telling.
  2. ADPS recently weathered another, even more serious allegation of sexual misconduct when Officer Jerry Ballinger pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated indecent liberties with a child. Click here for the Wichita Eagle story from 2013. Ballinger apparently took his own life in 2015, according to this Butler County Times-Gazette story. In my opinion, Brewer sent the wrong message about inappropriate sexual conduct to his subordinates on the ADPS and to the public by keeping Stueven on in his diving business.
  3. The Topeka Correctional Facility where Stueven picked up the female inmate involved in this story was rocked by a sex scandal in 2009. Tim Carpenter, of the Topeka Capital-Journal, broke the story and wrote this follow-up piece earlier this year about a large lawsuit judgment one of the women won. Carpenter’s reporting led to a change in state law that makes it illegal for those in positions of authority such as police officers, prison guards, and teachers to have sex with those under their control regardless of whether they have reached the age of consent.

Perhaps Stueven himself said it best in this 2011 Times-Gazette officer profile: “I don’t think a lot of people realize that once you put on a badge, it follows you everywhere you go, twenty-four hours a day.”