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.

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.

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.

Anonymity And Credibility

By Lee White

There are times when it is necessary to offer information sources anonymity. People are often afraid to speak publicly because they fear losing their jobs or even their lives. Even when one has a legitimate need for anonymity, however, there is a bit of credibility lost when one won’t stake his name and reputation on what he says.

Law enforcement is a profession that values secrecy maybe more than it should. Undoubtedly, one does not want to reveal information that could jeopardize an ongoing investigation or put officers in harm’s way. As is the case with most other professions, however, the “need” for secrecy is frequently a “want.” It is rooted in a desire not to embarrass the profession, a department, or those who run a department, not in any real need to protect life or property.

When evaluating the credibility of a source who requests anonymity and the information that source provides, I ask myself, “What does the source have to lose?” If the answer is, “not much,” I begin to question the validity of the information that source provides. I may use that information, but only after confirming it independently with another source or, preferably, with physical evidence such as a document or recording that corroborates what the anonymous source tells me.

There are two reasons I haven’t written much about the Becky Stone case despite the fact that I’ve known about it for eight years. First, there are reputations at stake — those of law enforcement, anyone who may have been present when Stone died, and my own. The last thing I want to do is to publish a false fact, harm someone’s reputation, get sued for it, and forfeit my own credibility. Second, some of the sources have been reluctant to “go public.”

When Sigrid and David Denchfield showed up at the July 11 Republican candidate meet-and-greet in El Dorado, I finally wrote something about this case. I identified the Denchfields and stated that they questioned the findings of police and the autopsy report connected with their daughter’s death. The mainstream media, including the Butler County Times-Gazette, did the same.

Because the Denchfields “went public,” so did I but on a limited basis. No reporter I know wants to place innocent people under suspicion of having committed a crime. And I know what that feels like thanks to Flinthills Services’ baseless accusation to the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services (click here for more).

I have encouraged privately and now I am encouraging publicly those with information about the Becky Stone case to tell their stories to members of the mainstream media who have access to the resources it will take to publish this information. When I say “resources,” I mean money to pay an experienced attorney to review the story to determine whether it might be defamatory. I simply do not have the money to handle that, so I will have to let the “big boys” decide whether to run the story.

Sheriff Kelly Herzet and Augusta Department of Public Safety Chief Tyler Brewer drew far more attention to the Stone case than anyone by speaking with the Times-Gazette for this story. In their haste to score a political “hit” by linking sheriff candidate Walker Andrews to the release of the Stone story, Brewer and Herzet threw the rumor mill into overdrive.

If Brewer and Herzet truly believed there were no inconsistencies in the investigation — if they were really concerned about the Denchfields’ grief being used for political gain — they would have allowed the matter to drift naturally from public consciousness. To paraphrase a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “The sheriff and chief doth protest too much, methinks.”

The voters would be right to question Herzet’s judgment for breathing life into what otherwise might have been viewed as just another conspiracy theory. Of course, this isn’t the first time in recent memory that Chief Brewer was unable to resist the temptation to lash out at enemies real or perceived.

As this blog post explains, Brewer sent a letter to Rose Hill officials in May complaining about remarks that town’s city administrator allegedly made concerning the sexual preference of an Augusta Department of Public Safety sergeant. The letter Brewer sent listed by name a sergeant who had been sent a copy. I redacted the name from the letter because I don’t want to get into the business of implying whether someone is gay or straight. As long as that individual is a good law enforcement officer, it doesn’t matter.

Many folks seem to think Chief Brewer is a good guy including Walker Andrews, who worked for him at the Wichita Police Department. One wonders, however, whether it is time for Brewer to call it a career. Both these situations clearly called for restraint and the call went unanswered. There might be more at stake next time.

Parents Respond To Brewer, Herzet Allegations In Daughter’s Death Investigation

There is a basic fact that the Times-Gazette left out and that I am leaving out concerning this case until such time as I can speak with legal counsel. Suffice it to say that this fact would make it crystal clear as to why the sheriff’s department was mentioned in a newspaper story about a case that fell under the Augusta Department of Public Safety’s jurisdiction. I will say that I have known about this case for the past eight years, but have not reported on it because I did not believe I had enough proof. The first I wrote anything publicly about this was in captions under pictures of a protest that occurred on Monday, July 11, at a Republican candidate meet-and-greet at Butler Community College. I was quite surprised that Chief Brewer and Sheriff Herzet chose to call this much attention to it. — Lee White

The parents of Becky Stone, an Augusta woman whose 2003 shooting death was ruled a suicide, have issued this statement regarding a story that appeared on July 19, 2016, on the Butler County Times-Gazette’s website.  Click here to view it.

“In response to this article, this is our only comment: Upon learning of Mr. Andrews’ candidacy for Butler County Sheriff, we approached him with this question. ‘If you are elected sheriff, will you do what you can to try and reopen our daughter’s case?’ We would like it reviewed with fresh eyes not affiliated with the Butler County sheriff’s office at the time of her death. With the exception of Mr. Cox and Mr. Andrews, the other candidates were employed by the Butler County sheriff’s office at that time. We welcome any attempts to give us answers to troubling questions surrounding Becky’s death. Our purpose is not to politicize this race, rather to seek answers. The tragedy of losing our daughter is undefinable.

David and Sigrid Denchfield”

This statement appeared as a comment on the Times-Gazette’s website under the story linked above.

UPDATE 9:25 a.m. July 21, 2016: Sheriff candidate Walker Andrews has issued this statement: 

“Friends and Supporters, I have been quiet reference to Augusta’s Police Chief statements about me and my campaign. Talk about something completely blown out of proportion. Very simple Chief. I was vetted and asked by the parents of Becky Stone if I would review their daughter’s case. The main reason was because I was never part of the Sheriff’s office with a fresh look. That’s it. If something devastating happened to your family, wouldn’t you want the same? What if you had some unanswered questions about the incident. If any citizen from Butler Co. asked me to review something, I don’t care if its a barking dog complaint, as Sheriff, I feel obligated to do so. I am elected by the people, not appointed. Furthermore, you know me Sir. Just a simple phone call for clarification would have taken care of any questions you may have had. Instead, you chose to discredit me in a public newspaper. Didn’t think that was your style. You had a a knee jerk reaction, without giving me a chance to talk to you. Even though people have read the statements you made about me, I have always respected you and thought you were a perfect fit as Augusta’s Police Chief. I welcome a chance to talk with you in person.”