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.

Andrews Picks Raney For Undersheriff


By Lee White

Roy Raney will serve as undersheriff if Walker Andrews is elected sheriff on Tuesday. Raney is a former Butler County undersheriff and Rose Hill police chief, who has more than 40 years of law enforcement experience. He also worked for the Wichita Police Department and Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Department.

In announcing Raney’s appointment as undersheriff, Andrews said he needed a second-in-command who had “been there, done that.” Andrews especially wanted an undersheriff who had prior experience with budgets and in running the sheriff’s department. Raney served as undersheriff under Craig Murphy until retiring in 2009.

Andrews is a retired Wichita police lieutenant with nearly 30 years of law enforcement experience. He claims endorsements by former Attorney General Vern Miller, the Fraternal Order of Police, and Operation Rescue. The anti-abortion group’s leader, Troy Newman, endorsed Andrews despite his having arrested Newman multiple times during the 1991 “Summer of Mercy” protests outside the clinic of the late abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.

Sheriff candidate Mike Holton earlier announced Scott Duryea would serve as his undersheriff. Duryea is a former member of the Butler County Sheriff’s Department, who currently serves as school resource officer for the Circle Unified School District. Candidate Curtis Cox has not announced his choice for undersheriff. The current undersheriff, Tony Wilhite, would presumably continue to serve if Sheriff Kelly Herzet is re-elected.

Fired Court Security Deputy Speaks Out

By Lee White

Deputies who have left the Butler County Sheriff’s Department either by choice or otherwise are beginning to come forward to tell their stories. The latest is Jessica Stroer, who started with the department as a jail deputy in 2007 and was fired on April 1, 2014, according to her account and public records featured in this blog post. 

“In 2012, I had a depression issue,” Stroer said. “I was released from the hospital that night. Ever since I had that depression issue, they have done nothing but target me. Like, anything I did I was called to the office for. It was like a had a red target on my back ever since then.”

Stroer said that after a counselor released her to return to work, she was called into a meeting with Sheriff Kelly Herzet, Undersheriff Tony Wilhite, and Captain Don Currier.

“That meeting was to tell me pretty much that they’re going to be hard on me, they’re going to pretty much watch me and, like I told my partner when that happened, if I was actually really, truly depressed, that meeting probably would have made me go over the edge because not one time did they ask if I was OK,” Stroer said. “It was everything I’m doing wrong and how they’re going to be hard on me.”

From that point forward, Stroer said she received poor job evaluations and was even accused of using her cell phone to take photographs under women’s clothing while working security at the court house. She was called into a meeting with Detective Tim Eldredge, but after she showed him her phone and he talked to the women, she never heard any more about the incident.

It was Stroer’s use of a cell phone that led to her firing. She said her mother was undergoing a surgical procedure and Stroer checked her text messages to see how her mom was doing. She was fired for violating policy by using her phone on duty — a policy she said was not followed for other deputies.

“Every single one of them up there had a cell phone with them — even the sergeant — at all times,” Stroer said. “I mean, there was one of the guys, the deputies that sat in the back watching movies and playing games.”

After leaving Butler County, Stroer interviewed with the U.S. Marshal’s Service for a job doing federal court security. She received a letter offering her the job, but the offer was contingent on a background check. Stroer said she later received a phone call from the marshal’s service stating that they couldn’t hire her. She said she believes that was because of what the marshal’s service learned from the sheriff’s department.

Stroer now works in asset protection for a Wal-Mart distribution center in Oklahoma. She has a message for Butler County voters.

“I would tell the voters of Butler County to not vote for Herzet,” Stroer said. “Since he has been in office he has ran the sheriff’s department down. I know of numerous sheriff’s deputies that have left because of the way the sheriff’s department is run and it used to be a good sheriff’s department.

“I believe when (Craig) Murphy had it, it was a great sheriff’s department and as soon as Herzet got in, it went downhill.”

During the coming days, I’ll be following up with some other deputies who have indicated they want to tell their stories. If you’re a current or former deputy who wants to talk, please contact me.

Woman Claims Sheriff, Command Staff Referred To Her As ‘Nazi Bitch’

By Lee White

Last week, retired Butler County Sheriff Craig Murphy said he was approached by a woman of German heritage who claimed current Sheriff Kelly Herzet and members of his command staff referred to her as the “Nazi bitch.” Betty Lou Philippsen was born in Germany and immigrated to the U.S. in 1991. She now holds dual citizenship. From December of 2010 until February of this year, Philippsen served as victim-witness coordinator for Butler County Attorney Darrin Devinney.

“My fiancé worked at the sheriff’s department as a deputy. When he left to go to El Dorado Police Department — I believe it was in November of last year — on his last day somebody approached me and told me that was going on,” Philippsen said. “That person worked at the sheriff’s department and was very much in fear of losing their job. It was independently validated to me by another person probably a month or so later because I sat on it for a minute. I understand there’s a man’s reputation at risk, his job, his career, so I don’t take that very lightly, but I think it needs to be told.”

Philippsen said she was surprised to learn that Herzet and the others referred to her in that manner because she thought she had a good working relationship with the department. She said she did not discuss the matter with Devinney because she didn’t believe it was directly related to her job performance, but did complain to County Administrator Will Johnson.

“I explained it to him and the first thing that he said was, ‘who told you’ and I told him ‘I’m not going to tell you,'” said Philippsen, who claims to have recorded the conversation. “It went from there to why I wasn’t telling him. I was not going to give them up. I also know for a fact that if he really wanted to find out if it was the truth or not, ask people. Ask everyone because if everyone has been asked it will be discovered who did say it. I don’t know if he did or not. I never heard back.”

Johnson told her there was nothing he could do because the sheriff is an elected official who does not report to him, Philippsen said. She added that she went to Johnson in January only after learning she had another job lined up. She said she hasn’t spoken with an attorney about the matter.

“I feel what was said about me is appalling, but I feel as a German, I am perfectly comfortable with who I am,” Philippsen said. “I think what the problem here is is a man at (Herzet’s) level and including the undersheriff at their level, it’s unacceptable. This kind of behavior, these kind of taunts I would expect of people who were 18, 19, 20 years old who have just come out of the academy and are gung-ho and just don’t know yet and I would expect that a sergeant or lieutenant — somebody — would take them aside and say, ‘look, this is not acceptable,’ and to curb that.”

One of the individuals who told Philippsen about the Nazi comments and “some other people” reported to her that the sheriff had referred to a female Hispanic assistant county attorney as the “Mexican snatch.” Philippsen said the attorney told her she had not heard that allegation from anyone other than Philippsen, who said the attorney has since resigned from the office. Attempts to find contact information for the attorney have thus far been unsuccessful.

Fiancé Suffers Job Troubles

Philippsen’s fiancé, who has asked that his name not be used, is an El Dorado police officer. He left the sheriff’s department in November 2015 after about five years. He started as a detention officer and worked his way up to road patrol. Philippsen spent much of our interview discussing her fiancé’s plight and those of other deputies who have told her they were either fired or quit because of issues with management.

“Over the years, I had a lot of deputies talk to me and I felt when I finally went to Will Johnson I did not just go for my reason,” Philippsen said. “I went sort of for the deputies and that includes my fiancé obviously because they have a job where they cannot speak out. They cannot speak out against their administration. They will get blackballed, which has happened at this department.”

Philippsen’s fiancé said his problems started when he applied for a job with a sheriff’s department north of Seattle. Philippsen’s family lives in Washington and the two had hoped to move there to be closer to them. The fiancé said he believes he lost the first position he applied for in February 2015 because of a write-up he received in 2011 for tardiness at the jail. He said the reprimand was supposed to have been removed from his personnel file after a year, but it was still there when an investigator for the Washington sheriff came to El Dorado to examine it as part of a background check.

Months later, the deputy applied for another position in Washington. He went to an El Dorado travel agency to buy a plane ticket on a Friday morning. The agent questioned him about why he was going to Seattle and what line of work he was in. The questions became more pointed when he told her he worked for the Butler County Sheriff’s Department. He said she asked about turnover and working conditions, which he replied to as “politely and politically correctly as possible.”

The following Tuesday, he was called into a meeting with Detective Robert Albert, and hit with a two-day paid suspension, which is normally reserved for criminal investigations. He said he had to turn in his gun and was questioned in an interrogation room for about three hours about the travel agency encounter. Captain Don Currier later gave him a five-day unpaid suspension for conduct unbecoming an officer. The deputy disclosed the suspension when he spoke with officers who were interviewing him for the job in Washington and later received a rejection letter.

Philippsen and the fiancé say they believe he was unfairly targeted because he was trying to leave the department. They fear the investigation and suspension in his personnel file will make it impossible for him ever to find law enforcement work outside the local area, although he enjoys his job in El Dorado. They say he wasn’t the only deputy who suffered a similar fate. I plan to speak with other deputies who have left the department to get their take on the reasons for turnover described in this blog post.

Philippsen said she knows there will be people who say her fiancé is simply a disgruntled former employee.

“That’s sort of what Herzet likes to also say,” Philippsen said. “He goes so far as to say that he expected a higher quality of law enforcement, so all these people who have left have left for better paying jobs or they just didn’t measure up.

“I mean, (Herzet is) going out and…attacking the people proactively that have left to disqualify anything that they said. There is a difference between a disgruntled employee who maybe deserved to be fired, maybe wasn’t up to the par of what you expect and then there are the employees who have been fired and have left because they can’t stomach it anymore. And out of the turnover how many were actually fired? The majority of them have left because they couldn’t do it anymore.”

Philippsen provided me with a copy of this document titled, “Sheriff Herzet Discusses Turnover.” In it, he claims at least some of the turnover is due to retirements, promotions, and transfers, as well as deputies leaving for higher pay.

“Increased accountability has also contributed to turnover,” Herzet wrote. “When I ran for office four years ago, I promised the citizens of Butler County more accountability and professionalism. Upon taking office, I delivered on that promise raised the bar and started holding the deputies to higher standards.

“Having been a detective for ten years, I am keenly aware of the importance of accurate and complete paperwork and the vital role it plays in holding criminals responsible for their crimes. One of the first things I did was to make accuracy of paperwork a focus for our office.”

Former Sheriff Craig Murphy, in an interview covered in this blog post, chided Herzet for driving off 150 years of experience and blamed that in part on disciplining deputies for minor paperwork errors.

An e-mail has been sent to Herzet, Johnson, and Devinney offering them the opportunity to comment. If they do, I will publish those comments in their entirety.

Retired Sheriff Murphy: Herzet ‘A Big Disappointment To Me’

By Lee White

Retired Butler County Sheriff Craig Murphy spoke to me for nearly an hour Thursday afternoon about the current sheriff’s race and Sheriff Kelly Herzet, the man who replaced him when health issues forced his retirement in 2011. Murphy agreed with my assertions that it is time for a change in leadership at the sheriff’s department.

“He’s been a big disappointment to me,” Murphy said of Herzet, whom he appointed undersheriff in 2009. “He wanted to be sheriff so bad and I knew it and so, you know, I thought we would have some time that I could teach him what’s going on and guide him to where he would be able to take over and, uh, you know, that wasn’t the plan God had.”

Murphy said he invited Herzet to his house to discuss issues within the department that needed to be addressed — including personnel matters involving supervisory staff — but that Herzet eventually stopped seeking his advice. Someone later showed Murphy a meme Herzet circulated on his phone depicting Murphy being blown up by a missile.

“I knew right then and there, well, you know what, here’s what’s gonna happen, he’s just dismissing everything I told him,” Murphy said. “And that’s not a big deal. I could live with that if that’s the way he was going to do things, but then what you’ve got is the next thing that comes that he drives off or fires 150 years of experience.”

Murphy referred to recent Watchdog blog posts concerning turnover, particularly in the road patrol section of the sheriff’s department and comments readers left that deputies felt as if they had “targets on their back.” Murphy said Herzet blamed the departures on low pay and a lack of dedication to the profession, but that the blame truly lies with management.

“Those people would still be working there today if I was still the sheriff,” Murphy said. “And I’m not bragging. I’ve been told that by these people. I have talked to several of them who have left and not a one of them left because of pay.

“It’s because they were made a target or the morale attitude down at that department was so far gone they could no longer deal with it. They were picked on in any manner they could including writing reports, leaving out commas and periods and just nonsensical things. You don’t throw 150 years worth of experience out the window for that.”

Murphy said members of the public have approached him an average of once a week since he left office asking him to come back or complaining about the current administration. He said he has referred people who were unhappy about criminal investigations to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Kansas Attorney General’s Office.

Murphy said he was also approached by a woman who works for Butler County Attorney Darrin Devinney. The woman is from Germany.

“‘The sheriff and the administration of the sheriff’s office openly refer to me at the Nazi bitch,'” Murphy said the woman told him. “She said, ‘well, that’s not the whole story,’ so I said, ‘what’s the whole story?’ Well, apparently, Darrin Devinney had a, I’m going to use the term, a Latino working for him and she was referred to by the sheriff’s office as the Mexican snatch.”

Murphy told the woman to file a complaint with County Administrator Will Johnson, but he doesn’t know what became of it. One other source besides Murphy has given this account to me. I have e-mailed Devinney and Johnson concerning the matter and will publish whatever responses I receive.

Another situation I have heard about from multiple sources including Murphy is the January death of a prominent El Dorado businessman and bail bondsman who reportedly suffered a stroke in the lobby of the Butler County Jail. I have decided not to name him publicly out of respect for his surviving family members, but anyone who has been around El Dorado any length of time probably knows who I’m referring to.

According to Murphy and others, two jail deputies who were leaving work stepped over the man’s body and went home.

“But apparently the two jailers don’t recognize a body laying in the jail foyer and step over him, go home, and have to be called back in, and what I have heard is that Kelly found no wrongdoing,” Murphy said. “I’ve got a large, large problem with that.”

Murphy, who was sheriff when Kasie Ducharme died at the jail, said she didn’t receive proper medical care from the staff the department contracted with. He said he encouraged county commissioners to bring in a new provider, which meeting minutes from the period corroborate. Click here for the blog post about Ducharme’s death.

“I was not aware or flat don’t remember the part that you had in there and the answers that Herzet did on the investigation and I can assure you that if I’d have known that at the time, I’d have had a large problem with it,” Murphy said. “My comment would have probably been the same as yours: ‘Great work, detective!'”

In Herzet’s sworn deposition testimony from the Ducharme case, he said he may have briefed Murphy about his investigative findings, but never gave him a copy of his report. He also did not forward it to the county attorney, the attorney general, or the KBI. I originally published Herzet’s testimony in 2012.

Murphy also criticized a directive that deputies are not to back city police, saying he’s not sure whether the order remains in effect. Herzet has made inter-agency cooperation a cornerstone of both his election campaigns.

So who is Murphy backing for sheriff in the August 2 Republican primary? It’s Mike Holton, an El Dorado police sergeant who left the sheriff’s department as a road patrol lieutenant in 2014 after nearly 25 years. Murphy said Holton consults him frequently about the campaign and law enforcement matters.

“Mike Holton was with me, well, his whole career,” Murphy said. ” I was working there when Mike came in. Mike and I were about as close as you could say a boss should get with an employee, which is one of Kelly’s little problems, but Mike was one of my better lieutenants, and Mike paid a whole lot more attention to me than I thought he did.”

Murphy said there are aspects of a sheriff’s job that no one can understand until he is actually in the position.

“Really, the only thing a sheriff is is the janitor because it’s my job to go around cleaning up everyone else’s mess,” Murphy said. “Everything that occurs in the sheriff’s office that can go wrong falls on the sheriff himself whether anybody believes that’s fair or not, that falls on the sheriff himself. And you better be able to handle it, you better be able to deal with it, you better be able to live with it. And this is one thing that I’m not seeing with Kelly.

“If you look at Kelly’s website or Facebook page – whatever they call them – what you see is a lot of ‘me, me, me, me, me, me, me, look how wonderful I am. I’m the sheriff. I’m somebody.’ Well, the truth of the matter is, yeah, you’re somebody – not what you think somebody is – you’re nothing but the janitor. And it’s not your job to be the most popular guy in the county. It’s your job to keep law and order to the best of your ability, and with compassion, concern, and, you know, that just doesn’t come out of Kelly.”

Revisiting The Kasie Ducharme Jail Death Story

Note: This post was originally published on a blog I kept during the 2012 election cycle. I have updated some of the links.

By Lee White

Kasie Ducharme, a 27-year- old mother of three, was arrested by Augusta police the afternoon of June 21, 2007, on a probation violation warrant and taken to the Butler County Jail. Four days later, she was dead, the victim of an infection known as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Click here for some facts about MRSA from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

In 2009, Ducharme’s mother, Dana Rogers, sued Butler County, Sheriff Craig Murphy, several deputies and jail medical staff, as well as Dr. Richard Kuhns, an El Dorado physician who, at the time, had a contract with the county to provide health care for inmates. The lawsuit was settled out of court on July 20, 2011. The county’s insurer paid $75,000, but the terms of the settlement with Dr. Kuhns and his company, El Dorado Internal Medicine, LLC, were confidential. None of the defendants admitted being at fault for Ducharme’s death.

Medical staff at the jail, including an advanced registered nurse practitioner — a nurse allowed to prescribe medications and order procedures under the supervision of a physician – a licensed practical nurse, and a certified nurse aide examined Ducharme at various times during her incarceration. A physician never examined her while she was in custody except for the one who pronounced her dead when she was taken by ambulance to Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital in El Dorado the evening of June 25.

Legal and other public documents regarding Ducharme’s tragic death not only reveal an apparent failure to detect and treat a survivable illness, but they call into question the investigative procedures of current Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet, who was the lead detective assigned to the Ducharme case. The documents also show that Butler County Commissioners and County Administrator Will Johnson, took an active role in choosing jail health care providers, including terminating the contract with Dr. Kuhns in 2008. Under Kansas law, the sheriff is in charge of the jail; however, county commissioners hold the purse strings.

The facts presented in this story were obtained from two orders signed by U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten, who presided over the case, as well as the deposition of Herzet. A deposition is sworn testimony taken before trial in an attempt to discover the facts of the case. Butler County Commission minutes were also examined. Links to the documents appear below.

The Timeline

The day after arriving at the jail, Ducharme complained of right hip pain. She stated that she didn’t remember what happened to her hip. An examination noted “drug track marks” on both arms and that Ducharme reported using one gram of methamphetamine a day. At autopsy, however, the only drugs discovered in Ducharme’s system were Tylenol and Tramadol, painkillers she had been given at the jail, according to Herzet’s deposition.

Ducharme’s next request for medical treatment came at 3:34 a.m. June 24. Deputy Dana Burns sent Tamara Harper, the advanced registered nurse practitioner, this e-mail: “Ducharme #2520 In complaining of pain from her right knee up to her right hip. Her right knee is double the size of her left knee. No bruising that I can see, pulses are good in her foot and she was able to apply pressure to my hand and pulls against my hand with her foot. She stated she was seen by a nurse when she was booked in on the 21st.”

Jean Valentine, a licensed practical nurse, then examined Ducharme at about 9:30 a.m. Valentine noted that Ducharme’s knee was swollen and gave her some Motrin, a painkiller, and an ice pack.

Ducharme filled out a medical treatment request form at 11 p.m. stating, in part: “My leg is broke. I need to go to the hospital now I can’t take the pain any more it’s hurting my chest now. Please thanks, Kasie. What time and day did the injury or illness begin? Day I got arrested.” Marla Park, a certified nurse aide, then examined Ducharme.

In his June 1, 2011, order dismissing some of Rogers’ claims and allowing others to go to trial, Judge Marten wrote: “Initially she complained of chest pain and stated that her leg was broken. Park asked her why she was in medical and she stated, ‘I need to go to the hospital, I can’t breathe, my leg is broken, I want to stay in here, it’s cool, my chest hurts, you need to give me something for the pain, or take me to the hospital.’ However, she talked without distress and did not stop to take a breath. Ducharme further expressed her desire for medication because ‘there were lots of other women in the dorm that get all kinds of meds, and their leg isn’t hurting them and I want what they’re getting.’ Park explained to her that she could not just get any medicine she wanted. Ducharme then said ‘my leg is causing my chest to ache.’ Park asked if her chest was hurting and she said no. Park notified Harper, and they gave Ducharme 6 packets of Ibuprofen and an ice pack.”

Harper, the nurse practitioner, first examined Ducharme at about 9:30 a.m. June 25. Ducharme was taken to the jail medical facility in a wheelchair. In addition to leg pain, she complained of intermittent pain in her left lower rib and chest wall when she breathed in. Harper prescribed the painkillers Ibuprofen, Tramadol, and Tylenol, ice packs, and ordered an X-ray of Ducharme’s knee, which revealed no fracture.

After lunch, Ducharme, in a wheelchair, attended a court hearing before Butler County District Judge David Ricke. She was throwing up and told Ricke, “they’re being so mean and I asked to go to EMS and they won’t take me ‘cause they said they were low staff.” Ricke ordered that court staff send written communication to the jail to make sure Ducharme was getting the medical treatment she needed; however, there was a dispute as to whether the medical staff was ever notified of Ricke’s order.

“Deputy Chad Archer relieved (Deputy Michael) Schmidt from his shift at about 5:18 p.m. Before he left, Ducharme fell while walking to the restroom,” Judge Marten wrote. “April Blackburn and Amy Cain-Sudderth, inmates, testified that Schmidt laughed and told everyone not to help her up and that if she could not get up on her own she could ‘piss herself.’”

According to a footnote in Marten’s order, Schmidt was on a “period of reckoning” on the night Ducharme died. He had been suspended for three days and placed on probation for obtaining a female inmate’s telephone number about 10 months earlier.

Ducharme’s condition continued to worsen. About 6:30 p.m., a couple of inmates helped Ducharme take a shower. They had to carry her on a mat. She couldn’t hold her head up. Judge Marten’s order describes Kasie Ducharme’s final moments:

“At 8:03 p.m, Park paged Harper at her home and informed her Ducharme was complaining of increased pain and that her hands were purple, blotchy, and she was yellow in color. Harper left her house and arrived at the jail at 8:30 p.m. While waiting for Ducharme, Amy Cain, an inmate, informed Harper she had helped Ducharme shower earlier in the day because Ducharme had trouble standing. A jail deputy then notified Harper that Ducharme had fallen from the wheelchair and was lying on the floor in the doorway of the women’s dorm.

“Harper arrived at the women’s dorm and saw Ducharme lying supine on the floor, she was pale and dry. Her feet were blotchy and her oral membranes were dry. Her pulse was 80. Several other inmates told Harper Ducharme was ‘shooting Dilaudid’ and methamphetamine and that she was walking on her own at times that day. After yelling at her to get up, Harper assisted Ducharme to a sitting position and Corporal Torres transported her to the clinic in a wheelchair.

“In the exam room, Ducharme appeared weak and moaned in response to questions. As Harper lifted Ducharme to help her onto the bed, Ducharme became unresponsive with agonal respirations and no noticeable pulse. Harper yelled at her to get up, then moved her to the floor and began CPR. EMS was notified. EMS applied an Automated External Defibrillator to her and resuscitation efforts continued. EMS then transported Ducharme to the emergency room at Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital, where Dr. Rundell and the emergency room staff assumed care until all resuscitation efforts ceased.”

At 9:44 p.m. June 25, 2007, Kasie Ducharme was pronounced dead. Survivors included her children, Kaylee, James, and Alexander, and her parents, Jeff and Dana Rogers, all of Augusta. There was a visitation and a private family funeral service.

El Dorado Internal Medicine’s own expert, Dr. David McKinsey, faulted Park, the certified nurse aide, and Harper, the advanced registered nurse practitioner, for deviating from the standard of care. McKinsey criticized Harper for failing to order a chest X-ray, send Ducharme to the emergency room for evaluation of chest pain, or characterize the right lower leg swelling at the morning appointment the day Kasie died. He said Harper should have called an ambulance when she was called to come to the jail and immediately upon seeing Ducharme after arriving at the jail. Although Ducharme had a 50 percent chance of survival 22 hours before her death, she still had “a reasonable shot at survival as late as 8:30 p.m.,” McKinsey testified.

The Investigation

Current Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet was a detective the night Kasie Ducharme died. Because he was on call, he became the lead investigator. He was a patrol deputy from 1984 until 1987 when he took a job at the Wolf Creek Nuclear Power Plant. Herzet then returned to patrol in 1993 before being promoted to detective in 2000. Then-Sheriff Craig Murphy appointed Herzet undersheriff in Dec. 2009. Dana Rogers’ attorney, Christian Webb, took a deposition from Herzet on March 1, 2010.

As undersheriff, Herzet was responsible for jail operations and had an office at the jail, which is located just east of El Dorado. Herzet estimated that he had been involved in “probably a hundred” death investigations, including four homicides, during his law enforcement career. He testified that this was his first investigation of a jail death.

Herzet testified that Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent Randy Ewy assisted with the investigation, but did not take an active role. The Kansas Legislature passed a law effective July 1, 2004, requiring the KBI to investigate all inmate deaths. The next year, the Legislature amended the law so that the KBI was not required to investigate inmate deaths if an autopsy, preliminary autopsy report, or death certificate determined a death was from natural causes, or if the inmate had received regular care from a licensed physician, according to an Associated Press story from August 21, 2005.

In his questioning, Webb focused on the manner in which Herzet gathered his information. None of the interviews with inmates or staff was recorded despite the fact that the sheriff’s department has an interview room equipped with audio and video equipment at its offices on South Gordy in El Dorado, as well as portable recording equipment. Herzet also did not ask nurse practitioner Tamara Harper to fill out a written report as he had done with inmates and jail deputies.

WEBB: And did you ask Nurse Harper to fill out a written statement?

HERZET: Nurse Harper told me it would be easier for her just to walk me through her documented medical chart to do my interview.

WEBB: And was that in response to your request for a written statement?

HERZET: I don’t remember if I asked her to do a written statement. She told me her medical record would speak for itself and tell the story.

A bit later in the deposition, Webb asked whether Herzet had inquired about medical tests Harper had ordered or consultation with other providers about Ducharme’s condition.

WEBB: So in your interview with Nurse Harper, did you ask her any questions about what testing was undertaken or did you just listen?

HERZET: I just listened to what she had to say.

WEBB: After you got what she had to say, was there any follow-up with another medical provider independent of Nurse Harper to ascertain —

HERZET: No, sir.

WEBB: — what was done? No?

HERZET: No.

WEBB: Did Nurse Harper explain who she works for or where she works?

HERZET: No, and I didn’t ask.

WEBB: Did Nurse Harper explain whether or not she consulted with anyone on Ms. Ducharme’s treatment on June 25th, 2007?

HERZET: I don’t know and I didn’t ask.

WEBB: Did you essentially open up your note pad and write down what she told you about Kasie Ducharme’s care?

HERZET: Yes.

Herzet testified he neither interviewed Dr. Kuhns, Harper’s employer, nor obtained a copy of the agreement for Kuhns’ company to provide inmate health care at the jail. When Herzet was done with his investigation, its findings didn’t go much further.

WEBB: Who did you submit your investigation to when you were complete — when it was completed?

HERZET: To the file. You mean for review or for — I didn't refer it to anyone. It went into the file.

WEBB: It went to your file in the Butler County Sheriff's Office?

HERZET: Yes.

WEBB: Was it forwarded to anyone for review of any kind?

HERZET: Not that I recall.

WEBB: Wasn’t submitted to the attorney general’s office?

HERZET: No.

WEBB: Wasn’t submitted to the Butler County District Attorney’s office?

HERZET: No.

WEBB: Was it provided to Sheriff Murphy?

HERZET: I might have briefed Sheriff Murphy afterwards, but, no, he didn’t review the file.

WEBB: When your investigation was completed, it went physically into a file folder?

HERZET: Correct.

County Commission’s Role

Dr. Richard Kuhns’ company El Dorado Internal Medicine, LLC, provided inmate health care at the current Butler County Jail from the time it opened in 2003 until 2008. The Feb. 18, 2003, commission minutes indicate he was paid $230,880 a year. On Jan. 7, 2008, Kuhns, Harper, and then-Sheriff Craig Murphy attended a meeting of the Butler County Commission.

“Dr. Kuhns stated that Ms. Harper has done a superb job and spends at least 40 hours per week providing health care at the jail, while the minimum is 20 hours,” according to the meeting minutes. “Ms. Harper updated the Board on the scope of care, services provided, and pharmaceutical costs. Commissioner (Randy) Waldorf asked about attracting inmates because the county provides a high level of medical care on site. Ms. Harper said other counties and the U.S. Marshals do send inmates with medical needs to us because of the onsite medical care.”

Later in the meeting, Commissioner Jeff Masterson discussed “talking to Dr. Kuhns about medical staffing at the jail.”

On June 2, 2008, Murphy presented two bids from separate Peoria, Ill.-based companies to provide inmate health care at the jail. At the June 23, 2008, meeting, Commissioner Mike Wheeler reported Dr. Kuhns was interested in the contract for the jail. County Administrator Will Johnson asked Wheeler to share that with Murphy. Commissioners on Aug. 25, 2008, authorized Murphy to pursue a contract with Advanced Correctional Health Care, Inc., of Peoria, Ill., to be the new provider. Commissioners approved the five-year contract on Oct. 14, 2008, and instructed Johnson to terminate the contract with Dr. Kuhns. Advanced’s annual fee is $374,827, although the county sometimes receives a partial rebate. Advanced is apparently still providing services at the jail today.

Kasie Ducharme’s mother didn’t file her lawsuit against the county until June 22, 2009, so it’s unclear whether her daughter’s death played a role in county commissioners’ decision to change jail health care providers. Sheriff Murphy retired April 17, 2011, and the governor, on recommendation of the Butler County Republican Central Committee, appointed Herzet sheriff. Herzet is seeking his first term as the elected sheriff.

The Documents

Sheriff Kelly Herzet’s Deposition

Dana Rogers’ Federal Claim Against Butler County

Judge Marten’s Memorandum and Order of Summary Judgment

Judge Marten’s Journal Entry of Settlement

Official minutes of the Butler County Commission referred to in the story:

February 18, 2003, Butler County Commission minutes

January 7, 2008, Butler County Commission minutes

Monday, June 2, 2008, Butler County Commission minutes

Monday, August 25, 2008, Butler County Commission minutes

October 14, 2008, Butler County Commission minutes

Tuesday, October 5, 2010, Butler County Commission minutes