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.”

Augusta Chief Accuses Rose Hill City Administrator of Defamation

By Lee White

Augusta Department of Public Safety Chief Tyler Brewer has sent a letter to the mayor and city council in Rose Hill accusing that city’s administrator of defamation. But Rose Hill’s mayor and city administrator say the situation did not transpire as described in Brewer’s letter.

Brewer said in the letter that the remarks from Rose Hill City Administrator Austin Gilley came during an employee meeting the mayor and members of the police department attended. Click here to view a copy of the letter.

“The City Administrator’s comment was that I hired Bob Sage so that a gay Sergeant employed by the City of Augusta would not ultimately become the Chief of Police,” Brewer wrote in the letter dated May 13. “This statement is completely false, defamatory, and done to impugn my character.”

Sage resigned as Rose Hill’s police chief on March 21, according to this story from KAKE-TV. A statement Sage issued indicated he had clashed with former Mayor Jason Jones, who resigned two weeks before Sage did, as well as the new mayor who replaced Jones, Beth Pompa.

Brewer said in his letter that a phone call he made to Pompa had not been returned. He asked the mayor and council to take disciplinary action against Gilley and issue an apology.

At the bottom of the letter, Brewer indicated that he had sent copies to three individuals — Augusta City Manager Josh Shaw, City Attorney Stephen Robison, of the Wichita law firm Fleeson Gooing, and an Augusta sergeant. Watchdog has redacted the sergeant’s name and will not report it because we do not know whether he was the individual named in the rumor. Multiple sources say the sergeant named in the letter is a good law enforcement officer.

Julie Winslow, a community activist, said she confronted Brewer about the matter by phone this afternoon (May 25). Winslow also serves as a township clerk.

Winslow said in this statement e-mailed to Watchdog that Brewer said he’d been advised by his attorney not to discuss the letter.

“The person that was written to should not have made that (letter) a public record,” Brewer told Winslow, according to the statement. Winslow said she believes the letter is public record under Kansas law.

Winslow said she asked Brewer to apologize to Rose Hill officials. She said Brewer replied, “I will not!” and hung up on her.

Rose Hill Mayor Beth Pompa said in this letter to Brewer that she attended the meeting where officials discussed the rumor about the Augusta sergeant.

“The purpose of the meeting was to discuss my expectations of the officers and City Administrator,” Pompa wrote. “One part of the conversation was in regard to recent rumors and how they quickly spread.

“Mr. Gilley stated he had heard that day a rumor from the City of Augusta that Bob Sage was hired in Augusta to replace Chief Brewer upon his retirement because they didn’t want the Sergeant who is gay to become the Chief. One of the Rose Hill Officers, I don’t remember who, stated that they had heard something similar. We all commented how ridiculous that rumor was, including Mr. Gilley.”

Gilley responded to the allegations in this letter to Mayor Pompa. He said the March 30, 2016, meeting was conducted “for the purpose of helping everyone clear the air and move on from the recent leadership change (Sage’s resignation).”

“To illustrate the ridiculous nature of rumors, I shared the rumor that I had heard that same day from an employee of the City of Augusta,” Gilley wrote. “I recall one of the officers even saying they had heard that one, too.

“I was making the point that rumors can be ridiculous and hurtful — which I know well having been on the receiving end of many painful rumors. Never once did I state what I had heard as fact, and I would not have shared this rumor except for in the context of illustrating that not everything you hear is truth.”

Gilley apologized for any hurt feelings and offered to speak with anyone about the matter.

For his part, Sage is seeking appointment to fill the vacant seat on the Rose Hill City Council created by Jones’ resignation. Sage lives in Rose Hill and works as a detective for the Augusta Department of Public Safety.

“It is with extreme humiliation as a citizen of Rose Hill that I have sat back and watched a growing public perception and recognition of the dysfunction within our city government,” Sage wrote in this e-mail to the council. “Citizens deserve better. Paralysis created by mistrust and
parochial thinking has caused our City to lose its once reveled reputation of being the community of choice.”

Sage said he will run for office if the council’s failure to appoint a replacement for Jones triggers a special election.

Sage’s entry into consideration for the vacant council position follows an embarrassing moment for County Commissioner Dan Woydziak — a Sage supporter — who submitted this letter on March 16 to the Rose Hill City Council seeking to be appointed. Woydziak is president of the Kansas Association of Counties.

Woydziak later withdrew from consideration, telling the Butler County Times-Gazette in this April 2 story that he couldn’t work with Gilley. Although there is undoubtedly animosity between Woydziak and Gilley, that is probably not the real reason Woydziak withdrew.

Winslow, a frequent attendee at county commission meetings, said she approached commissioners at a subsequent meeting and asked to be appointed to fill the upcoming vacancy to be created when Woydziak took a seat on the Rose Hill City Council.

K.S.A. 19-205 states: “no person holding any state, county, township or city office shall be eligible to the office of county commissioner in any county in this state.” Had Woydziak been appointed to the Rose Hill City Council, he would have had to resign his county commission seat for which, according to this Times-Gazette story, he receives an annual salary of $28,072.