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.

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.”