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.

When Journalists Won’t Cover The News

By Lee White

I try to be as transparent as I can with what I do here on Watchdog. There are times when I can’t run something because I don’t have the information confirmed and don’t want to harm somebody’s reputation. There are other times, such as in the case of a sex crime or an incident involving a minor, when I don’t use names. But if I have documented proof, I believe I have an obligation to report a story even if it makes someone I know and like look bad. This is apparently not the case with some members of the mainstream media.

Largely because my source on the Stone case (click here for background on it) had already been working with a couple of large Wichita news organizations, I provided them in mid-July with documentation concerning Michael Anthony Stone’s California domestic violence conviction and the paperwork from Butler and Sedgwick County District Courts that confirmed his identity.

I believed it was important to involve the media because law enforcement had multiple opportunities to discover and report the existence of Stone’s conviction which, although partially expunged, disqualifies him from serving as a police officer in Kansas, according to the Law Enforcement Training Act. Those law enforcement agencies — the Augusta Department of Public Safety, The Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and the Butler County Sheriff’s Department — either didn’t discover the existence of the conviction or chose not to report it to the Kansas Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (Kansas C-POST).

One of the documents I sent these two news organizations I haven’t shared publicly until now. It’s a protection-from-abuse order that Stone’s ex-wife, Misty, by then a former Wichita police officer, filed in Sedgwick County District Court in 2006 (click here to view it). In the affidavit in support of the protection order — which was ultimately dismissed because Misty didn’t show up for a hearing — she describes the California domestic violence incident and gives the city and county where it occurred. Click here to view the California court records, which corroborate parts of the following statement.

“One night it was so bad I called his father for help. His father, Andrew Stone, called the police and fire dept. Mike Stone left and they issued a warrant. They took myself and my 1 1/2 year old son down to the station to take pictures and to take my statement. He was charged and convicted of DV assault in 1995, while we lived in Rosamond, Kern County, CA.” — Misty Stone, in sworn affidavit for 2006 protection-from-abuse order

The Butler County Sheriff’s Department, where Stone was employed, served the paperwork on Stone because he resided in Douglass at the time. He continued to work for the department until 2010, according to a response to a Kansas Open Records Act request. He then became police chief in Florence and later went to work for the Marion Police Department where he remained until Saturday, August 5.

On Friday, July 28, I learned from a Facebook page belonging to one of Stone’s friends that Stone was going through a difficult time. Sources told me he had left the Marion Police Department and that my complaint to Kansas C-POST was the reason. Late Monday, July 31, the confirmation came when Stone posted a link to a GoFundMe page where he sought money to attend a police dog training course. The page characterized him as a “former police officer.”

I notified the two Wichita news organizations of this information via e-mail, which included screenshots and links. I also notified the Marion County Record. David Colburn, news editor of the Record, was on the phone to me within minutes. He interviewed me and requested further documentation, which I sent him. The weekly newspaper’s deadline was the next day, so turning a story of this magnitude presented quite a challenge. Nonetheless, the Record had the story (click here to read it) in its Wednesday, August 2 edition. The two Wichita news organizations have yet to do the story. KAKE-TV ran The AP’s story on Friday, August 4.

With all due respect, I would be ashamed if the Marion County Record “scooped” me on a story I’d had access to for weeks. I can’t think of a valid reason for those two Wichita organizations not to do the story. Sure, it might anger law enforcement, but the little ol’ Record manages to survive and thrive and it does controversial stories about its cops and other public officials all the time. When people in power expect to be held accountable, they act accordingly.

The two news organizations involved are KSN-TV and The Wichita Eagle. I hope they’ll do the right thing and run stories about this matter. I continue to post links to their content on my Facebook page. Every time I do, I help boost their web page statistics just as their material helps draw “likes” and “shares” to my page.

Both these organizations do good work, but these errors of omission need to stop and not just in these two newsrooms. The local media in general need to do a much better job of holding public officials accountable. Perhaps part of the reason Wichita has stagnated and lost big-name corporations such as Boeing, Pizza Hut, and Rent-A-Center is that its leadership never felt the heat from a vigorous press and became too complacent and entrenched.

Awhile back, a friend of mine — a sister of the fellow who gave me my start in the news business many years ago — shared the photo, above, to my Facebook timeline. It is as true now as when George Orwell wrote it. If you are a journalist and you don’t like controversy, you’re in the wrong business. If you think you are doing your viewers or readers a service by passing up a controversial story just so you can get easy sound bites at car wrecks and shootings, you are sadly mistaken.

The Arkansas Gazette lost $2 million in an advertising boycott because it backed the Little Rock Nine, who were fighting for school desegregation. Here we are, 60 years later, and the cowardly Wichita news media won’t even turn a story because they’re carrying water for law enforcement. Pathetic! And it must change now!

Augusta Department of Public Safety Should Live Up To Its Motto

By Lee White

Integrity is the basis for community trust.Augusta Department of Public Safety motto

A former Butler County sheriff’s deputy, Michael Anthony Stone, resigned effective Saturday as a Marion police sergeant after I reported to his professional certification agency, the Kansas Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (Kansas C-POST), that he had been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor while living in California in 1995. Click here to read the story from the Marion County Record and here to read the story from The Associated Press. Click here to view the documents from Kern County, California, Superior Court.

As the Record’s story explains, I received a tip about the domestic violence conviction and partial expungement from a former Butler County sheriff’s deputy who first contacted me in 2008 regarding the death of Stone’s former wife, Becky. Click here to view the California statute Stone was convicted of violating and here to view the expungement statute, which has some limitations.

At the time of Becky’s death, which has been ruled a suicide, the Stones were living at 1110 N. Ohio Street in Augusta. According to an e-mail I received last week from Sheriff Kelly Herzet, the autopsy report on Becky Stone (click here to view it), and the newspaper account below, the Augusta Department of Public Safety (ADPS) and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) handled the probe of the June 21, 2003, shooting death. The autopsy report indicates that one of the ADPS investigators who attended Stone’s autopsy was Michael Stueven, who lost his Kansas C-POST certification last year (click here).

I had never written about the Stone case until last summer when some of Becky’s friends and family members showed up to protest at a sheriff candidate meet-and-greet at Butler Community College (click here for KAKE-TV’s story). Augusta Department of Public Safety Director Tyler Brewer issued this statement concerning the case to the Butler County Times-Gazette days after the protest.

“Brewer advised investigators from Augusta say they spent an enormous amount of hours investigating the Stone case with the uppermost transparency. During the initial investigation, investigators had a forensic expert from the KBI assist them with the scene. After the conclusion of the investigation, Augusta officials had investigators from the Wichita Police Department Homicide Unit, specifically Kenny Landwehr, and the head of the cold case squad from the KBI review the case, and their analysis determined the cause of death was suicide. Also the Sedgwick County Forensic Center, the Butler County Coroner, and the Butler County attorney reviewed the case and concurred with Augusta’s findings. In addition, the victim’s family attorney and a special investigator that the family had hired reviewed the case. They too came to the same conclusion as did Augusta and other investigators enlisted to review the case.” — Butler County Times-Gazette, July 20, 2016

If we are to take Brewer at his word, then, all these individuals and agencies reviewed the case and either missed the existence of the California domestic violence case against Michael Stone or discovered it and didn’t let Kansas C-POST know about it. Regardless, Stone remained a cop for 14 years following the death investigation.

Why?

That’s a question I think Brewer needs to answer. I asked him in the same e-mail I sent to Sheriff Herzet whether his department learned about the domestic violence case as part of the death investigation. If he doesn’t want to answer to me, then maybe he needs to answer to Augusta City Manager Josh Shaw, who also got a copy of the e-mail, or to the Augusta City Council, which allocates 28 cents of every property tax dollar to public safety, according to this story on augustaleader.com.

We may never know what really happened to Becky Stone that first night of summer 2003. The official version is “suicide” and, as I told the Marion newspaper, I haven’t discovered anything to contradict that finding. What I have found, however, is that the only individual besides Becky known to have been present at 1110 N. Ohio that night shouldn’t have been a deputy and that the gun that fired the fatal shot — a gun Herzet says remains in the custody of the ADPS to this day — shouldn’t have been there either.

If Brewer’s investigators didn’t find that out, what else might they have overlooked? And if they did find that out and said nothing to C-POST, well, what does that say about how seriously the ADPS takes its motto?

These are good questions and the people deserve good answers.

Former Butler Deputy Resigns From Marion Police Department

By Lee White

The Marion County Record (click here) and The Associated Press (click here) have reported on a complaint I filed with the Kansas Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training July 10 against a former Butler County sheriff’s deputy, Michael Stone. I may write a bit more about the matter later and share some of the public documents I found, but given that there are public agencies, news agencies, and individuals still looking into the case, I’ll leave you with links to the stories that the good and capable reporters for the Record and The AP have filed. Thanks for reading!