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.

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.”