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!