It Could Have Been Worse

By Lee White

Life is getting back to normal in Butler County government after a ransomware attack essentially shut it down for the better part of last week. Although the damage the attack caused in lost productivity, inconvenience to citizens, and to the county’s image can never be fully remedied, the attack could have been much worse had it occurred during tax season or a natural or man-made disaster.

County Administrator Will Johnson briefed commissioners on the ransomware attack during Tuesday’s meeting. Click here for the El Dorado Leader’s story. Among the revelations:

  • The attack began between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday, September 9 and was first noticed in the 911 dispatch center.
  • The county had an offsite backup, but recovery took so long because of the amount of data stored there.
  • Johnson said he doesn’t know whether the ransom was paid, but county officials had instructions on breaking the ransomware’s encryption by the evening of Tuesday, September 12.

Questions remain:

  • If all data was backed up offsite, why was it necessary to crack the ransomware encryption?
  • How much was the ransom and was it paid?
  • Could the county have moved faster in the early stages of the attack? For example, should an emergency have been declared and county commissioners called into session prior to their regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday, September 12?

Indeed, there will be much Monday morning quarterbacking inside and outside county government. That is as it should be. These are, after all, the people’s computers.

It is a testament to the excellent training of 911 dispatchers that the loss of their computer-aided dispatch system apparently resulted in no injury or loss of life to citizens or emergency personnel in the field. Computer-aided dispatch systems not only record dispatchers’ notes about calls, they help the dispatcher choose which responders to send and guide them to the location of the call. To go from 2017 to 1990 in the blink of an eye is difficult and dangerous. That nobody got hurt this time should not lull the county into complacency about next time.

It is imperative that county officials look at ways to prevent a future attack from infecting these vital dispatch computers. Impartial outside consultants should be hired to look into this aspect of computer security and others.

Save for a deductible and possible premium increases, it appears as if taxpayers won’t be on the hook for the ransom paid, if any, or for the law firm that its insurer recommended hiring. This is good news.

As to the question of whether the ransom was paid, I believe it almost certainly was. The amount is in question, but messages and comments to the Watchdog Facebook page fairly consistently peg it at $30,000. It is understandable that the county wouldn’t want to acknowledge paying the ransom. That only encourages crooks to try again. Nonetheless, I don’t think most folks believe the narrative that nobody at the county knew whether the ransom was paid.

Now is a good time to take stock of one’s own cybersecurity. Even individuals can be hit with ransomware. It’s far more profitable to go after a business or government, but such attacks can and do target individuals. Using a paid or free cloud backup system (e.g. Google Drive) is a good way to make sure one can access files in the event of a ransomware attack. Using an online e-mail service such as Gmail, setting up security software to scan e-mail attachments before downloading, and never clicking on links unless one is sure they came from a reputable source are other ways to prevent an infection.

Nameless, faceless cyber criminals brought county government to a standstill and cost its insurer and taxpayers money. It could have been worse, however, and it’ll be up to county commissioners and the people who elect them to ensure that future attacks, if any, are swiftly contained by supporting common-sense upgrades to computer systems and personnel.

Time For New Leadership

By Lee White

It’s time for Butler County EMS Director Chad Pore to go home to Greensburg and stay there.

Pore, who apparently still lives in Greensburg more than two years after accepting the Butler County position, put his foot in his mouth big time during a September 21 staff meeting. During a discussion of how the 2017 county budget affected his department, Pore said, “One commissioner is not going to be back next year. That’s good.”

The only county commissioner who is not returning next year is Peggy Palmer.

Pore had voiced his displeasure earlier in the meeting that a station remodeling project budget was slashed by about 75 percent.

“The whole thing, I’ll be honest, the whole thing is not what we want,” Pore said. “We want a quarter of a million freakin’ dollars to do a damn remodel that we should be able to have and the reality of it is, above my pay grade says, ‘no.'”

As is common practice, someone with EMS posted the staff meeting video to YouTube. Click here for the link. You will notice that it says “this video has been removed by the user.” That occurred several hours after I posted the video on the Butler County Watchdog Facebook page.

There are two issues here. First, a county department head stands up in full uniform in front of his staff and the public and rejoices at the fact that one of his bosses is leaving. That smacks of insubordination. If County Administrator Will Johnson allows a department head to get away with such behavior this time, what is he going to do when it is directed toward a commissioner he likes (e.g. Mike Wheeler, Dan Woydziak, or Jeff Masterson)?

The second issue involves the video and its sudden disappearance. Pore knew the camera was on him. How do I know that he knew? Because at one point late in the meeting, he asked that the camera be shut off, presumably so he could discuss something he didn’t want the folks out in YouTube Land to see. Then after I post a link to it, the video disappears — removed by the user.

The video’s removal reminds me of the new as-yet-unwritten county policy regarding Kansas Open Records Act requests. Those requests now go to County Counselor Terry Huelskamp, who writes letters at taxpayer expense, apparently in an effort to delay release of the records. In other words, if it makes the county look bad, cover it up! I blame Johnson for allowing this culture of secrecy to permeate the county.

Because I’m often called a liar when I report information that tarnishes the county’s image, I’m careful to have a Plan B. In this instance, I used my phone to make audio recordings of Pore’s utterances from the YouTube video because I anticipated its removal. Click here for the remark about Palmer and click here for the quote about the remodeling budget. I apologize for the audio quality, but I think you’ll hear what you need to hear.

No, I haven’t always agreed with Peggy Palmer, but the people in her neck of the woods seem to like her. They have elected her to multiple terms in the Kansas Legislature — both House and Senate — and the county commission. As evidenced by her candor when a citizen questioned commissioners about Pore’s residency at the July 12 county commission meeting, she’s honest and transparent.

Pore exercised horrible judgment by attacking Palmer in front of his staff and in a public forum. Coupled with his reluctance to move to Butler County, it should be abundantly clear to him, to Johnson, and to county commissioners that an exit strategy is in order. Anything less will demonstrate that Johnson has lost complete control of the organization he is paid so well to manage and that his days should also be numbered.

County Funnels Open Records Request Through Attorney

By Lee White

As expected, the woman who last Thursday requested a list of new hires and terminations from the Butler County Sheriff’s Department for the period beginning August 1, 2016, has received a letter from County Counselor Terry Huelskamp. The Andover attorney said he would get in touch with her to discuss how much time and money it would take to supply her with the records.

In May, this same woman received two years’ worth of the same information for both the sheriff’s department and Emergency Medical Service in three days for $39. One wonders how much taxpayer money the county is paying Huelskamp to write letters such as this one. My guess is, more than $39. Perhaps I should file a Kansas Open Records Act request for the bills.

But what do legal fees matter to the Butler County Commission, County Administrator Will Johnson, and Sheriff Kelly Herzet? Not much of the money comes out of their pockets. Besides, they don’t want another blog post like this one to remind taxpayers that the agency apparently continues to have problems recruiting and retaining deputies.

Public access to records is vital to holding elected and appointed officials accountable. The Open Records Act, although often a tool for journalists, is supposed to apply equally to all members of the public. Just because Johnson and Herzet don’t like the individual making the request — just because the information the records contain might prove embarrassing — doesn’t mean that the law and county policy concerning the law should not apply equally. Does every member of the public who requests records get a letter from Huelskamp? That’s fodder for yet another Open Records Act request.

In case you’re wondering why someone wants these records — not that one is required by law to state a reason — there have been reports of more turnover at the sheriff’s department. Records might help answer these questions:

  • Have five deputies recently left the road patrol?
  • Are road patrol deputies being required to work overtime at the jail because it is still understaffed?
  • Did a contract deputy assigned to Douglass recently leave for greener pastures?

By needlessly delaying a lawful open records request, county officials have more or less confirmed that turnover is still a problem. Instead of just handing over the statistics and letting them speak for themselves, Johnson & Co. have generated more negative publicity for themselves by dragging the process out.

While Johnson continues to hide behind his lawyer, the situation at the sheriff’s department becomes even more dire as experienced deputies leave and quality recruits make themselves scarce. County commissioners already approved more money for jail deputies, according to this story from the Times-Gazette. But the jail isn’t the only issue.

Instead of trying to sweep everything under the rug, how about real leadership and real solutions? Yes, it’s going to take money, but money is only part of it. Why not bring in a human resources consultant to conduct confidential interviews with current and former deputies and to study pay, benefits, turnover, and working conditions and draw comparisons with other departments? I’m not usually a fan of spending money on consultants, but this may be the time to do it and it makes more sense than paying lawyers any day of the week.

Andrews Launches Write-In Campaign For Sheriff

By Lee White

With a post on this campaign Facebook page, retired Wichita Police Lt. Walker Andrews launched a write-in campaign for Butler County sheriff. Andrews came in second in a four-way primary race that incumbent Kelly Herzet won with about 40 percent of the vote. Andrews faces an uphill battle to win a write-in campaign as would any candidate. Voters are used to choosing from the “menu” even if there is no choice or the choices really suck (witness the current presidential race).

I suggested a write-in on election night and encouraged Andrews and the other two losing candidates, Mike Holton and Curtis Cox, to come together in support of the effort. That was not to be, which makes the hill Andrews must climb even steeper. So the question becomes, if I lived in Butler County (thank God I don’t!), would I push the button for Herzet, write in Andrews, or simply abstain?

Without a doubt, I would write in Andrews. The sheriff’s department allegedly continues to suffer from deputy turnover — a major issue in the primary. I say “allegedly” because when a local resident requested the same sort of public records referenced in this blog post, she was met with a delay tactic county administration recently adopted. This tactic involves referring Kansas Open Records Act requests to Terry Huelskamp, an Andover attorney, so he can write a meaningless letter at taxpayer expense to the person who requested the records in hopes that individual will drop the matter or not know what legal steps to take.

Those legal steps are clearly outlined right here on the Kansas Attorney General’s website. I have encouraged the woman who requested the number of hires and terminations at the sheriff’s department since August 1 to follow the procedure outlined on the attorney general’s site and not to let Huelskamp and County Administrator Will Johnson off the hook. Whatever she chooses to do — and whatever Johnson, Huelskamp, and the county commissioners who employ them choose to do — will not happen in a vacuum this time.

Playing games with the Open Records Act only lends credibility to the information others and I have received that the revolving door continues to spin at the sheriff’s department. Instead of proposing real solutions (e.g. pre-employment skill testing, a pay-and-benefits study, or focus groups where current employees can speak without fear of retaliation), Johnson, who made $121,953 in 2015, according to kansasopengov.org, hides in his office and squanders scarce resources on legal fees to cover Herzet’s backside and aid his campaign.

Voters should also ask themselves this question: Who becomes sheriff if Herzet retires before the end of his term? If the answer is Undersheriff Tony Wilhite, be afraid. Be VERY afraid. You think turnover’s bad now…

The issue is really larger than the sheriff’s race. It is about a county that was growing and has become stagnant (projected to grow by only 1,400 by 2019). It is about an administrator who believes he is accountable to no one, least of all the public. It is about bright minds who avoid working and living in the county because of the petty, vindictive, inbred manner in which it operates and because they don’t want to pay Johnson County taxes for Greeley County services. Who can blame them?

Writing in Walker Andrews for sheriff may seem an exercise in futility, but it is a simple way voters can thumb their noses at the status quo. It will also make the people bankrolling Herzet’s campaign spend more of their money. That’s key in a war of attrition. Moreover, it’ll send a message to Johnson and the county commissioners that they will join El Dorado City Manager Herb Llewellyn on the plant-watering detail if they don’t clean up their act.

Citizen Confronts Commissioners About EMS Director Residency

A rural Rose Hill resident confronted Butler County commissioners at the end of their meeting this morning concerning the residency of Butler County EMS Director Chad Pore. Ladonna Johnson told commissioners she had read on Butler County Watchdog that Pore has been living in Greensburg since he took the director’s job in May 2014. Click on the icon above and turn up your speakers or headphones to listen to the recording of the meeting.

Most of the commissioners who spoke about the issue seemed nervous. One repeatedly promised to look into the matter, but did not give a timetable for doing so. After Johnson stated that Pore lived in Greensburg, Kansas, one of the male voices can be heard saying, “That’s true — three days a week.” In the interest of accuracy and full disclosure of all information that let to this conclusion, the following section of this paragraph was updated at 3:05 p.m. on 7/16/2016 to reflect three days off per week and inclusion of a link to a Facebook screen capture: That would mean that Pore is taking multiple three-day weekends — or at the very least three days off per week — during which he resides 137 miles from EMS Headquarters in El Dorado. Mr. Pore stated in a comment on his Facebook page, which was publicly available to view, that he commutes “two times a week. ” Click here to view a screen capture.

Johnson grilled commissioners about whether Pore was staying at Butler County EMS Station 2 on Ohio Street in Augusta and who was paying for it. She never got a straight answer — just a lot of talk about how EMS stations are typically staffed 24 hours a day.  She also did not get an answer to her question about whether Pore drives a county vehicle to and from Greensburg, but someone on the recording — possibly County Administrator Will Johnson — stated that Pore is on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

At one point, Ladonna Johnson said to the county administrator, “Will, it’s disrespectful for you to walk away while I’m talking.”

The only commissioner who offered an informative answer during the nearly five-minute encounter was Peggy Palmer, who is serving her final term.

“My understanding when he was hired and we were told that, yes, he planned to relocate,” Palmer said. “He understood and all of us agreed and all of us talked about it, give him time to move here, but that we would like to have him as a Butler County resident.”

Palmer’s recollection of the situation appears to be accurate.

“The first thing we did in Kiowa County was recognize that we need to be leaders in patient care,” said Pore, in this Butler County Times-Gazette article announcing his arrival in 2014. “My family lives in the community and they will be living in Butler County. It is very important to me that they and everyone else receives the care they need, when they need.”

One question remains: Just when will Pore and his family begin living in Butler County?

Above are the facts. Listen to the recording for yourselves. Click here to read the earlier blog post about Pore’s residency. What follows is my opinion.

It is obvious that most county commissioners and County Administrator Will Johnson don’t like being held accountable to the public they serve. The administrator, in particular, has failed to deal with this issue for lo these past two years. It begs the question: What else has he failed to deal with while drawing his $121,953 annual salary?

I applaud Commissioner Palmer for her candor during the meeting. Although I haven’t always been a fan of hers, I think she’s the only one who’s trying to do the right thing and it’ll be a loss for Butler County when she steps into retirement in January.

Mr. Pore, you need to make a choice: Kiowa County or Butler County. Mr. Johnson and his supporters on the commission apparently lack the courage to make it for you.

Police chiefs, fire chiefs, EMS directors, and top-level managers of most decent public- and private-sector concerns live close to their work — not just because it’s policy most places, but because they want to set an example for their employees, potential employees, and professional colleagues that living and working in their chosen locale is something they value and enjoy.

Although I no longer live in Butler County, there is a huge difference between a blogger and an EMS director, who gets paid around $70,000 a year and is responsible for those who make life-and-death decisions in emergencies. All of you people who grill me about not living in Butler County: Why don’t you ask Mr. Pore why he doesn’t move there? Maybe you’re afraid of the answer you’ll get, much like Mr. Johnson and the county commissioners (with the exception of Palmer) are apparently afraid of people like Ladonna Johnson.

Butler County EMS Director Commutes From Home In Greensburg

By Lee White

Note: This is not intended as an attack of any on the hard-working EMTs and paramedics serving the citizens of Butler County or any other jurisdiction day in and day out. I’m proud of you, I thank you for your service — including transporting my mother about six weeks ago — and I do not want anyone thinking I’m one of the protester types we’ve seen across the nation recently. I just believe someone needs to hold public officials (i.e. county commissioners and administration) accountable. Because I have the skills, the time, and know the history of Butler County government better than most alive today, I choose to do this. 

Butler County EMS Director Chad Pore continues to reside in Greensburg more than two years after taking the job. Pore served as Kiowa County EMS director prior to accepting the Butler County position on May 14, 2014.

Pore is registered to vote in Kiowa County and voted in the November 4, 2014, general election more than five months after becoming Butler County EMS director. Click here for information obtained from Kansas Voter View. Pore states on his Facebook page that he lives in Greensburg. Click here to view a screen capture. Various Facebook posts also confirm his residency including this one where he tells a friend he commutes to Butler County two times a week.

I have sent an e-mail to Pore, County Administrator Will Johnson, and all five county commissioners informing them of the situation and seeking comment. I will publish any comments I receive in their entirety.

According to mapquest.com, Pore’s residence is 137 miles from Butler County EMS Headquarters at 701 N. Haverhill Road, El Dorado. Mapquest estimates it takes two hours and 18 minutes to cover that distance by road. Detractors frequently complain that I do not live in Butler County. That is correct. I live in Harrisonville, Missouri, which is 172 miles and two hours and 54 minutes away from the EMS headquarters by road, according to mapquest.com.

The difference is, I’m a blogger. If I can’t reach the scene of a disaster in Butler County in a timely manner or if I can’t communicate with someone there by phone or radio because communications have been disrupted, it’s really no big deal. Pore, on the other hand, whose gross pay was $69,859 last year, according to kansasopengov.org, oversees a department charged with protecting the health and safety of more than 65,000 residents.

This blog post dealing with turnover at the sheriff’s department and EMS indicates that most of Pore’s staff, including management, is fairly new. Should disaster strike as it did in Eureka last Thursday night and as it almost did at the Butler County Jail on Sunday, one would think Johnson and county commissioners would insist that department heads live in the community in case their services are needed after hours.

Grant Helferich, who was EMS director until shortly before Pore took over, lived in El Dorado, reared his children there, and could frequently be found at major incidents including the 1991 Andover tornado. I know. I was there.

I drove out to Greensburg on Sunday. I’ll admit I was there looking for a Butler County EMS vehicle parked in front of Pore’s house. I did not see one. I also wanted to see what the town looked like since it was devastated by a tornado on May 4, 2007. It was my first trip to Greensburg in probably 30 years.

No doubt about it: Deep scars remain. I found myself wanting to roll up my sleeves and do something even after all these years have passed. And I realize that taking a good family like Pore’s out of Greensburg hurts that community far more than taking a good family out of Butler County does. Greensburg suffered a double whammy: A year after the tornado hit, along came the Great Recession. That the town is doing as well as it is amazes me. I want to return when I have more time, bring my wife, and examine closely the strides the brave people of Kiowa County have made.

Against that backdrop, I can understand Pore’s reluctance to relocate. But the people of Butler County deserve an EMS director who is part of the community just as Helferich was (and still is). If folks are going to attack me for writing about Butler County from afar, well, don’t you think these same people should have an issue with someone who runs a major county emergency service and lives almost as far away as I do?

And I know it would be difficult to sell a home in Greensburg. I don’t know whether Pore owns the house where he and his family live or whether they’ve tried to sell it. I do know there was no “for sale” sign in the yard when I drove by on Sunday. Giving someone a transition period is perfectly acceptable, but two years is too long.

Then there’s the issue of the paramedics and EMTs who work for Pore. I don’t know how it is these days, but in the 1990s, crews were required to live within a certain radius of EMS stations so they could be on call. If there is any sort of a residency requirement for rank-and-file EMS workers, Pore should lead by example and follow suit.

As much as I sympathize with the people of Greensburg and with Pore for his apparent attachment to the place, I believe county commissioners need to insist that he choose one community or the other. Butler County is the largest geographically in the state. In addition to the weather hazards we all face (even those who live 20 miles into Missouri), Butler County has a major refinery, a prison, and a larger-than-average jail. The potential for a major incident is too great to risk having a top manager so far away. There’s nothing illegal about this arrangement — county commissioners could fly an EMS director in on a Learjet from New York City every week if they wanted to — but it is bad public policy and needs to end.

Woman Claims Sheriff, Command Staff Referred To Her As ‘Nazi Bitch’

By Lee White

Last week, retired Butler County Sheriff Craig Murphy said he was approached by a woman of German heritage who claimed current Sheriff Kelly Herzet and members of his command staff referred to her as the “Nazi bitch.” Betty Lou Philippsen was born in Germany and immigrated to the U.S. in 1991. She now holds dual citizenship. From December of 2010 until February of this year, Philippsen served as victim-witness coordinator for Butler County Attorney Darrin Devinney.

“My fiancé worked at the sheriff’s department as a deputy. When he left to go to El Dorado Police Department — I believe it was in November of last year — on his last day somebody approached me and told me that was going on,” Philippsen said. “That person worked at the sheriff’s department and was very much in fear of losing their job. It was independently validated to me by another person probably a month or so later because I sat on it for a minute. I understand there’s a man’s reputation at risk, his job, his career, so I don’t take that very lightly, but I think it needs to be told.”

Philippsen said she was surprised to learn that Herzet and the others referred to her in that manner because she thought she had a good working relationship with the department. She said she did not discuss the matter with Devinney because she didn’t believe it was directly related to her job performance, but did complain to County Administrator Will Johnson.

“I explained it to him and the first thing that he said was, ‘who told you’ and I told him ‘I’m not going to tell you,'” said Philippsen, who claims to have recorded the conversation. “It went from there to why I wasn’t telling him. I was not going to give them up. I also know for a fact that if he really wanted to find out if it was the truth or not, ask people. Ask everyone because if everyone has been asked it will be discovered who did say it. I don’t know if he did or not. I never heard back.”

Johnson told her there was nothing he could do because the sheriff is an elected official who does not report to him, Philippsen said. She added that she went to Johnson in January only after learning she had another job lined up. She said she hasn’t spoken with an attorney about the matter.

“I feel what was said about me is appalling, but I feel as a German, I am perfectly comfortable with who I am,” Philippsen said. “I think what the problem here is is a man at (Herzet’s) level and including the undersheriff at their level, it’s unacceptable. This kind of behavior, these kind of taunts I would expect of people who were 18, 19, 20 years old who have just come out of the academy and are gung-ho and just don’t know yet and I would expect that a sergeant or lieutenant — somebody — would take them aside and say, ‘look, this is not acceptable,’ and to curb that.”

One of the individuals who told Philippsen about the Nazi comments and “some other people” reported to her that the sheriff had referred to a female Hispanic assistant county attorney as the “Mexican snatch.” Philippsen said the attorney told her she had not heard that allegation from anyone other than Philippsen, who said the attorney has since resigned from the office. Attempts to find contact information for the attorney have thus far been unsuccessful.

Fiancé Suffers Job Troubles

Philippsen’s fiancé, who has asked that his name not be used, is an El Dorado police officer. He left the sheriff’s department in November 2015 after about five years. He started as a detention officer and worked his way up to road patrol. Philippsen spent much of our interview discussing her fiancé’s plight and those of other deputies who have told her they were either fired or quit because of issues with management.

“Over the years, I had a lot of deputies talk to me and I felt when I finally went to Will Johnson I did not just go for my reason,” Philippsen said. “I went sort of for the deputies and that includes my fiancé obviously because they have a job where they cannot speak out. They cannot speak out against their administration. They will get blackballed, which has happened at this department.”

Philippsen’s fiancé said his problems started when he applied for a job with a sheriff’s department north of Seattle. Philippsen’s family lives in Washington and the two had hoped to move there to be closer to them. The fiancé said he believes he lost the first position he applied for in February 2015 because of a write-up he received in 2011 for tardiness at the jail. He said the reprimand was supposed to have been removed from his personnel file after a year, but it was still there when an investigator for the Washington sheriff came to El Dorado to examine it as part of a background check.

Months later, the deputy applied for another position in Washington. He went to an El Dorado travel agency to buy a plane ticket on a Friday morning. The agent questioned him about why he was going to Seattle and what line of work he was in. The questions became more pointed when he told her he worked for the Butler County Sheriff’s Department. He said she asked about turnover and working conditions, which he replied to as “politely and politically correctly as possible.”

The following Tuesday, he was called into a meeting with Detective Robert Albert, and hit with a two-day paid suspension, which is normally reserved for criminal investigations. He said he had to turn in his gun and was questioned in an interrogation room for about three hours about the travel agency encounter. Captain Don Currier later gave him a five-day unpaid suspension for conduct unbecoming an officer. The deputy disclosed the suspension when he spoke with officers who were interviewing him for the job in Washington and later received a rejection letter.

Philippsen and the fiancé say they believe he was unfairly targeted because he was trying to leave the department. They fear the investigation and suspension in his personnel file will make it impossible for him ever to find law enforcement work outside the local area, although he enjoys his job in El Dorado. They say he wasn’t the only deputy who suffered a similar fate. I plan to speak with other deputies who have left the department to get their take on the reasons for turnover described in this blog post.

Philippsen said she knows there will be people who say her fiancé is simply a disgruntled former employee.

“That’s sort of what Herzet likes to also say,” Philippsen said. “He goes so far as to say that he expected a higher quality of law enforcement, so all these people who have left have left for better paying jobs or they just didn’t measure up.

“I mean, (Herzet is) going out and…attacking the people proactively that have left to disqualify anything that they said. There is a difference between a disgruntled employee who maybe deserved to be fired, maybe wasn’t up to the par of what you expect and then there are the employees who have been fired and have left because they can’t stomach it anymore. And out of the turnover how many were actually fired? The majority of them have left because they couldn’t do it anymore.”

Philippsen provided me with a copy of this document titled, “Sheriff Herzet Discusses Turnover.” In it, he claims at least some of the turnover is due to retirements, promotions, and transfers, as well as deputies leaving for higher pay.

“Increased accountability has also contributed to turnover,” Herzet wrote. “When I ran for office four years ago, I promised the citizens of Butler County more accountability and professionalism. Upon taking office, I delivered on that promise raised the bar and started holding the deputies to higher standards.

“Having been a detective for ten years, I am keenly aware of the importance of accurate and complete paperwork and the vital role it plays in holding criminals responsible for their crimes. One of the first things I did was to make accuracy of paperwork a focus for our office.”

Former Sheriff Craig Murphy, in an interview covered in this blog post, chided Herzet for driving off 150 years of experience and blamed that in part on disciplining deputies for minor paperwork errors.

An e-mail has been sent to Herzet, Johnson, and Devinney offering them the opportunity to comment. If they do, I will publish those comments in their entirety.

Revisiting The Kasie Ducharme Jail Death Story

Note: This post was originally published on a blog I kept during the 2012 election cycle. I have updated some of the links.

By Lee White

Kasie Ducharme, a 27-year- old mother of three, was arrested by Augusta police the afternoon of June 21, 2007, on a probation violation warrant and taken to the Butler County Jail. Four days later, she was dead, the victim of an infection known as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Click here for some facts about MRSA from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

In 2009, Ducharme’s mother, Dana Rogers, sued Butler County, Sheriff Craig Murphy, several deputies and jail medical staff, as well as Dr. Richard Kuhns, an El Dorado physician who, at the time, had a contract with the county to provide health care for inmates. The lawsuit was settled out of court on July 20, 2011. The county’s insurer paid $75,000, but the terms of the settlement with Dr. Kuhns and his company, El Dorado Internal Medicine, LLC, were confidential. None of the defendants admitted being at fault for Ducharme’s death.

Medical staff at the jail, including an advanced registered nurse practitioner — a nurse allowed to prescribe medications and order procedures under the supervision of a physician – a licensed practical nurse, and a certified nurse aide examined Ducharme at various times during her incarceration. A physician never examined her while she was in custody except for the one who pronounced her dead when she was taken by ambulance to Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital in El Dorado the evening of June 25.

Legal and other public documents regarding Ducharme’s tragic death not only reveal an apparent failure to detect and treat a survivable illness, but they call into question the investigative procedures of current Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet, who was the lead detective assigned to the Ducharme case. The documents also show that Butler County Commissioners and County Administrator Will Johnson, took an active role in choosing jail health care providers, including terminating the contract with Dr. Kuhns in 2008. Under Kansas law, the sheriff is in charge of the jail; however, county commissioners hold the purse strings.

The facts presented in this story were obtained from two orders signed by U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten, who presided over the case, as well as the deposition of Herzet. A deposition is sworn testimony taken before trial in an attempt to discover the facts of the case. Butler County Commission minutes were also examined. Links to the documents appear below.

The Timeline

The day after arriving at the jail, Ducharme complained of right hip pain. She stated that she didn’t remember what happened to her hip. An examination noted “drug track marks” on both arms and that Ducharme reported using one gram of methamphetamine a day. At autopsy, however, the only drugs discovered in Ducharme’s system were Tylenol and Tramadol, painkillers she had been given at the jail, according to Herzet’s deposition.

Ducharme’s next request for medical treatment came at 3:34 a.m. June 24. Deputy Dana Burns sent Tamara Harper, the advanced registered nurse practitioner, this e-mail: “Ducharme #2520 In complaining of pain from her right knee up to her right hip. Her right knee is double the size of her left knee. No bruising that I can see, pulses are good in her foot and she was able to apply pressure to my hand and pulls against my hand with her foot. She stated she was seen by a nurse when she was booked in on the 21st.”

Jean Valentine, a licensed practical nurse, then examined Ducharme at about 9:30 a.m. Valentine noted that Ducharme’s knee was swollen and gave her some Motrin, a painkiller, and an ice pack.

Ducharme filled out a medical treatment request form at 11 p.m. stating, in part: “My leg is broke. I need to go to the hospital now I can’t take the pain any more it’s hurting my chest now. Please thanks, Kasie. What time and day did the injury or illness begin? Day I got arrested.” Marla Park, a certified nurse aide, then examined Ducharme.

In his June 1, 2011, order dismissing some of Rogers’ claims and allowing others to go to trial, Judge Marten wrote: “Initially she complained of chest pain and stated that her leg was broken. Park asked her why she was in medical and she stated, ‘I need to go to the hospital, I can’t breathe, my leg is broken, I want to stay in here, it’s cool, my chest hurts, you need to give me something for the pain, or take me to the hospital.’ However, she talked without distress and did not stop to take a breath. Ducharme further expressed her desire for medication because ‘there were lots of other women in the dorm that get all kinds of meds, and their leg isn’t hurting them and I want what they’re getting.’ Park explained to her that she could not just get any medicine she wanted. Ducharme then said ‘my leg is causing my chest to ache.’ Park asked if her chest was hurting and she said no. Park notified Harper, and they gave Ducharme 6 packets of Ibuprofen and an ice pack.”

Harper, the nurse practitioner, first examined Ducharme at about 9:30 a.m. June 25. Ducharme was taken to the jail medical facility in a wheelchair. In addition to leg pain, she complained of intermittent pain in her left lower rib and chest wall when she breathed in. Harper prescribed the painkillers Ibuprofen, Tramadol, and Tylenol, ice packs, and ordered an X-ray of Ducharme’s knee, which revealed no fracture.

After lunch, Ducharme, in a wheelchair, attended a court hearing before Butler County District Judge David Ricke. She was throwing up and told Ricke, “they’re being so mean and I asked to go to EMS and they won’t take me ‘cause they said they were low staff.” Ricke ordered that court staff send written communication to the jail to make sure Ducharme was getting the medical treatment she needed; however, there was a dispute as to whether the medical staff was ever notified of Ricke’s order.

“Deputy Chad Archer relieved (Deputy Michael) Schmidt from his shift at about 5:18 p.m. Before he left, Ducharme fell while walking to the restroom,” Judge Marten wrote. “April Blackburn and Amy Cain-Sudderth, inmates, testified that Schmidt laughed and told everyone not to help her up and that if she could not get up on her own she could ‘piss herself.’”

According to a footnote in Marten’s order, Schmidt was on a “period of reckoning” on the night Ducharme died. He had been suspended for three days and placed on probation for obtaining a female inmate’s telephone number about 10 months earlier.

Ducharme’s condition continued to worsen. About 6:30 p.m., a couple of inmates helped Ducharme take a shower. They had to carry her on a mat. She couldn’t hold her head up. Judge Marten’s order describes Kasie Ducharme’s final moments:

“At 8:03 p.m, Park paged Harper at her home and informed her Ducharme was complaining of increased pain and that her hands were purple, blotchy, and she was yellow in color. Harper left her house and arrived at the jail at 8:30 p.m. While waiting for Ducharme, Amy Cain, an inmate, informed Harper she had helped Ducharme shower earlier in the day because Ducharme had trouble standing. A jail deputy then notified Harper that Ducharme had fallen from the wheelchair and was lying on the floor in the doorway of the women’s dorm.

“Harper arrived at the women’s dorm and saw Ducharme lying supine on the floor, she was pale and dry. Her feet were blotchy and her oral membranes were dry. Her pulse was 80. Several other inmates told Harper Ducharme was ‘shooting Dilaudid’ and methamphetamine and that she was walking on her own at times that day. After yelling at her to get up, Harper assisted Ducharme to a sitting position and Corporal Torres transported her to the clinic in a wheelchair.

“In the exam room, Ducharme appeared weak and moaned in response to questions. As Harper lifted Ducharme to help her onto the bed, Ducharme became unresponsive with agonal respirations and no noticeable pulse. Harper yelled at her to get up, then moved her to the floor and began CPR. EMS was notified. EMS applied an Automated External Defibrillator to her and resuscitation efforts continued. EMS then transported Ducharme to the emergency room at Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital, where Dr. Rundell and the emergency room staff assumed care until all resuscitation efforts ceased.”

At 9:44 p.m. June 25, 2007, Kasie Ducharme was pronounced dead. Survivors included her children, Kaylee, James, and Alexander, and her parents, Jeff and Dana Rogers, all of Augusta. There was a visitation and a private family funeral service.

El Dorado Internal Medicine’s own expert, Dr. David McKinsey, faulted Park, the certified nurse aide, and Harper, the advanced registered nurse practitioner, for deviating from the standard of care. McKinsey criticized Harper for failing to order a chest X-ray, send Ducharme to the emergency room for evaluation of chest pain, or characterize the right lower leg swelling at the morning appointment the day Kasie died. He said Harper should have called an ambulance when she was called to come to the jail and immediately upon seeing Ducharme after arriving at the jail. Although Ducharme had a 50 percent chance of survival 22 hours before her death, she still had “a reasonable shot at survival as late as 8:30 p.m.,” McKinsey testified.

The Investigation

Current Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet was a detective the night Kasie Ducharme died. Because he was on call, he became the lead investigator. He was a patrol deputy from 1984 until 1987 when he took a job at the Wolf Creek Nuclear Power Plant. Herzet then returned to patrol in 1993 before being promoted to detective in 2000. Then-Sheriff Craig Murphy appointed Herzet undersheriff in Dec. 2009. Dana Rogers’ attorney, Christian Webb, took a deposition from Herzet on March 1, 2010.

As undersheriff, Herzet was responsible for jail operations and had an office at the jail, which is located just east of El Dorado. Herzet estimated that he had been involved in “probably a hundred” death investigations, including four homicides, during his law enforcement career. He testified that this was his first investigation of a jail death.

Herzet testified that Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent Randy Ewy assisted with the investigation, but did not take an active role. The Kansas Legislature passed a law effective July 1, 2004, requiring the KBI to investigate all inmate deaths. The next year, the Legislature amended the law so that the KBI was not required to investigate inmate deaths if an autopsy, preliminary autopsy report, or death certificate determined a death was from natural causes, or if the inmate had received regular care from a licensed physician, according to an Associated Press story from August 21, 2005.

In his questioning, Webb focused on the manner in which Herzet gathered his information. None of the interviews with inmates or staff was recorded despite the fact that the sheriff’s department has an interview room equipped with audio and video equipment at its offices on South Gordy in El Dorado, as well as portable recording equipment. Herzet also did not ask nurse practitioner Tamara Harper to fill out a written report as he had done with inmates and jail deputies.

WEBB: And did you ask Nurse Harper to fill out a written statement?

HERZET: Nurse Harper told me it would be easier for her just to walk me through her documented medical chart to do my interview.

WEBB: And was that in response to your request for a written statement?

HERZET: I don’t remember if I asked her to do a written statement. She told me her medical record would speak for itself and tell the story.

A bit later in the deposition, Webb asked whether Herzet had inquired about medical tests Harper had ordered or consultation with other providers about Ducharme’s condition.

WEBB: So in your interview with Nurse Harper, did you ask her any questions about what testing was undertaken or did you just listen?

HERZET: I just listened to what she had to say.

WEBB: After you got what she had to say, was there any follow-up with another medical provider independent of Nurse Harper to ascertain —

HERZET: No, sir.

WEBB: — what was done? No?

HERZET: No.

WEBB: Did Nurse Harper explain who she works for or where she works?

HERZET: No, and I didn’t ask.

WEBB: Did Nurse Harper explain whether or not she consulted with anyone on Ms. Ducharme’s treatment on June 25th, 2007?

HERZET: I don’t know and I didn’t ask.

WEBB: Did you essentially open up your note pad and write down what she told you about Kasie Ducharme’s care?

HERZET: Yes.

Herzet testified he neither interviewed Dr. Kuhns, Harper’s employer, nor obtained a copy of the agreement for Kuhns’ company to provide inmate health care at the jail. When Herzet was done with his investigation, its findings didn’t go much further.

WEBB: Who did you submit your investigation to when you were complete — when it was completed?

HERZET: To the file. You mean for review or for — I didn't refer it to anyone. It went into the file.

WEBB: It went to your file in the Butler County Sheriff's Office?

HERZET: Yes.

WEBB: Was it forwarded to anyone for review of any kind?

HERZET: Not that I recall.

WEBB: Wasn’t submitted to the attorney general’s office?

HERZET: No.

WEBB: Wasn’t submitted to the Butler County District Attorney’s office?

HERZET: No.

WEBB: Was it provided to Sheriff Murphy?

HERZET: I might have briefed Sheriff Murphy afterwards, but, no, he didn’t review the file.

WEBB: When your investigation was completed, it went physically into a file folder?

HERZET: Correct.

County Commission’s Role

Dr. Richard Kuhns’ company El Dorado Internal Medicine, LLC, provided inmate health care at the current Butler County Jail from the time it opened in 2003 until 2008. The Feb. 18, 2003, commission minutes indicate he was paid $230,880 a year. On Jan. 7, 2008, Kuhns, Harper, and then-Sheriff Craig Murphy attended a meeting of the Butler County Commission.

“Dr. Kuhns stated that Ms. Harper has done a superb job and spends at least 40 hours per week providing health care at the jail, while the minimum is 20 hours,” according to the meeting minutes. “Ms. Harper updated the Board on the scope of care, services provided, and pharmaceutical costs. Commissioner (Randy) Waldorf asked about attracting inmates because the county provides a high level of medical care on site. Ms. Harper said other counties and the U.S. Marshals do send inmates with medical needs to us because of the onsite medical care.”

Later in the meeting, Commissioner Jeff Masterson discussed “talking to Dr. Kuhns about medical staffing at the jail.”

On June 2, 2008, Murphy presented two bids from separate Peoria, Ill.-based companies to provide inmate health care at the jail. At the June 23, 2008, meeting, Commissioner Mike Wheeler reported Dr. Kuhns was interested in the contract for the jail. County Administrator Will Johnson asked Wheeler to share that with Murphy. Commissioners on Aug. 25, 2008, authorized Murphy to pursue a contract with Advanced Correctional Health Care, Inc., of Peoria, Ill., to be the new provider. Commissioners approved the five-year contract on Oct. 14, 2008, and instructed Johnson to terminate the contract with Dr. Kuhns. Advanced’s annual fee is $374,827, although the county sometimes receives a partial rebate. Advanced is apparently still providing services at the jail today.

Kasie Ducharme’s mother didn’t file her lawsuit against the county until June 22, 2009, so it’s unclear whether her daughter’s death played a role in county commissioners’ decision to change jail health care providers. Sheriff Murphy retired April 17, 2011, and the governor, on recommendation of the Butler County Republican Central Committee, appointed Herzet sheriff. Herzet is seeking his first term as the elected sheriff.

The Documents

Sheriff Kelly Herzet’s Deposition

Dana Rogers’ Federal Claim Against Butler County

Judge Marten’s Memorandum and Order of Summary Judgment

Judge Marten’s Journal Entry of Settlement

Official minutes of the Butler County Commission referred to in the story:

February 18, 2003, Butler County Commission minutes

January 7, 2008, Butler County Commission minutes

Monday, June 2, 2008, Butler County Commission minutes

Monday, August 25, 2008, Butler County Commission minutes

October 14, 2008, Butler County Commission minutes

Tuesday, October 5, 2010, Butler County Commission minutes