Chief Tyler Brewer, Augusta's director of Public Safety, recently responded to two Kansas Open Records Act requests concerning a 2003 suicide case.
Chief Tyler Brewer, Augusta’s director of Public Safety, recently responded to two Kansas Open Records Act requests concerning a 2003 suicide case involving the wife of a sheriff’s deputy in Augusta. Official autopsy reports determined that Becky Stone, 24, a state correctional worker, died in Augusta from a self-inflicted gunshot.
Brewer said, “I have no problem fulfilling an open records request, but the innuendo that a professional department such as ours is less than professional is insulting and seems to be the norm for a particular campaign message.”
Brewer stated more importantly, he feels they are re-opening a wound for the family that will only further disappoint them.
Brewer said, “That’s the tragedy here, using something like this for political gain when you don’t have the facts.”
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.
Brewer also said there were comments made that the family couldn’t obtain the autopsy report. He said their attorney got that report years ago when the family had asked for assistance from others who were not associated with law enforcement.
Brewer further noted, “We have again offered the family access to the records since this issue has once again arisen. Their memory, as expected, doesn’t reconcile with their recent comments in the news. That’s understandable; family members didn’t take exhaustive notes of meetings, conversations, and they carry enormous heartbreak.”
Brewer further commented that copies of the original Open Records request from Concerned Citizens of Butler County were sent to the Wichita Eagle and to a federal agency.
Concerned Citizens of Butler County has promoted Walker Andrews for Sheriff, but they have not directly financially contributed to his campaign. Andrews said he is not directly affiliated with the group.
A member of the agency told one of Brewer’s investigators that there was a request that they open a RICO investigation in Butler County. The Rico Act (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) is a federal law designed to combat organized crime in the United States. It allows prosecution and civil penalties for racketeering activity performed as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise. The department also recently received another open records act request from a Wichita television station.
Brewer said his department had responded to the Open Records Act requests accordingly, but that there was a fee attached to copying reports, tapes, and other items. He thinks someone has told the family Augusta is being unreasonable. However, Brewer said the representative for the family had full access to the case years ago and that reimbursement is allowed under the Kansas Open Records statute. He said that there are nearly 500 pages of reports and estimate it will take 20 staff hours to complete the task. He believes the tax payers of Augusta should be reimbursed for the employee and machine hours to complete the request. He also added that he offered to make the reports available for review on site to two Wichita television stations at no charge, but they didn’t seem interested in the offer once they were informed of the background concerning the case. He’s a little disappointed that the media hasn’t made an effort to follow through on the offer. Brewer says he and his department members would appreciate a public vindication.
Brewer said the phone call to the Feds is especially inflammatory. They indicated they did not plan to do anything with the request at this time.
Brewer said, “One could only assume that to indicate and insinuate that something criminal has taken place might especially strain future relationships.”
He further indicated he will make every effort to work with whoever is the next sheriff, but that the present relationship the area departments have with the Herzet administration is excellent. Most of the grumbling Brewer has heard about Herzet has been from former disgruntled employees.
“Rumor is that many of these are people who work for the Andrews campaign and have an axe to grind,” Brewer said.
Another rumor floating around is that someone from the Andrews campaign called the FBI and requested a RICO investigation, indicating a cover-up by departments throughout Butler County.
Walker Andrews, an opponent of Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet in the upcoming election, has stated that the Stone case would be re-examined if he is elected.
“I was approached by the family members and several others to take an objective look at the case. That’s the extent of it,” Andrews advised. “I’m not advocating a re-investigation. If elected and with the assistance of Chief Brewer and the Augusta Police Department, I would review the case and the points brought to me - as I would with any case I’m asked to look at.”
Upon contacting Butler County Sheriff Herzet about this particular case, he advised the case wasn’t worked by the sheriff’s department and he wasn’t the sheriff at the time and knows very little about the case. He did add he thinks Walker is confused about the role of the Sheriff. He said Walker keeps telling people the Sheriff is the head law enforcement officer in the county and that’s just not true, the County Attorney is the head law enforcement officer in the county.
Herzet said he has complete confidence in Augusta’s investigation of the incident. He said it’s too bad that Walker is using a ‘divide and conquer’ approach without knowing the facts and made grandiose statements at the expense of other hard working departments in Butler County.
Herzet added, “I personally am just trying to run a ‘clean’ campaign and hopefully the voters in Butler County will see that.”
Herzet is being challenged in the primary by Curtis Cox, Mike Holton, and Andrews. There are no Democrat candidates in the sheriff race.
Belinda Larsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Belinda_Larsen