Monday, October 20, 2014

New attorney could delay effort to remove sheriff

By BOBBY BURCH, Herald Staff Writer | 3/6/2013

A defense lawyer for the county’s top law enforcement officer moved Wednesday toward action that could delay ouster proceedings aimed at removing Franklin County’s sheriff from office.

Sporting a gray suit and stoic demeanor, embattled Sheriff Jeff Curry made his first court appearance Wednesday morning in Franklin County District Court, 301 S. Main St., Ottawa, following a Feb. 27 arrest on a felony charge. He was accompanied by Olathe-based attorney Trey Pettlon, who indicated he was new to the case and told the presiding judge he needed more time to learn the details of the allegations against his client.

A defense lawyer for the county’s top law enforcement officer moved Wednesday toward action that could delay ouster proceedings aimed at removing Franklin County’s sheriff from office.

Sporting a gray suit and stoic demeanor, embattled Sheriff Jeff Curry made his first court appearance Wednesday morning in Franklin County District Court, 301 S. Main St., Ottawa, following a Feb. 27 arrest on a felony charge. He was accompanied by Olathe-based attorney Trey Pettlon, who indicated he was new to the case and told the presiding judge he needed more time to learn the details of the allegations against his client.

In addition to facing a felony charge of interference with law enforcement and a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct, Curry is the target of an ouster proceeding filed Feb. 27 by Stephen Hunting, Franklin County attorney. Hunting previously turned the case over to the Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office, which is handling the prosecution, as well as the ouster proceedings.

“The allegations in the ouster obviously are tied very closely to the allegations in the criminal case,” Pettlon said when detailing his need for more time to study the case. “I have not seen the discovery yet.”

Extending the discovery process, wherein Pettlon would meet with the Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office and examine court documents, potentially could delay the first ouster hearing, which Senior Judge John E. Sanders on Wednesday tentatively set for March 14.

Pettlon said he planned to meet with Todd Hiatt, a special prosecutor working on behalf of the Franklin County Attorney’s Office, the Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office and the State of Kansas, early next week for discovery. At that time, both parties could agree to delay the civil ouster proceedings until after Curry’s preliminary hearing, which was set Wednesday for 1:30 p.m. April 1.

Pettlon told The Herald Wednesday afternoon neither he nor his client were ready to make any statements to the public

Criminal charges

Curry sat silently for much of Wednesday’s court appearance.

When Judge Sanders asked the sheriff if he wanted the charges against him read aloud, Curry answered no.

A criminal complaint filed Feb. 27 by Hiatt alleges Curry lied in September about unlawfully using confidential information to privately benefit himself, another or to cause harm to another, leading to the felony charge of interference with law enforcement.

The documents also allege that in late May 2012 Curry misused confidential information and later falsely reported to law enforcement, resulting in the misdemeanor charge, as well as his arrest Feb. 27 by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

Along with Curry, Jerrod Fredricks, master deputy and public information officer with the sheriff’s office, faces a felony charge of interference with law enforcement. Fredricks did not make a first appearance Wednesday, but is scheduled to appear with Curry during the April 1 preliminary hearing.

Fredricks is being represented by Scott Gyllenborg, Olathe, according to court documents.

As part of the bond agreements for the two, neither Curry nor Fredricks is allowed to possess a firearm or discuss the case with any of the at least 13 endorsed witnesses.

Details about the origins of the charges against Curry and Fredricks and the investigation of the sheriff’s office, including the execution of a Sept. 27 KBI search warrant at the sheriff’s office, have been restricted. Multiple open records requests made by The Herald have been declined by the KBI, Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office and Franklin County, citing the ongoing nature of the case.

Possible witnesses

The April 1 preliminary hearing for Curry and Fredricks might be one of the public’s first opportunities to learn more about the case against the two law enforcement officials.

At the preliminary hearing, Curry and Fredricks would be expected to enter pleas. If they plead not guilty, the prosecution would present evidence and outline the cases, even calling witnesses to testify. Judge Sanders then would rule whether the evidence was sufficient to proceed to trial.

Among the limited information already revealed by court documents is a list of potential witnesses who might be called to testify at the preliminary hearing. That list includes Heather R. Jones, former Franklin County attorney and more recently head of the child abuse and sex crimes unit for the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office, as well as several members of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

Fredricks, along with Lt. Curtis Hall, Sgt. Shane Pruitt and Det. Jeremie Thompson are among those with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office who might take the stand. Pruitt now serves as acting public information officer, following Fredricks’ arrest. Thompson is a member of the Franklin County Drug Enforcement Unit, which recently helped secure the conviction of Connie Edwards, 61, Ottawa, who was sentenced this week for her role in a large prescription drug ring.

 Other potential witnesses include Jessica Blackstone, a Williamsburg woman who was indicted in December on a charge relating to a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, as well as Sheri McCracken, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Kansas, who prosecuted Blackstone’s case, as well as the case against Edwards.

Capt. Adam Weingartner, with the Ottawa Police Department, Kathleen “Katie” Smith, the mother of deceased Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Sam Smith, James Bridges, special agent with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, KBI lab personnel, Wyandotte County personnel and an unnamed confidential informant also are listed as potential witnesses.

New judge on case

Curry’s attorney was not the only new player in the courtroom Wednesday.

Judge Sanders joined the proceedings earlier this week after being tapped by Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss to handle the case. Sanders’ assignment resulted from Chief Judge Phillip Fromme asking the Kansas Supreme Court to assign a judge from outside the Fourth Judicial District, John Steelman, Franklin County District Court administrator, said late Tuesday. Sanders will preside over the criminal cases against Curry and Fredricks, as well as the ouster proceedings initiated by Hunting.

Magistrate Judge Kevin Kimball, with the Fourth Judicial District, previously was assigned to the cases. Kimball, who had served as undersheriff for former Franklin County Sheriff Craig Davis, swore in Curry in July 2010 after Curry was appointed to the sheriff position. Judge Thomas Sachse, also with the Fourth Judicial District, swore in Curry in January.

Sanders, El Dorado, previously served as a Butler County District Court judge before retiring in 2010. The judge also served a stint on the Kansas Supreme Court, when Chief Justice Robert E. Davis was on medical leave.

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