Monday, December 22, 2014

Homicides shaped sheriff’s first year

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 4/16/2014

Jeff Richards didn’t see it coming. No one did.

Less than one month after Richards was sworn in as Franklin County sheriff April 10, 2013, a quadruple homicide rocked the county and tested the local law enforcement agency’s mettle like no other event had in decades.

Jeff Richards didn’t see it coming. No one did.

Less than one month after Richards was sworn in as Franklin County sheriff April 10, 2013, a quadruple homicide rocked the county and tested the local law enforcement agency’s mettle like no other event had in decades.

Richards was appointed sheriff by Gov. Sam Brownback after Jeff Curry stepped down as sheriff April 1 amid allegations of criminal wrongdoing. The investigation into Curry had tainted the department’s public image. Richards, a veteran law enforcement official even before his appointment, sat down with The Herald Wednesday to take a look back at his first year in office.

“After getting in there and actually getting to know the team and become a part of the organization, I realized that some of the public’s perception about the department was not reality,” Richards said. “I think, maybe partially because of the investigation [into Curry], and partially because we are a smaller agency, sometimes you hear people say this isn’t Johnson County, so we can’t do this or we can’t do that. No, we are not Johnson County, but that doesn’t mean we are going to give an inferior service. I expect high quality service, and we are working hard to deliver it.”

Just days after Richards and Rick Geist, undersheriff, took office last spring, three adult bodies were discovered May 6 and May 7 on a rural property at 3197 Georgia Road, west of Ottawa. The victims later were identified as Kaylie Bailey, 21, Andrew Stout, 30, and Steven White, 31. The remains of Lana Bailey, Kaylie’s 18-month-old daughter, were found about dusk May 11 in a creek in Osage County by an Osage County sheriff’s deputy. Kyle Flack, the 28-year-old Ottawa man accused in the four deaths, is scheduled to be back in Franklin County District Court for his arraignment Tuesday. Testimony during Flack’s preliminary hearing last month indicated all four victims were killed with a shotgun.

The exhausting investigation and search for Lana took a toll on the 64 men and women of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Richards said, with hundreds of leads and potential clues flooding into the department. Deputies, detectives, jail staff, administrators, dispatchers and office staff took on additional duties during the investigation, Richards said, often working overtime and on days off.

“The level everyone performed at during that quadruple homicide investigation was tremendous,” Richards said. “I think any perception that we aren’t capable of investigating that type of crime here isn’t true. We showed we can. We showed we are capable of that type of investigation. Undersheriff [Rick] Geist and I were new to the department, but not the actual boots on the ground people. None of them had changed. They proved they can operate at that high level, which I think ran counter to what public perception was at that time. We have a lot to be proud of in the men and women of the sheriff’s department. They performed very well.”

Overtime accrued by the sheriff’s office during the quadruple homicide investigation and a harsh winter that required extra patrol officers to work multiple wrecks when ice and snow covered the county’s highways and roads on several occasions, took a toll on the department’s budget in his first year on the job, Richards said.

I-35 stretches across 31 miles of Franklin County, the most of any county in the state, Richards said, and patrolling the interstate can prove challenging, not to mention the other hundreds of miles of highways and roads in the county — especially under adverse weather conditions.

“We finished the year 102 to 103 percent of what had been budgeted [for the department], but we were under budget in the other two departments I’m responsible for [911 dispatch center and county jail] and that more than compensated for what we were over [in the general fund for the sheriff’s office],” Richards said. “So at the end of the day, it balanced out.”

Richards, who has more than 20 years of law enforcement experience between the U.S. Air Force and the Overland Park Police Department before joining the sheriff’s office, said the quadruple homicide was the largest event that defined his first year in office.

“I’ve been a cop since I was 21 years of age, and I’ve been detective for nine years, and by far this was the biggest thing I’ve ever been a part of as far as an investigation goes,” Richards, 45, said. “Hopefully I will finish my career with that being the biggest thing I’ve had to do [from an investigation standpoint].”

JAIL UPGRADES

Though the homicide investigation was the highest profile work done by Richards during his first year in office, the sheriff has been busy with a number of other initiatives during the past 12 months.

The sheriff’s office has established a new visitation policy at the Franklin County Adult Detention Center, using a video visitation procedure that allows inmates and visitors to communicate via the Internet, Richards said.

“Visitors can come to our lobby and use [the video service] or they can do it from home [on a personal computer],” Richards said. “We are still able to monitor those video conversations to make sure no inappropriate behavior takes place. It’s been quite a success. People seem to be pretty pleased with it. The inmate doesn’t have to leave the cell, so it’s been more efficient and safer than having to transport them back and forth from a visitation room.”

The sheriff’s office also is using a commissary service at the jail that operates through a kiosk system that has proved to be more efficient, Richards said, and the jail recently contracted its health services through Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Peoria, Ill., to provide health services to inmates, Richards said.

“Advanced Correctional provides medical and mental health services to correctional facilities across the country, so we are benefitting from their knowledge and experience and it has provided the department with some cost savings benefits,” Richards said. “An inmate I talked to a couple of weeks ago said health-wise he felt better than he has in years. It’s good to know we are providing service that keeps them healthy. It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep prisoners healthy.”

About a month ago, Richards said, the jail was able to open up space that had formerly been used to house juvenile inmates before the juvenile detention facility was built on Beech Street. The additional space should help alleviate potential overcrowding problems, he said.

And the department is taking bids to upgrade the sally port at the jail/sheriff’s office building, 305 S. Main St., Ottawa, Richards said.

The sally port allows sheriff’s deputies to drive their vehicles into a secure area inside the building and take prisoners directly into the booking room at the jail, Richards said. Now, prisoners are transported to a parking lot, and are taken through the front door of the building, where members of the public could be in the lobby, he said. Parading prisoners through an open parking lot presents safety concerns for the prisoners, officers and public, he said.

The sally port has been inoperable for some time because the entrance was not designed for the size of vehicles a modern law enforcement agency now deploys, such as the Dodge Chargers used by the sheriff’s office.

“Upgrading the sally port is huge from a safety point, and it would also be nice to be able to use that portion of the building for its intended purpose,” Richards said. “I don’t plan to spend any tax dollars to fund that. We’ll use an available trust fund of money seized or forfeited as a result of criminal investigations. I’m hoping [the work] will be finished this summer.”

The sheriff also has upgraded department uniforms, some of which were worn and tattered, and issued winter coats to personnel on patrol, Richards said.

“They had not had winter coats issued to them, so we fixed that,” Richards said. “We had people buying their own coats or wearing light-weight jackets that had been issued to them, but nothing matched. Being a military guy, it was pretty important to me that our uniforms looked the same. I think that’s important to the public too. We expect our [patrol personnel] to stand out on highways in the snow and ice, and we need them to have coats — that’s a pretty big thing in wintertime [in Kansas].”

BOOSTING DARE

The sheriff also pointed to the department’s push to emphasize the DARE program in schools as part of an education effort to combat the county’s drug problem, he said, with Tera Brooks, patrol deputy, leading DARE classes in all of the elementary schools in the county outside of the City of Ottawa.

“If I’m not the first to tell you, then I’ll be the most recent one to say the county has a drug problem,” Richards said. “And it effects everyone in the community, not just those taking the drugs. A lot of the thefts and burglaries and violence can be connected back to drugs. In addition to the enforcement end, we are trying to put more emphasis on education and prevention, so hopefully we’ll have to put less emphasis on the enforcement end in the future.”

In another initiative, Jimmy Reeder, bond supervision officer at the jail, went through the law enforcement academy this past year to become a certified peace officer and is leading offender registration efforts with the department.

“The office staff traditionally has done that work, and they still have a big role in that, but I couldn’t send the office staff out to make home visits,” Richards said. “We had a couple of people not in compliance with offender registration, and I wasn’t completely satisfied with the way things were working before, so we made some changes and we’ve gone out and made some arrests and brought some people in.

“They have to register for a reason,” Richards said. “We have the responsibility to make sure they stay in compliance, and the community expects us to do that. We’ve stepped up our game and let people know we take this seriously.”

Richards, who has filed for election in the sheriff’s race, which faces a primary in August before the November general election, is undertaking other initiatives within the department, such as rewriting some polices and bringing in an outside auditor to audit the contents of the evidence/property room. He also is working with officials in Lane to help the community establish a Neighborhood Watch, he said.

“I really love the job,” Richards said. “I hope to be around to implement some of the other things I would like to do.”

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