Saturday, August 02, 2014

2013 TOP STORY NO. 2: Sheriff faces charges

By The Herald Staff | 12/30/2013

Facing criminal charges and a public scandal, an embattled Jeff Curry resigned April 1 as Franklin County’s sheriff.

Following a KBI investigation that led to his arrest, Curry opted to surrender his law enforcement credentials rather than face a potential jury trial just a few short months after he had been elected to the office with 85 percent of the vote in the November general election.

Facing criminal charges and a public scandal, an embattled Jeff Curry resigned April 1 as Franklin County’s sheriff.

Following a KBI investigation that led to his arrest, Curry opted to surrender his law enforcement credentials rather than face a potential jury trial just a few short months after he had been elected to the office with 85 percent of the vote in the November general election.

Curry, who had served in the sheriff’s office in some capacity since 1994, announced his resignation plans March 21 during the first hearing of ouster proceedings filed against him in Franklin County District Court, stemming from his Feb. 27 arrest by agents with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation on a felony charge of interference with law enforcement and a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct.

A prosecutor’s effort to remove Curry from office accused the Franklin County sheriff of telling his lover — Heather Jones, former county attorney — that federal authorities were investigating her on suspicion of buying meth.

The allegations came to light in March when Senior Judge John E. Sanders ruled in favor of a motion filed by The Herald and two Kansas City media outlets to unseal the civil ouster petition against Curry. The petition, filed by Stephen Hunting, Franklin County attorney, shortly after Curry’s Feb. 27 arrest, was intended to remove the then-sheriff from office, though Curry’s March 21 resignation announcement largely rendered it moot.

Information contained in the petition, however, detailed separate criminal allegations against Curry, which until Sanders’ ruling largely had been sealed by Franklin County District Court.

“By notifying Heather Jones on or about May 30, 2012, that she had been identified and accused by a [confidential informant] of having purchased methamphetamine in Franklin County, Kansas, [Curry] unlawfully used confidential information acquired during the course of and related to [Curry’s] official capacity as sheriff of Franklin County for the personal and private benefit or gain of the defendant and/or Heather Jones,” the petition read, noting the tip constituted a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct.

Special prosecutors also accused Curry and Jerrod Fredricks, a master deputy with the sheriff’s office, of falsely reporting information during the course of an investigation.

To avoid facing a trial in the criminal case against him, Curry accepted the terms of a 12-month “diversion” agreement, and he and Fredricks both agreed to surrender their law enforcement licenses and never again seek such licensing. If Curry successfully completes the diversion, both criminal charges against him would be dismissed, special prosecutor J. Todd Hiatt, who handled the case on behalf of the Franklin County Attorney’s Office and the State of Kansas, said. Curry is more than halfway through the 12-month process now.

Appointed sheriff in 2010 and elected in 2012, Curry’s April 1 resignation was accepted by Gov. Sam Brownback’s office. Jeff Richards, an Ottawa city commissioner with a long career in law enforcement, was tapped by the Franklin County Republican Central Committee to succeed Curry. A detective with the Overland Park Police Department, Richards left that job and resigned as an Ottawa city commissioner to accept the sheriff’s role.

Just days after Richards and Undersheriff Rick Geist — a former Ottawa police detective who came out of retirement to accept the post — were sworn into office, they found themselves investigating a quadruple homicide just outside Ottawa.

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