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Official: Trust betrayed when sheriffs commit crimes

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Sep. 21, 2013, at 4:48 p.m.

When Hamilton County Sheriff Richard Garza was arrested early last Sunday morning, it marked the third time in less than two years that a Kansas sheriff found himself potentially facing criminal charges.

While he wasn’t ready to call it a rash of crimes committed by those wearing badges, the executive director of the Kansas Sheriffs Association calls such incidents offensive.

“It’s offensive to every sheriff, and it should be,” Sandy Horton said.

Garza was arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault.

In January 2012, Rooks County Sheriff Randy Axelson was arrested on drug charges and eventually pleaded guilty to four counts of distribution of methamphetamine. He was sentenced to four years and one month of prison.

Franklin County Sheriff Jeff Curry and a deputy were arrested early this year. Facing a felony obstruction of justice charge and a misdemeanor official misconduct charge, Curry resigned and entered a diversion program.

The charges will be dropped if Curry successfully completes diversion. As part of the agreement, Curry will relinquish his Kansas law enforcement certification for the rest of his life.

The deputy also resigned and relinquished his Kansas law enforcement certification.

“A sheriff’s not above the law,” Horton said. “They’re charged to enforce the law. If there’s a violation, they are subject to all the punishments and everything that falls within that.

“Integrity is a huge thing,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of fine people out there serving in the office of sheriff, and they share in the disappointment.”

Every law enforcement officer knows there’s a code of ethics that comes into play when they receive the badge, Horton said. They know they’re held to a higher code of conduct even when they’re off duty.

When a sheriff or other law enforcement officer commits a crime, he said, “You lose the public’s trust and confidence.

“For most sheriffs, it takes years to build that.”

Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter said it’s not a law enforcement officer’s arrest that will necessarily get the attention of the public.

“What’s more important is how those cases are addressed,” Easter said. “If they’re just kind of shoved under the carpet and nothing’s really looked at, that really erodes public trust.”

But a careful investigation followed by appropriate charges will show people that the law applies to everyone – even those who wear a badge.

“That’s more of a key point than just whether they get arrested,” Easter said.

Four Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputies have been arrested on suspicion of criminal activity since Easter took office late last year, a fact he recently described as “very frustrating.”

“I don’t get it,” he said after the most recent arrest earlier this month. “We’re sworn to uphold the law, not break the law.”

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @StanFinger.

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