Wichita police said they will investigate allegations that Kansas state Sen. Michael O’Donnell purchased alcohol for underage Wichita State University students.
“We take underage drinking reports very seriously, no matter where they come from,” said Capt. Doug Nolte, a spokesman for the Wichita Police Department. “We will be investigating; we will look into this.”
In an article Thursday in The Topeka Capital-Journal, O’Donnell, 31, responded to allegations that he had provided alcohol to underage students, saying he took liquor to a party but didn’t provide it in other situations.
O’Donnell told The Eagle that he brought alcohol to a recent 21st birthday party attended by members of a WSU fraternity.
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He said he gave two cases of beer to Bailey Shupe as a 21st birthday present at the party.
“Bailey is a friend and has been a campaign supporter and volunteer in the past, and I gave a gift that seemed appropriate for the occasion,” O’Donnell told The Eagle.
When told that Wichita police planned to investigate, O’Donnell said, “I’m happy to talk to them about it.”
He said he attended the party in Wichita because he had developed friendships with members of the WSU fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, while campaigning.
On Wednesday, he told The Eagle that he had contributed money to buy alcohol and that he thought everyone at the party was 21.
Later on Friday, he said, he bought the cases of beer.
Initially, they just wanted money. What I did was I brought two cases of beer, because that’s what she had asked for for her birthday.
State Senator Michael O’Donnell
“Initially, they just wanted money. What I did was I brought two cases of beer, because that’s what she had asked for for her birthday,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said that the party was Feb. 19 in Wichita. He said he stopped by the party for about 30 minutes and then left early to drive to Overland Park to attend the Kansas Republican Convention.
A few hours later Friday, in another interview with The Eagle, he said he had been confused about the time and date of the party.
He said the party was on Feb. 20 and that he arrived late after driving back to Wichita from the Republican convention in Overland Park.
He said he gave two cases of beer to Shupe at 11:30 p.m. Feb. 20.
Shupe said she turned 21 on Feb. 21.
“I brought the cases on that night around 11:30, and I did not see her drink anything until after midnight,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said Shupe asked for the beer as a gift.
But I don’t drink beer, so I didn’t consume any of the beer.
“But I don’t drink beer,” Shupe told The Eagle, “so I didn’t consume any of the beer.”
Wichita State investigation
O’Donnell told The Eagle earlier in the week that as far as he knew, everyone at the party was 21 years old.
But on Friday, he said that one person present was Bailey’s cousin, Colby Rankin, who is 20. Both Rankin and O’Donnell said that Rankin did not consume alcohol at the party.
Photos on O’Donnell’s Instagram account, a social media app, show that he, Rankin and members of the fraternity visited Aspen and attended sports games for Kansas State University and the Wichita Thunder.
The Wichita State University Student Affairs Division said it began an immediate investigation into the party on Thursday. A spokesman for the university said in a written statement Friday that the university found that the underage person referenced in the Topeka Capital-Journal story was not enrolled at WSU at the time.
The event described wasn’t on campus and wasn’t sponsored by a WSU student organization, and thus wasn’t subject to university rules or oversight.
Because the party was not on university property, or sponsored by a student organization, the spokesman said it wasn’t subject to university rules or oversight.
O’Donnell said he developed friendships with some of the members of the fraternity through his campaigning.
“As a younger politician, I make it a point to get as many college Republicans and young Republicans involved in the process, and in politics,” he said.
He later added, “That’s the whole connection, and that’s the only reason I was at the party.”
O’Donnell said he has not decided whether to seek re-election to his state Senate seat, representing District 25 in central Wichita, or run for a seat on the Sedgwick County Commission.
Joseph Shepard, student body president for WSU, said he thinks university administration needs to conduct a fuller investigation into the party.
“We have an obligation to our students’ safety,” he said. “We have an obligation to our university to uphold our code of conduct.”
By Shepard’s interpretation of the conduct policy, he said, “it seems as though it would align with a violation.”
Shepard said he respects O’Donnell’s service to the state, but that he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to mix business with pleasure – in this case with his college campaign workers.
“It’s wrong to assume that everyone in a room is 21, and you’re providing alcohol,” he said. “I think he’s done the right thing by coming forward and saying ‘You know what, I provided the alcohol.’ It takes courage to do that, especially seeking another term.”
Contributing: Bryan Lowry and Roy Wenzl of The Eagle