Crime & Courts

Sheriff interfered with deputies arresting his girlfriend after DUI stop, KBI says

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Witnessing a crime and reporting it can be just as frightening as being the victim of a crime. Here’s what you should do if you witness illegal activity. (Nicole L. Cvetnic / McClatchy)
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Witnessing a crime and reporting it can be just as frightening as being the victim of a crime. Here’s what you should do if you witness illegal activity. (Nicole L. Cvetnic / McClatchy)

A southeast Kansas sheriff interfered with deputies who were arresting his girlfriend after a DUI stop, investigators allege.

Montgomery County Sheriff Robert “Bobby” W. Dierks, 55, told state investigators that his girlfriend of two years broke up with him after her arrest in January, 2018 because he didn’t get her out of her second DUI, according to court documents. Deputies told investigators that the sheriff asked them to “look the other way” during her arrest.

Dierks was charged earlier this month with interference with a law enforcement officer — obstruction or attempted obstruction, and intimidation of a witness — attempt to prevent or dissuade, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation has said. The misdemeanor charges are connected to a Jan. 27, 2018, drunk driving arrest in Montgomery County.

A KBI agent detailed the allegations against Dierks in a probable cause affidavit, a court document that lays out the legal reasoning for criminal charges. The public document gives the following account of what happened.

Dispatchers received a 911 call reporting a reckless driver who may be intoxicated, and Deputy Ian Hurst pulled over a vehicle at around 9:45 p.m. on U.S. Highway 75 about 5 miles north of Independence. The driver of that vehicle was Valerie Smith.

She allegedly told the deputy to call the sheriff, and that she was the sheriff’s girlfriend. Instead, Hurst called his supervisor, and Smith called Dierks herself. She then handed her phone to the deputy.

Hurst told the sheriff that his girlfriend was suspected of driving while drunk, and Dierks told the deputy that he would come pick her up if the deputy just placed her in handcuffs. The deputy told Dierks that a witness was watching and Smith might have hit something while driving because there was damage to her vehicle.

The sheriff told deputies not to call a tow truck and that he would “take care” of it. Dierks told investigators that it is an officer’s discretion to call a family member or friend instead of a tow truck to pick up a vehicle.

The deputy and the supervisor, Sgt. Jeremy Hunsucker, decided to continue the DUI investigation. Smith was then arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. The sheriff heard about the arrest over his radio.

As Hurst was taking Smith to jail, he received a call from the sheriff. Dierks allegedly asked his deputy “if there was any way he could change his mind.” The deputy said no.

Smith allegedly refused to comply with field sobriety tests. She wouldn’t give a breath sample, so deputies got a search warrant for her blood. She was refusing to give the blood sample as the sheriff arrived at the jail.

“Smith began pleading with him to do something and help her out of this, but Dierks did nothing,” investigators wrote in the affidavit.

She eventually let deputies take a blood sample after the sheriff talked to her. Dierks said he told Smith “he could not help her because he was the sheriff and not her attorney.” She then became angry with him, Dierks said.

He told investigators that his girlfriend later broke up with him “because she said he ruined her life by not helping her get out of a DUI.”

Dierks allowed Smith to bond out of jail without paying any bail money and then took her home. He told investigators that he did not know this was her second DUI arrest and that if he had, he wouldn’t have let her out of jail on an own recognizance bond.

Letting inmates out on an O.R. bond is the sheriff’s discretion, Dierks told investigators, but his ex-girlfriend did not receive special treatment.

After the arrest, Dierks allegedly asked Hurst to not show up to Smith’s driver’s license hearing and also asked Hurst’s supervisor and Undersheriff Richard George to talk to him about not testifying. The sheriff’s reasoning was that Smith had children, and if she lost her license then he would have to drive her kids around, creating a “hardship” for him.

Hunsucker, the supervisor, said Dierks did not threaten him or Hurst, but that he “felt it was pretty unprofessional” of the sheriff. He told investigators that he “was worried about losing his job, but the right thing to do was arrest Smith.”

The undersheriff told the sheriff that it was “inappropriate” to ask a deputy to skip a hearing, and Dierks said he would apologize to them.

Smith’s license was eventually suspended after Hurst was subpoenaed and testified at a hearing.

Dierks admitted to investigators that he said to deputies that “it would be nice if they did not show up” to his girlfriend’s driver’s license hearing, but he denied instructing or pressuring them to ignore a subpoena.

The sheriff denied that he instructed or implied for deputies to not arrest Smith. He told investigators that he did not remember asking deputies to just take her home. The KBI agent then asked the sheriff if that was something he would have done.

“He said that he has done that for others, but he hoped he did not do that in this situation,” the agent wrote.

When the sheriff was asked to name which deputies were involved in the arrest, he left out Hurst’s name, the main deputy involved in the case.

The KBI agent obtained sworn statements from five sheriff’s office employees in preparing the affidavit.

Employees at the department were notified of the charges against their boss through an email, the Montgomery County Chronicle reported. In the message, the sheriff referred to the criminal charges as “politics.”

“Please continue to conduct business as usual, and let me take care of the politics,” Dierks wrote to his deputies, the newspaper reported. “I have nothing to hide, and will have my day in court.”

The sheriff was not available for comment Friday evening. A sheriff’s office official previously told The Eagle that the agency does not have a statement on the matter.

Dierks has pleaded not guilty to the charges, the Parsons Sun reported. The county attorney appointed J. Todd Hiatt, of Topeka, as a special prosecutor. Judges in Montgomery County recused themselves, so Judge Daniel Creitz, of Iola, was appointed to hear the case.

Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Ben Gardner speaks about the sentencing of Steven Johnson on murder and manslaughter charges after the DUI crash that killed Jessica, Jaydon and Leah Thompson in a video posted to his Twitter account on June 1, 2018.

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