Crime & Courts

How a Wichita cop charged with misconduct allegedly helped a wanted woman avoid arrest

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A Wichita officer charged with helping a wanted woman avoid capture on May 3 picked her up in his police patrol car “and drove her away” after he found out about a 911 call reporting her whereabouts, according to a law enforcement affidavit used to justify the officer’s prosecution.

The affidavit, released in response to a request from The Eagle last month, gives the first public glimpse of how Matt Powell allegedly misused police resources and obstructed justice so the woman wouldn’t be arrested for an outstanding misdemeanor warrant issued by Wichita Municipal Court.

Powell’s defense attorney, Jess Hoeme, said Friday by email that Powell “is presumed to be innocent and in this case, he very well is.”

“I look forward to our opportunity to tell the rest of the story!” Hoeme wrote.

Hoeme told The Eagle in July, when Powell pleaded not guilty, that the case amounts to a “failure to communicate,” but he did not elaborate on what that might mean.

Powell is charged with two misdemeanor counts of official misconduct and one misdemeanor count of obstructing apprehension or prosecution of the woman, Heather Doody. Her name is redacted from the affidavit but appears in other court documents.

According to the affidavit, Powell came under suspicion after two of his fellow police officers, Christopher Bloss and Timothy Wescott, saw Powell talking by phone with an officer who had been dispatched to a location where the woman was expected to show up. The call was dispatched at about 5:30 p.m. on May 3.

After they saw Powell talk on the phone to Officer Kailee Oswalt while Oswalt was en route to the address, the affidavit says Bloss and Wescott heard Oswalt “clear the call over the radio.” Powell then left the police station.

The affidavit says Bloss and Wescott suspected Powell of telling the woman in the past when police were headed to arrest her “and thought he may have done it again on this day,” meaning May 3.

They had heard Powell say previously that “he did not want … (the woman) picked up on her warrant,” the affidavit says.

Bloss and Wescott went to the address that was the subject of the dispatched call to see if they could find the woman themselves. The officers talked to the person who called 911 to report the woman’s whereabouts.

The 911 caller told Bloss and Wescott that the woman had sent her a message saying “she knew” that the caller had “called the police on her,” which made Bloss and Wescott think that Powell used police resources to find out the caller’s name and gave it to the woman, the affidavit says.

The caller had asked to remain anonymous.

The 911 caller told police that she knew the woman “has been talking with a Wichita Police Officer regularly on her phone through the Facebook Messenger application” and that the woman “would light up and appear to be happy” when she swapped messages with the officer, according to the affidavit.

The caller told police that when the woman and the officer talked it “sounded as if they were in a relationship,” the affidavit says. The caller said the woman did not want to disclose “who she was talking to and tried to keep it a secret,” the affidavit says.

Police ultimately arrested Doody on the outstanding warrant in mid May.

In interviews with police and Sheriff’s Office investigators, the woman said she befriended Powell after he sent her a friend request on Facebook. She told investigators that Powell had “helped her avoid detection for several months” — including telling her on May 3 that “the police were on their way to arrest her,” the affidavit says.

That day, Powell picked her up in his police patrol car after telling her to hide and drove her to the area of Edwards and Newell streets, where he dropped her off, according to the affidavit.

The last time they spoke, on May 12, the woman said Powell told her “he thought he was going to get in trouble for talking to her and asked her to not talk about them.”

The affidavit says the woman told investigators that she and Powell talk “regularly while he is on duty” and that she described their conversations as flirtatious, but said they “have not had sexual contact.”

GPS technology connected to Powell’s patrol car and Facebook messages authorities obtained through a search warrant confirmed the woman’s account and his location on May 3, the affidavit says. When authorities looked through Powell’s cellphone “it appeared that all facebook messenger information had been deleted or removed,” the affidavit says.

Police announced Powell’s charges in June.

Hoeme, the defense attorney representing Powell, on Friday challenged the way the affidavit characterized Powell’s conversations with the woman, saying the “actual conversation and the facts of the case will tell a different story when presented in context.”

“Officer Powell was not being flirtatious, he was being kind and courteous in any attempt to maintain a good working relationship with an informant,” Hoeme wrote in the email.

“The affiant’s commentary that it (the conversation) was ‘flirtatious’ only insinuates sensationalism to an otherwise appropriate relationship in the world of clandestine investigations.”

Powell has worked for the Wichita Police Department for seven years. He has been on unpaid administrative leave since June 26. His next court date is Aug. 22.

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Amy Renee Leiker has been reporting for The Wichita Eagle since 2010. She covers crime, courts and breaking news and updates the newspaper’s online databases. You can reach her at 316-268-6644. She’s an avid reader and mom of three in her non-work time.