KSN Investigates: Law enforcement and background checks

(Photo courtesy KSN News)

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – All this week, KSN has been following the story of Michael Stone, a former Marion police officer who had his certification revoked as the result of a 20-year-old domestic violence conviction. That conviction, even though expunged, disqualified him from carrying a weapon.

Stone claims he was always up front about his past when applying for jobs. If so, why didn’t one of the four agencies who hired him know this, and how did he spend almost two decades in law enforcement?

Everyone who serves in law enforcement in Kansas has to undergo a multi-tiered background check. The layers depend on the agency, but the minimum requirements set forth by the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Act include, among other things: being fingerprinted, being of good moral character, completing a psychological assessment and not being convicted of felony or misdemeanor domestic violence.

To that, Michael Stone says, “What I won’t accept responsibility for is to say I hid it. I did my part.”

That’s Stone’s claim to KSN News. He says he thought the document from a California court outlining his change of plea and essential expungement cleared him to carry a gun. It was his final hurdle in getting a job at the El Dorado Correctional Facility in 1997.

“Everyone’s saying it’s OK, must be OK,” Stone claimed. “I’m not an attorney; I don’t know.”

But it wasn’t OK according to state law. And Stone certified, under oath, that he knew the minimum requirements to serve and met them.

This week’s decision from the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Training and Standards makes clear expungement doesn’t give him clearance to serve. Perhaps it’s that language, in a court issued document, that caused Stone to be hired in El Dorado. The K.D.O.C. says it can’t speak on personnel matters.

From there, he spent most of the next eight years serving in different capacities for the Butler County Sheriff. Current Sheriff, Kelly Herzet, worked in the agency at the time.

“I think in years past there was a lot more of the good ole boy system of hiring someone,” Herzet told us. “If you knew the sheriff, or knew someone who could put in a good word for you, there was a good possibility you get a job.”

Herzet doesn’t know if the then-sheriff was aware of the conviction, but we do know Butler County had another chance to find it. In 2006, the agency served a temporary protection from abuse order against Stone that also detailed the 1995 conviction. That temporary P.F.A. was later dismissed when the accuser failed to show up to a court hearing.

As for today’s hiring standards, Herzet touts a more stringent process now that takes upwards of three months and includes a polygraph test.

In 2010, Stone became police chief in the small town of Florence with a population of less than 500. Longtime resident Mary Shipman was a three-term mayor. She held office when Stone was hired.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office processes some of their background requests, but it’s up to the city to decide who gets hired.

“It makes me wonder how it happened,” Shipman said. “Is it because it happened in California and it just didn’t show up any red flags?”

Shipman says fewer people and resources keep small towns, like Florence, from being as thorough as big agencies. She says Stone came with good credentials.

“To find somebody like a qualified police chief is next to impossible for a small town or community,” said Shipman.

From there, Stone traveled to Marion where he served five years on the force before resigning in early August.

“Every year our backgrounds are run in dispatch,” he said, “every year it comes up. It’s not a big secret. I can’t control what the state systems do.”

We also reached out to the city administrator, the city attorney and the police chief to get their take on Mike Stone’s hiring and his time in law enforcement. All three refused our request for on-camera interviews.

Marion Police Chief Tyler Mermis told KSN off camera he believed the background check revealed the case was dismissed.


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