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Archive for Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Attorney: Deteriorating Baldwin Police situation lands client back in jail

July 24, 2002

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Perplexed Baldwin officials are scratching their heads about a judge's decision to revoke the bond of a former resident awaiting sentencing for his role in a shooting there.

Douglas County District Court Judge Jack Murphy on Monday ordered Stephen Meeker, 35, taken to jail for his own protection because of a deteriorating situation in the Baldwin Police Department, according to Meeker's attorney, Jim Rumsey.

"That's bizarre," Baldwin City Administrator Larry Paine said. "It doesn't make any sense to me."

"That's pretty strange," Baldwin Mayor Ken Hayes said. "I don't see any correlation."

The judge's decision came on the heels of Friday's resignation of the Baldwin police chief. Steve Butell resigned after being with the department 18 years, most of them as chief.

Meeker had been free on $15,000 bond and was awaiting sentencing Aug. 16. Friday, a Douglas County jury found him guilty of aggravated battery, attempted aggravated battery and aggravated assault.

Meeker was charged in the Oct. 14, 2001, shooting of Steven Swafford, 33, the boyfriend of Meeker's next-door neighbor. The shooting culminated a long-simmering dispute.

Monday, Meeker reported to the Douglas County Court Services Office to begin the pre-sentence investigation process and was taken into custody by a Douglas County Sheriff's officer, according to a court document filed Tuesday by Rumsey.

Rumsey said he received a telephone call Monday morning from the district court informing him that the police situation in Baldwin had deteriorated and for Meeker's own protection the court revoked his bond.

Rumsey filed a request for a hearing on the revoked bond. That hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday before Chief Judge Robert Fairchild.

Since last summer, the Baldwin Police Department has been at the center of numerous controversies. Friday, Butell turned in a resignation letter to Paine saying that he was leaving for the betterment of the department and the community.

Contacted Tuesday afternoon, Murphy had little comment about his decision to revoke Meeker's bond, saying only that it had to do with trial testimony.

Meeker faces a presumptive sentence of 41 months in prison for the aggravated battery portion of his conviction under Kansas sentencing guidelines. For Meeker to receive probation, Murphy would have to find "substantial and compelling" reasons to depart from the guidelines.

Sgt. Colleen Larson is in charge of the department until a new chief is hired. She expressed surprise when told Tuesday of Meeker's situation. She had little to say about the judge's decision.

"That's news to me," Larson said. "We hadn't heard anything about it."

Butell couldn't be reached for comment.

Hayes and Paine noted that the department is continuing to perform its duties even though there is no chief.

"Based on my observation of the Police Department, they are out there doing their jobs," Paine said.

Meeker hasn't lived in Baldwin since Feb. 1, when he and his family moved to Gardner.

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