A Baldwin City pastor has filed a complaint with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office for what he says was a needlessly aggressive raid on his church and the Lawrence nonprofit it operates.
The Rev. Mark Halford, pastor of the New Life Assembly of God Church in Baldwin City and director of Heart of America Teen Challenge, alleges that on Thursday Douglas County Sheriff’s deputies pointed a shotgun at him in a Baldwin City church office and a handgun at a staffer at Teen Challenge, 1332 East 1600 Road. Sheriff's deputies were executing search warrants at both the church and the nonprofit, which provides treatment for various addictions. The search warrants were part of a child-in-need of care investigation. Deputies confiscated four computers, files and personal computers during the raids, Halford alleges.
On Tuesday Halford filed an online complaint about the incidents with the internal affairs division of the sheriff’s office, he said.
In a written statement to the Journal-World, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Kristen Channel acknowledges the sheriff’s office executed search warrants Thursday at the New Life Assembly of God and “a residence” in the 1300 block of East 1600 Road as part of an investigation into a report of child neglect and endangerment. The church’s legal counsel was at the church when the warrants were served, she wrote.
Channel refused further comment — including on the allegations that weapons were drawn — because of the ongoing investigation into the child neglect and endangerment case. She wrote that the sheriff’s office also does not comment on complaints, although she did add that deputies use what they consider the appropriate level of force for each situation.
“Each incident/situation/investigation/search warrant is different and therefore is responded to in different manners depending on the nature of what's being dealt with or investigated at the time. Whether the Sheriff's Office uses force and what level of force is used depends on the circumstances," she wrote.
Halford believes the aggressive show of force was the result of a Douglas County sheriff’s detective taking as a personal affront his refusal to hand over confidential medical records on a teenage boy who had been in the Teen Challenge program. The detective and a representative of Kansas Child Protective Services first asked for the records during a Thursday morning visit to his Baldwin City church office, Halford said.
“I told them I couldn’t release the files without a court order,” he said. “That’s not just church policy, but the law. We can’t release confidential therapeutic communications without a court order.”
The detective became “agitated” with his response before leaving the church office, Halford contends.
Early in the afternoon, Douglas County sheriff’s deputies returned to the church office, Halford said. A deputy pointed a shotgun at Halford when he couldn’t immediately respond in person because he was in his office bathroom, Halford said. The deputies told him they were there to secure the property. When he refused to leave the office, five deputies watched over him at his desk for three hours until the warrant arrived, Halford said.
At the advice of the church’s attorney, Halford left the office as deputies searched the office and church, he said. At the same time, deputies also executed a search warrant at Teen Challenge, where they ordered everyone out of the residence, he said. During deputies’ entry into the Teen Challenge residence, a sheriff's deputy pointed a handgun at a female staff member, Halford said, although Halford was not present at the time.
During the four-hour searches that followed, three computers, files and other papers were confiscated from the church office, and an intern’s personal computer was taken from Teen Challenge, Halford said.
The New Life Assembly of God has publicly advertised its strong defense of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment — the right to bear arms — in the past. The church — and the faith-based motorcycle club Barbarian Brotherhood, of which Halford is president — has had fundraisers for the Teen Challenge that have involved raffles for assault rifles.
The Barbarian Brotherhood Club’s Facebook page opens to an image of an assault rifle with the words “Come and take it.”
Halford, though, said he didn’t think that the Second Amendment issues contributed to the deputies’ aggressive response when they entered the church office or while serving the search warrant at Teen Challenge.
Since 2000, the nonprofit Heart of America Teen Challenge has offered faith-based treatment for males 16 years of age and older with substance abuse or other “life-controlling” issues, Halford said.
The child neglect and endangerment case stemmed from a youth in the Teen Challenge with an eye problem, Halford said. He first took the teen to a walk-in clinic and then to Lawrence Memorial Hospital, where he was admitted, he said. Although the teen is no longer in the program, the teen’s mother later brought him back to Teen Challenge when he was released from LMH, Halford said.