Since 2015, three former Lawrence police officers accused of behaviors that put certifications at risk
Between 1998 and 2015, three Lawrence Police Department officers were stripped of their certification to be law enforcement officers in the state.
But since August of 2015, it has been a different story. Already one former LPD member has been decertified, and two other former officers are accused of violence and misconduct that puts their certifications at risk.
As reported last week by the Journal-World, former Officer William Burke was accused by LPD of beating a fellow officer, choking her until she passed out and locking her, naked, inside a dog kennel. He was originally arrested on suspicion of a number of felonies, but those charges were later dropped.
Former Officer Frank McClelland is currently awaiting a criminal trial regarding a misdemeanor battery charge filed against him after he was accused of knocking down an uncooperative suspect and punching him in the face multiple times last September.
The Journal-World has researched and interviewed sources about what has to happen in order for law enforcement officers to lose their certifications to serve in the state. It is clear that neither Burke nor McClelland would have to be convicted of a crime or even charged with a crime to lose their certifications.
What is not clear, however, is whether the state’s certifying agency is investigating either Burke or McClelland. It also isn’t clear how much information about the two officers the city has provided the certifying agency, the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training
Michelle Meier, the organization’s counsel, declined to say whether the two have been investigated or are under investigation.
Meier, though, did provide an overview of what can lead the commission to suspend, condition or revoke the certification of a law enforcement officer. Among the reasons:
• If the officer is “engaged in conduct which, if charged as a crime, would constitute a felony crime.”
• If the officer is engaged in conduct which, if charged as a crime, would constitute a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”
• If the officer has engaged in unprofessional conduct “as defined by the rules and regulations of the commission.”
Nicolas Simon is the most recent example of a Lawrence police officer whose certification was revoked by KS-CPOST.
At the time of Simon’s arrest in November 2014, LPD would not release additional details surrounding his arrest, citing the case as a “personnel matter.”
However, KS-CPOST’s order revoking Simon’s certification shows he was accused of covering up a woman’s mouth and pushing her head into a wall, a misdemeanor.
Simon was on duty at the time of the incident, the document says. At the time, he also submitted a false report to the department’s dispatch and later admitted to the lie, according to the KS-CPOST document.
KS-CPOST documents indicate Simon’s Notice of Termination or Status Change form was submitted on Dec. 17, 2014, and his certification was revoked on Aug. 21, 2015.
On Jan. 17, the City of Lawrence filed a response to a federal civil lawsuit filed by Burke, who is seeking $525,000 in damages claiming he was wrongly arrested and defamed.
The city’s filing offers insight into what information LPD had when Burke was arrested.
Over the span of several pages, the city’s filing outlined investigators’ interviews with a female Lawrence police officer who dated Burke sporadically for several years and later accused him of abuse.
In the interview, the woman told investigators the two previously had rough but consensual sex, but that one incident in January 2015 went too far. Burke has contended in filings that the two engaged in “rough sex,” but it was consensual.
During the incident, Burke slapped the woman in the face multiple times and choked her until she passed out, she told investigators.
“When she started to see spots, she told Burke, ‘Stop’ as best she could,” the filing says. “She reached up and tried to pull Burke’s arms away but she couldn’t and she blacked out.”
Later, Burke forced the woman to drink beer and used a thick chain to lock her naked inside a dog kennel while beating the cage with a mallet, she said.
Burke was arrested in early 2015 on suspicion of felony kidnapping, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, domestic battery and criminal threat.
The woman told investigators she took pictures of her injuries, and later detectives discovered text messages from Burke admitting to the beating and acknowledging that he lost control that night.
However, Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson did not press charges in the case, citing a lack of evidence. Branson last week declined to comment on what evidence was turned over by police to his office regarding the incident.
In August, it is alleged that McClelland responded to fight that was underway in the 1900 block of 19th Street. One of the men refused to comply with McClelland’s order to sit on the sidewalk. McClelland then approached the man with a leg sweep maneuver, placed him on the ground and hit him in the face with a closed fist up to four times, prosecutors have alleged.
McClelland faces a misdemeanor battery charge in connection to that incident. He pleaded not guilty and awaits a trial.
McClelland also was named in a lawsuit related to a 2014 arrest. During court proceedings in that case, witnesses testified that McClelland beat a man’s head against a squad car during the arrest. Lawrence firefighter Miguel Armenta, who filed the lawsuit, said several officers, including McClelland, broke his arm when they arrested him after he spoke out against McClelland.
The lawsuit was dropped by Armenta just days before it was scheduled to go to trial after Judge Paula Martin ruled against admitting much of the evidence sought by Armenta’s attorney.
Despite the allegations against Burke and McClelland, the City of Lawrence — for reason not yet explained — allowed both to resign. It is unclear whether Simon resigned or was terminated. However, the city was required to submit documents to KS-CPOST regarding all three officers.
Once an officer leaves a department, whether they are terminated or they resign, the agency is then required to submit a Notice of Termination or Status Change document to KS-CPOST within 30 days, Meier said.
“On that form, the agency head must indicate if the resignation or termination was under ordinary circumstances or under questionable circumstances (while being investigated or investigative, disciplinary, or legal action was being contemplated),” she said.
These documents are a common way for KS-CPOST to launch an investigation, Meier said.
Although the Lawrence Police Department did indeed submit Notice of Termination or Status Change documents for the departures of Simon, Burke and McClelland, the substance of the forms is unclear because they are heavily redacted.
The redacted form for Burke, however, is striking in one regard. The city, in its recent legal filing in the Burke case, wrote more than 1,000 words describing the alleged misconduct of Burke against the female officer. On the portion of the KS-CPOST form where the department is asked to provide a description, the city provided only 4 1/2 lines of text. The description was redacted, so it is impossible to determine the content of the information shared with KS-CPOST.
Meier, however, said the amount of information on the city’s form isn’t necessarily a cause for concern.
“Sometimes you have very concise, sometimes you have more,” she said. “As long as they’re checking the proper boxes and giving us something to jump off of — do we need to investigate or not? — then we’re satisfied with that.”
Alongside the Notice of Termination or Status Change documents, Meier said KS-CPOST can launch investigations in a number of different ways.
“Our investigators field calls from concerned citizens, and there is a complaint form available on our website,” Meier said. “We can also self-initiate cases based on media reports or other credible information.”
The commission’s website lists each certification action the organization has made since 1998. In that time, four Lawrence police officers have had their certifications revoked.
No Douglas County sheriff’s deputies or University of Kansas police officers have had their certifications revoked in that time, according to the commission’s website.
Although details from KS-CPOST are already limited, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would close information from the commission even further.
If approved, the bill – HB 2070 – would allow KS-CPOST to deny records requests seeking Notice of Status Change or Termination documents, referring the inquirers instead to the agency who filed the paperwork.
Opponents of the bill argue the legislation would allow possible misconduct within law enforcement to be covered up.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated KS-CPOST would no longer have to disclose the status of an officer’s certification if HB 2070 is enacted. The story has been updated to reflect the correct nature of the bill.