State officials ask Lawrence group home owner charged with rape to have no contact with his clients

photo by: Mike Yoder

The Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St.

Story updated 5:20 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, 2018:

In the case of a Lawrence group home owner charged with rape, state officials are asking him to have no contact with his developmentally disabled clients while his criminal case is pending.

If he does not agree, the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services is prepared to suspend his license and move the residents out, said Angela de Rocha, director of communications for KDADS. She said the agency would prefer the former solution, which could ensure the residents’ well-being without negatively interrupting their lives.

“We are responsible for their physical safety, and there’s very low tolerance for risk in these cases because these are the most vulnerable people,” de Rocha said.

Erick W. Ogwangi, 33, of Lawrence, was arrested and charged last week with a rape that allegedly occurred nearly two years ago and involved an adult female victim who was unconscious or physically powerless.

Attorney Cooper Overstreet of the Swain Law Office said this week that he is representing Ogwangi but wouldn’t comment on the particulars of the case at this early stage.

“Mr. Ogwangi denies in the strongest terms any allegations of misconduct, and he looks forward to his day in court,” Overstreet said in an email.

It’s not clear whether the alleged crime is connected in any way to Ogwangi’s work or contact with the public; neither police nor the courts have released the location or circumstances.

Regardless, de Rocha said, KDADS is concerned and got involved after the felony charge was filed. She said Ogwangi passed a background check to get his license and that the license would be revoked if he were convicted.

Ogwangi is the owner and operator of Carpe Diem Community Living LLC, which is licensed by KDADS to provide residential and day services for developmentally disabled adults at locations in Lawrence.

Carpe Diem had been incorporated but did not appear to have a house or be caring for any adults when the alleged crime occurred, according to its Facebook page.

Carpe Diem also did not have its KDADS license when the alleged crime occurred. De Rocha said Ogwangi’s license was granted in March of this year and runs through March 2019.

Ogwangi, who is out of jail on $30,000 bond, is scheduled to make his first appearance in court next week. The Journal-World has been unable to obtain information about any bond conditions at this point.

The alleged rape occurred in late January 2017 and was reported to the Lawrence Police Department within days.

However, the legal process preceding Ogwangi being charged moved slowly, particularly at the KBI lab.

The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office received the case from Lawrence police in March 2017, according to Cheryl Wright Kunard, assistant to the DA. She said the office then waited on KBI lab results for nearly a year, until February of this year.

“After the results were received, the case was pending review during a time when we were short one attorney to handle case charging,” Wright Kunard said, in an email. “The office was also short on staffing due to the number of jury trials, necessary staff leave time (e.g. FMLA), and staff reassignment to other responsibilities. Our office followed up with the victim in August and the case was filed after a final consultation with investigators.”

Ogwangi previously worked on contract for the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department as a Healthy Dads program co-facilitator, a program that took place at the department and didn’t include home visits or one-on-one care. He also is listed as a member of the Lawrence Homeless Issues Advisory Committee and previously worked as a community coordinator with Lawrence’s Sunrise Project.

Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd