Douglas County Sheriff’s Office serving warrants only for public safety risks

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

The Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St., is pictured on Wednesday, April 8, 2020.

Although Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deputies must serve arrest warrants in person, they are exercising discretion amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Jenn Hethcoat, public information officer for the sheriff’s office, said via email that deputies were not actively serving warrants for individuals who were not a risk to public safety.

“We are still gathering information on these cases that allow them to be served at a later date when there is no public health crisis,” she said. “All warrants being served are served in person and deputies are using as much precaution as possible during the process.”

Public health experts locally and nationwide have urged people to maintain at least a 6-foot distance between themselves and others, if they must be around others at all. It’s preferable — and mandatory, under Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order — to stay at home except for essential needs.

Since Douglas County’s local stay-at-home order went into effect March 24, most of the few arrests recorded as probable cause warrants on the Douglas County Jail booking log are on suspicion of violent charges. Those include attempted second-degree murder, aggravated robbery, violation of a protection order, felony criminal damage to property and battery, as well as multiple failures to appear in court.

Some staff members of the Douglas County district attorney’s office are also tasked with serving subpoenas in person. However, Cheryl Wright Kunard, assistant to the district attorney, said the office did not currently have any staff serving subpoenas.

She said the Kansas Supreme Court’s order last month restricting court operations to emergency matters has helped reduce how much in-person work the DA’s staff must handle.

“The DA’s Office is currently able to perform nearly all essential functions remotely,” Wright Kunard said via email Wednesday. “An extremely limited (number) of staff are handling the few issues that must be performed in the office — such as running the required criminal histories and distributing mail delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. Victim Witness Coordinators are keeping in contact with victims and witnesses by phone.”

For the rest of its business, though, the DA’s office is using various telecommunication and digital platforms to keep in touch.

“When the various orders expire, duties will be performed in accordance with recommendations from local, state and federal officials,” she said.

Staff members at the jail are asking arrestees additional questions about their health, and they have their temperatures taken, Hethcoat said. New inmates are being housed in booking for 72 hours of observation to monitor for symptoms.

In addition, all individuals who enter the correctional facility have their temperatures taken, and employees on the operational side — those who work at the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center downtown — will as well each time they come to work once additional thermometers arrive, Hethcoat said.

Sheriff’s office personnel are also now wearing masks in public, in accordance with recent recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hethcoat said.

All nonessential sheriff’s office employees have been sent home, and all employees who are able to work from home are doing so, Hethcoat said. She said the office has plans in place “that will accommodate a potential staff decrease of 25-50% should that become necessary.”

The Douglas County Commission, at its meeting March 25, approved paid leave for employees who are not working because of the pandemic.

As the Journal-World reported recently, some female inmates at the jail have been doubled up in cells. The jail’s women’s pod has 28 beds, with two in each of 14 cells. As of March 27, the jail had 17 female inmates. More recent numbers, sent Friday from Douglas County, showed that number had been reduced to 14.

“We are evaluating our ability to accommodate single cell housing in the women’s pod,” Hethcoat said. “The complication we face is that we only have one housing unit for women and all of the security levels are housed there.”

Hethcoat said the sheriff’s office continued to work with the Eudora, Baldwin and Lawrence police departments, first responders, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, and the Unified Command “to be as prepared as possible to protect all members of our community including our correctional facility, and our employees and their families.”

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