Prosecutors drop charges against Lawrence skateboarder in case that questioned police officer’s truthfulness
‘Justice has been served today,’ defense attorney says
photo by: Sara Shepherd/Journal-World File Photo
Prosecutors have dropped a case against a Lawrence skateboarder whose defense attorney questioned the arresting officer’s credibility.
Duc M. Tran, 45, was arrested after he was stopped for skateboarding in the street in downtown Lawrence on June 29, 2019, as the Journal-World has reported. Tran previously told the newspaper that his left elbow was fractured and both shoulders were dislocated as a result of his arrest, and he had scrapes on his shoulders and leg.
Tran’s defense attorney, Mark Schoenhofer, argued that the case should be dismissed because evidence in a previous case created questions about the credibility of the Lawrence police officer who arrested Tran, Brad Williams. Schoenhofer also said that both the Lawrence Police Department and Douglas County prosecutors were legally obligated to provide Tran’s defense team with information about that case, but that neither did.
After a motions hearing on Aug. 24, Douglas County District Court Judge Pro Tem James George tentatively denied a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds of the alleged previous dishonesty by the officer, though he said he would then review defense exhibits and the officer’s personnel file.
A “notice of reconsideration” was filed under seal on Oct. 20. Schoenhofer filed his final argument to dismiss Tran’s case on Monday, and file stamps on documents reflect that less than an hour later, the district attorney’s office moved to dismiss Tran’s case.
On Tuesday morning, George signed an order to dismiss all of Tran’s charges at the state’s cost and with prejudice so they can’t be refiled, according to court records.
“I am very happy for my client,” Schoenhofer said via email Tuesday. “Justice has been served today.”
Williams had alleged that Tran had threatened him with his skateboard and resisted arrest; Tran said he did protest being arrested, but that he never threatened the officer. Tran was later charged with three misdemeanors: interference with law enforcement, assault of a law enforcement officer and failure to obey a lawful order of a police officer or firefighter.
But Schoenhofer’s final argument focused almost entirely on a 2018 Lawrence Municipal Court case.
The defendant in the 2018 case, Jameson O’Connor, was acquitted of interference with a law enforcement officer after his defense attorney, Kurt Kerns, presented evidence that Williams’ report in that case was inconsistent with recordings. Kerns sent a letter to the former chief of police in February 2019 to alert him to that issue and other credibility concerns he had about the case and the officers involved in it.
Lawrence police said they investigated Kerns’ complaint and found it to be unsubstantiated and that no policy or state statute violation had occurred. However, the judge ruled that Kerns’ letter should have been turned over to Tran’s defense counsel so he could investigate the claims to potentially impeach the officer’s credibility before a jury.
After making that ruling Aug. 24, George ordered a transcript of Lawrence Municipal Court Judge Scott Miller’s ruling in the 2018 case. According to Schoenhofer’s argument, Miller said in his ruling that the city’s case against O’Connor had “a lot of problems,” and that a recorded conversation between officers compared to portions of their written reports “gives the court great pause.”
“That’s troubling and problematic to the court because accuracy is incredibly important in a situation like this,” Miller said, as quoted in Schoenhofer’s argument.
In the document filed Monday, Schoenhofer wrote that LPD’s internal investigation into Kerns’ complaint was “superficial and self-serving.” That, plus the DA’s “attempt to bury” information about the officer’s credibility, “all adds up to a demonstrable level of outrageousness. There has been a consistent attempt to protect Officer Williams despite his dishonesty,” Schoenhofer wrote.
He concluded that no verdict should ever rest on the testimony of a police officer “who has perjured himself in a previous case.”
“Sadly, the efforts of Lawrence Police and the Douglas County Attorney’s Office to bury the misconduct of Officer Williams is not just a violation of Mr. Tran’s Due Process rights, but a worrisome testament to the state’s approach in criminal trials — win at all costs,” Schoenhofer wrote.
The Douglas County district attorney’s office did not respond to emails sent Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning seeking comment for this article.
Lawrence Police Department spokesperson Patrick Compton said LPD was aware of Schoenhofer’s motion’s contents.
“The information contained in the motion is indicative of the defense providing an argument to vigorously defend their client,” Compton said. “However, we feel as though the motion is misleading and does not represent all of the facts of the investigation.”
Williams is currently employed with LPD as a patrol officer, Compton confirmed Tuesday.
The Journal-World learned through a request filed under the Kansas Open Records Act that Schoenhofer sent a notice of claim to the City of Lawrence in September, alleging that in addition to the elbow and shoulder injuries, Tran suffered a chipped tooth, bruising and lacerations, emotional distress and more as a result of his arrest.
Schoenhofer confirmed Tuesday that he had not yet received a response from the city regarding the notice of claim. Under state law, the city has until mid-January to respond to approve or deny the claim, or to try to settle it; if it doesn’t respond by that point, the claim would be deemed denied. If the claim is denied, Tran would then have 90 days to take legal action against the city.
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