External investigation finds that Douglas County sheriff-elect violated department policy but not the law
photo by: Contributed Photo
An investigation by an outside agency into three Douglas County Sheriff’s Office employees found that the presumed next sheriff violated department policies, but not the law, in a 2017 sex-crime investigation.
Lt. Jay Armbrister — who won 39% of the vote in the Aug. 4 Democratic primary for Douglas County sheriff and faces no opponent in next month’s general election — was one of three officers named in a complaint, the Journal-World reported in August.
The complaint alleged that a 2017 sex-crime investigation was a “complete professional abandonment,” according to Angela Keck, the defense attorney who filed it. Among concerns in the complaint, Keck said that Armbrister and a deputy both failed to save their audio recordings of interviews with a woman who reported being sexually assaulted in July 2017. Armbrister has publicly described the incident as a mistake for which he accepts responsibility.
Current Sheriff Randy Roberts asked the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office for assistance in investigating the allegations, the Journal-World has reported.
Armbrister wrote about the complaint and investigation in a post on his campaign Facebook page Sunday afternoon, stating that the investigation was completed and “I have accepted my consequences.”
“The investigation showed that there was absolutely NO criminal intent or activity, and that I did not act in any kind of malicious way, or with intent to hinder the defense or prosecution,” Armbrister wrote in the post.
Armbrister declined to comment further Monday when asked whether in the interest of transparency he would disclose what “consequences” he had faced.
Jenn Hethcoat, public information officer for the sheriff’s office, said she was unable to provide any further information about the personnel matter, including any documentation from the outside agency about its findings with regard to Armbrister.
Prior to the investigation, Hethcoat said that none of the three officers had been placed on any sort of paid or unpaid leave as a result of the complaint; on Monday, she did not answer whether that was still accurate.
Armbrister wrote in his Facebook post about the lost recordings of interviews with the alleged victim in the sex-crime case. He said it was an error on his behalf to fail to ensure his recording and the one from the body microphone of the deputy he was supervising were saved.
“From the very beginning, I have not only been open about my mistakes, but I have also testified in court about my actions and inactions,” Armbrister wrote. “Not once have I tried to cover this up or place blame anywhere other than where it belonged, and that was squarely with me.”
Also in interviews before the primary election, Armbrister disclosed some information about the lost recordings in the case, and the Journal-World reported about the issue in articles in June and in July.
Armbrister told the newspaper that he lost the recording of the interview with the woman, despite department policy stating that all such interviews should be kept. He said his actions that night were “directly in support of the victim/survivor and her welfare” and that any errors made were not intentional.
The alleged victim in the case is accusing Keck’s client of performing oral sex on her without her consent.
In addition to the missing recordings, Keck said the complaint included some other concerns. A search warrant authorizing the sheriff’s office to collect her client’s DNA was missing, and no physical evidence had been collected from the crime scene. She also said her office was also investigating the “influence” of a longtime veteran of the Lawrence Police Department who is related to the woman.
Armbrister’s Facebook post did not address the other points Keck said she had included in the complaint.
“I have so very much more to say about this complaint and the details surrounding it, but as this case is still going through the court systems, I simply cannot say another word about it,” Armbrister wrote in the post.
The court has not yet heard argument or testimony on Keck’s motion to suppress the DNA evidence in the case on grounds that the warrant was missing. However, Senior Assistant District Attorney Alice Walker wrote in a response to the motion that Armbrister had executed the warrant but that the paperwork was misplaced and not located until August of this year.
A recent subpoena from Keck’s office states that Armbrister wrote a supplemental police report in the case indicating that he had searched and found the original paperwork with the judge’s signature in a tub or tote in his attic after reading an article in the Journal-World. The subpoena asks him to bring with him to court all tubs and totes in his attic or residence that contain police records.
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Hethcoat provided some additional background information to the Journal-World via email.
Hethcoat said the sheriff’s office “will refer complaints requiring internal policy and procedure investigation to an outside agency when it is in the best interest of the Sheriff’s Office,” and that this was one such case.
“This decision was made to protect the integrity of the office and would have been made had it been any of the candidates for the office,” Hethcoat said.
She said that in the past five years, the department has had two such complaints. In this case, the complaint was sustained for two employees involved, which according to department policy means the complaint is “determined to be factual in part or in whole.” Those two employees were disciplined.
The complaint was determined to be unfounded for the third employee, meaning it was “found to be false, or not factual; or the complaint contains no violation of policy or procedure,” according to department policy.
Keck could not be reached for comment Monday.
Deputy Claire Canaan, public information officer for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, directed questions regarding when that department received the request from Douglas County and when its role in the investigation was completed back to Douglas County personnel.
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