Independence Examiner, Thursday 07/08/00

Suit alleges county violated state law

Centers around closed meetings

By Amanda Curtright

   Alleging Missouri Open Records Law violations, two Jackson County residents have filed a lawsuit against the county's Human Resources Complaint Commission, in relation to a 1998 murder/suicide case.

   "All (alleged violations) center around closed meetings and closed records," that occurred after Karen Turner filed a complaint against the Jackson County Sheriff's Department with the Office of Human Relations and Citizen Complaints, said Robert C. WitbolsFeugen of Independence.

   The lawsuit, which names all eight Complaint Commission members, cites nine breaches of the state's Sunshine Laws, including denied and delayed access to public records, failure to post notice of closed meetings, using exceptions not contained within Sunshine laws as reasons for closing sessions and informal discussion of official business.

   Deborah Tircuit, commission member and director of the Office of Human Relations and Citizen Complaints, which oversees the commission, said she believes county counsel has responded to the lawsuit by maintaining there were no violations of policy.

   WitbolsFeugen and Turner, she said, "seem to think they (have good reason for suing), but whether they do or not will be up to the courts and the legal process."

   Tircuit said further inquiries regarding the lawsuit should be directed to Kathy Kedigh, assistant county counselor. Kedigh, in turn, referred all questions to County Counselor Jane McQueeny, who could not be reached for comment Thursday or Friday.

   McQueeny represented the Sheriff's department in the complaint commission's hearing prompted by Turner's complaint.

   Turner's interaction with OHRCC dates back to 1998, about seven months after her daughter's best friend, Anastasia WitbolsFeugen, was found dead at Lincoln Cemetery in Independence with a gunshot wound to her head.

   A couple of days later, Anastasia's boyfriend was found dead in Johnson County, Kan. Police said his death was an apparent suicide.

   Officials with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department have said the case appears to be a murder-suicide.

   However, the investigation is still open.

   WitbolsFeugen said the murder-suicide theory is highly unlikely.

   "There is no evidence and there are no statements to that end," he said. "The people with (Anastasia and her boyfriend) that evening said Anastasia and her boyfriend split up and both were alive at that time."

   Turner said following Anastasia's death, her daughter presented information about the case to a Sheriff's Department detective. The detective, Turner said, later disclosed her daughter's name to "a possible suspect."

   After her daughter's name was given out, Turner said, her daughter was harassed and received death threats.

   Because of this, Turner's daughter currently lives outside the United States.

   "These people are still around," Turner said. Her daughter presented information to the Sheriff's Department "with the trust and understanding that her life would not be put at risk," she said. "She wanted to do something... to help find the murderer."

   The Sheriff's Department did not follow up on threats made against her daughter's life, Turner said, instead referring her to the Kansas City Police Department, which sent them back to the county.

   Also, Turner said, the detective should never have revealed her daughter's name to someone being questioned about Anastasia's death. Turner said her daughter was frightened, and wished her comments to remain confidential.

   They did not, Turner said, which is what brought her to the Complaints Commission. Turner believed the Sheriff's Department had violated policy by disclosing her daughter's name.

   WitbolsFeugen said Missouri Revised Statute 610.100 supports Turner's assertion that the detective violated the law. The statute states, "...if any portion of a record or document of a law enforcement agency other than an arrest report... contains information that is reasonably likely to pose a clear and present danger to the safety of any victim, witness... including records which would disclose the identity of a source wishing to remain confidential...that portion of the record shall be closed."

   A hearing was held by the complaint commission in May 1999. The commission met in closed session on July 29, 1999 "to discuss the issues raised in Ms. Turner's complaint and deliberate on advice and recommendations, if any, to render to the Director of OHRCC," according to a copy of the commission's final decision.

   It was not until October 1999, three months after the hearing, that the commission decided "that Ms. Turner's complaint, unfortunately, cannot be rectified," according to a copy of the decision.

   Col. Tom Phillips with the Sheriff's Department, and supervisor of the detective that mentioned Turner's daughter's name, said the commission's decision "substantiated that there wasn't any violation" by the Sheriff's Department.

   Turner's daughter's name may have been mentioned, he said, but not to a suspect.

   "There were a number of people interviewed, but there was no real suspect," he said.

   WitbolsFeugen said he wants commission members to be fined for Sunshine Law violations, and the commission's decision concerning Turner's complaint to be overturned and "heard in a different venue because it does not represent the public's interest."

   "What is a citizen to do," he said. "You have a complaint and nothing is done. You share information and nothing is done... and you may be putting your life at risk."

   Turner said she, too, wants the commission to be punished for Sunshine Law violations and for the commission's decision to be thrown out.

   The ordeal, Turner said, has isolated her daughter from friends, and "has messed up (her daughter's) family life. I'm going to continue until they take responsibility, and I won't stop. Three years is a long time."

To reach Amanda Curtright, e-mail or call 816-350-6362.

Next article.
Return to list of news accounts.