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Tragedy Narrowly Averted At Lake But Mayor...
Tragedy Narrowly Averted At Lake But Mayor Sacrifices Citizen Safety
May 24, 2014
Composite drawing of suspect in attempted rape and kidnapping.
Managing Editor, Lee’s Summit Tribune
By now, most everyone in the Lee’s Summit, Lake Lotawana and Greenwood area have heard of the brutal assault and attempted kidnapping of a woman that occurred on May 7th. The press release from Chief Brent Miller is in this issue. Even though I am card-carrying member of the press, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is still true. So to get the background to this story please read the press release and then go to this link (http://www.kmbc.com/news/Woman-fights-off-would-be-rapist-after-having-car-trouble/26110658) and watch the television news reports. You’ll appreciate from the victim’s perspective what a close call this truly was.
In this article we are primarily addressing other issues that surround this near tragedy. If you have seen or read any of the published news reports you will notice that they all tell the same frightening story, a woman fighting an attacker in the dark, literally for her life.
In the aftermath of the victim’s ordeal, many others now feel the fear associated with her victimization, intrusion, and for some, betrayal. The betrayal is that we have now discovered that the majority of local residents were not and are not in “Group A:” those that were warned of the danger. Today, we are breaking the article into four sections: the police Investigation, political manipulation of information, the obligatory attempt to cover up poor judgment, and how to proceed.
Before we begin, so there is no misunderstanding, there was a true tragedy when this incident happened in our fair city. I do not minimize what happened to the victim. As a man, I can only guess as to the profound impact this will have on her life. The title refers only to the fact that she was not killed.
First some full disclosure. I am a former police detective from back east, and a graduate of the National Crime Prevention Institute in Louisville, KY. I have set up numerous crime prevention programs in cities in northern New Jersey and delivered many talks to citizen groups and taught at the police academy. I am in a unique position to comment on this incident. I have spoken with Chief Miller and other law enforcement officers in the area that have information and opinions on this case.
Chief Miller and the Lake Lotawana police officers assigned performed in a completely competent and professional manner. Recognizing that Lotawana has limited personnel resources, Chief Miller immediately reached out to neighboring departments that were able to provide invaluable support. I will not identify those individuals as that is a management decision belonging those particular law enforcement departments. But I can say that a female officer was seconded to Lake Lotawana PD to help the victim the night of the incident.
Chief Miller and LLPD officers with assistance from local, county and state law enforcement followed available leads starting the night of the assault. It is my professional opinion based on what has been shared thus far, that the citizens of Lake Lotawana should know that their police department has done an excellent job thus far. For example, work schedules were modified to maximize officer availability and increase road patrols. Clearing this case remains as LLPD’s top priority.
Unlike television police dramas, detective work is tedious and immensely time consuming where the devil is literally in the details. Chief Miller is taking this case personally, as he stated “…this happened on my watch. I want this guy.”
Political Spin and Influence
The Lee’s Summit Tribune learned of this incident the week of May 12, but I was on the east coast and not in position to verify the story; and this story definitely required verification. I was unable to reach Chief Miller, so a management decision was made here at the paper to remove from the internet the original article and the accompanying commentary.
The Tribune’s concern was that the initial story was about an email that Mayor David Welsh allegedly wrote to members of the Board of Aldermen informing them of the incident. He also instructed the Aldermen to “keep this information within this group.” With the exception of city administrator Jill Cornett and Chief Miller, both included in the courtesy copy of the email, this email was sent to each Alderman’s personal email addresses, not their city email inbox. (The city did at one point have email issues but that was more than eighteen months ago; surely it has been repaired by now.) So why keep it off the radar? The complete text (with the exception of a redacted telephone number) is below:
The following information is provided for background. It is not expected it will appear in the local news, but in case it should, Chief Miller wanted you all to be aware of the incident. Your discretion is appreciated.
On Wednesday night (May 7) a woman (not a Lake Lotawana resident) stopped near Langsford Rd and Rt 7 with car trouble and was subsequently attacked by someone who had allegedly stopped to help her. The incident is under investigation by Chief Miller with the assistance from local agencies. The Chief will provide updates when appropriate. While this case is under investigation, please keep this information within this group. Thanks.
Superficially, this may appear to some as appropriate, but the Tribune disagrees. Our information is that Mayor Welsh served in the military. His service is relevant as those that have served “under arms” understand that sometimes very tough decisions are required by leaders. As Mayor, Mr. Welsh took an oath of service and protection first as an Alderman and now as Mayor.
If the situation was so emergent that the police needed time to locate a suspect that may flee or, perhaps get a warrant or some other time critical matter, initiating a news blackout would be warranted.
But that course of action means that “need to know” must very narrowly defined. What happened instead was that very specific friends and families were made privy to this “secret” while the vast majority of residents and visitors remained unaware of the danger. Whether intended or not, the result of the Mayor’s decision was that the majority of the surrounding neighborhoods and the lake’s citizens became bait.
As frequently happens in the city, citizens were left in the dark and were unable to make their own choices on their personal safety. As Aldermen Byrne and Tillema stated during their recent campaigns, (poetic license here) everything is just fine. Again, the City government has let us down, and particularly the women of our community and our children.
Is There a Cover-up?
This sounds over the top, I know, but let’s explore this for just a moment.
To investigate this story before going to print, the Tribune has an obligation verify information passed to us from sources. To that end, the Tribune served city administrator Jill Cornett with a document request under RSMO 109.180 asking for all emails pertaining to this incident. There are no exclusions allowed to withhold information, such as characterizing it as “confidential.” The police are allowed to “redact” (black out) portions for specific data (social security numbers, informant’s names, and information that would show how police gathered the information, called “methods”).
After some short back and forth with Ms. Cornett who was not familiar with the statue (RSMO 109.180) I was using, she complied promptly with our request.
Except that the email sent out by the Mayor (listed above) was not included. The request, which we will post on the Tribune website, was specific and was for all emails.
The Tribune will consult Friday with our attorney and the Missouri Press Association, as withholding information from a request is a misdemeanor and RSMO 109.180 punishment clause says:
“Any official who violates the provisions of this section shall be subject to removal or impeachment and in addition shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor…”
A remarkable coincidence is that the email sent by the Mayor to the Aldermen’s personal email accounts and copied to the city administrator now implicates the Mayor appears to be the only one missing.
But this is not Mayor Welsh’s first foray into missing documents. In 2011 then Alderman Welsh interviewed police officer Jason Miller about a report filed by my wife and myself. (Jason Miller is no relation to Chief Brent Miller.) Jason was being questioned about several improprieties in dealing with me and my wife and missing reports.
My wife Debbie was filing an incident report about a confrontation with a now former Alderman on our property. Debbie wanted a record made of the incident, referred to as “memorializing” the event in case there were future problems.
Jason Miller admitted that as soon as we left he called then Mayor Howard Chamberlin to ask what he should do. Officer Miller said, “Well, you know Howard…” and stated that he was told by Mayor Chamberlin to drop it and not fill out the report.
Mr. Welsh then told Officer Miller that he was going to have to find a different way “to couch” what the Mayor had told him to do or more precisely to not do his duty. Later, I was sent a letter from the city that they had no record of our coming to the station.
There is a recording of that conversation. Just ask your Alderman for it.
Where Do Citizens Go To Find Truth in Their Local Government
Mayor Welsh claims all the power afforded him by state law and local ordinance. He must also now accept the responsibility. The buck stops with him.
The bottom line here is that women of all ages were betrayed by this political decision. What excuse would the Mayor offer if the worst case scenario had happened: another assault? “Sorry” would not cover this. The city would be slow roasted over the court system.
This incident again underscores that we cannot depend on our elected officials to fulfill their oaths. I sympathize with the Aldermen in this matter as they were ordered by the Mayor to do a specific thing: keep quiet. But it is disappointing that no one had a crisis of conscience about keeping what could have been a life-threatening situation from citizens.
The school system was kept in the dark by the Mayor’s decision. The Lee’s Summit School District was not notified until Thursday, May 22, when Amy B. Blackburn, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Western District of Missouri, notified a third-grade teacher at Mason Elementary of what was happening.
Really Mr. Mayor? Our community’s most prized possessions, our future, our children didn’t even warrant a phone call? Mr. Welsh, you have the ultimate responsibility and authority in city business and policy, and your best judgment was to basically let our moms, wives, sisters, and our children fend for themselves when a predator such as this is amongst us?
This whole incident shows again how leaderless our city government truly is. They are distracted by serial civil suits, they fail to collect fees owed us in a timely manner from the city’s largest employer, and they waste time trying to mitigate mistakes and errors instead of simply admitting them and moving on. Here’s an idea: How about doing it right, the first time?
Where can we go to get the truth Mr. Mayor? And I mean the whole truth not just what you decide we should know. Our local government needs to stop obsessing about the city’s “image” and start doing things right. The “image” will take care of itself.
Dr. Woods opens solo practice