Realizing His Goal

Sheriff John Simpson is putting his idea into practice.

A few simple and uneventful ride-alongs in the passenger seat of a Liberal, Missouri squad car were all it took for 15-year-old John Simpson, who now serves as Barton County sheriff, to know law enforcement would be his life’s career.


“The town was small — I knew the officers from growing up there — and decided to ride with them because it was something different. I really enjoyed it and after four or five times, I decided that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. And his mind was made up without even getting in on the more “exciting” side of crime fighting. “Whenever they got a serious call, they’d pull over at the next intersection and drop me off. The town was less than a mile from one side to the other, so I’d just walk home.”


Holding fast to his decision, after graduating from high school in 1999, he took a fulltime job dispatching for the Barton County Sheriff’s Office. In 2002, he attended Missouri Southern State College’s Law Enforcement Academy and continued working in dispatch until a patrol position came open. He went to the road January 1, 2005. Shannon Higgins was sheriff at that time.


He loved his job and worked hard at it, which earned him a promotion to sergeant in 2007. In 2009, when Mitchell Shaw took office, he was promoted to his chief deputy. He stayed there until June 2012, when he took the position of chief of police at the Liberal PD.


“I enjoyed the job very much, but it’s hard to be the chief in the town where you grew up, so I decided to run for sheriff in 2020. Mitch and I have been friends for 20 years, so it wasn’t anything personal,” Sheriff Simpson said, adding that, like everyone else who ever ran for office, he just felt he had a better idea. “Serving as sheriff had been a goal of mine since starting at the sheriff’s office in 1999, and I just thought it was my time to try for it. I must have been right because I won.”


After taking office, he made several changes in both their look and in their operations.
Deputies are now required to wear uniforms to work, and the only facial hair allowed is a mustache.


He remodeled their office space, and updated their fleet, purchasing four patrol cars to replace the four that each had more than 250,000 miles. Once those vehicles arrive, they’ll be getting new computers installed. Sheriff Simpson is also in the process of updating their radio system to MOSWIN (Missouri Statewide Interoperability Network), a statewide public safety communications system that will allow them to communicate across jurisdictional and discipline lines.


To cut down on delays and problems clearing cases, he also implemented new guidelines that require deputies to have reports done in three days. Then they get submitted to a supervisor for review. Once needed changes are made and the reports are approved, they’ll be sent to the chief deputy for final approval before being submitted to the prosecutor.


In addition, Justin Ersham returned to Barton County to work as chief deputy and he brought his K-9 Barrett with him. The two have already been called out numerous times in their own county and others.


Sheriff Simpson said the biggest “surprise/headache” he faced after taking office was the jail.
“As a dispatcher, I helped in the jail, so I had a little experience — but not near enough, I quickly found out,” he said. “Staffing has been an ongoing problem. We’re down to two fulltime and two part-time employees in the jail. I need to hire at least two more fulltime and also have two openings for patrol deputies. That doesn’t sound like a big deal but when you only have five, it is. I’ve been working the road, as has my chief deputy, just to make sure it’s covered.”


The condition of his 27-bed jail is also a conundrum. Built in 1937, the antiquated facility has multiple problems that can’t easily be fixed.


“It’s old and worn out. It’s steel and concrete and the steel is rusting and the plumbing is leaking in the concrete. There have been no updates that I can remember in the last 22 years,” he said. “We’ve closed it to make repairs, but before we start, I want to bring the community in to take a look. I’d like to get their input on whether we should sink money into repairs or instead work on a plan to replace it. I believe that if we build it right and we build it large enough to house for other agencies, we can ease the burden on Barton County and on our taxpayers — but we have strong support from our community, so I want them involved in the process.”


And he knows his community. In addition to being a lifelong member of Barton County, he’s served the past eight years on the Liberal R-2 Board of Education, and he’s served on the Barton County Ambulance District Board of Directors. When he’s not working, he and his wife Shasta, who is his biggest supporter, are cheering on their two youngest at football, baseball, softball, basketball and volleyball games.


“I have to miss some of them, and that’s tough, but the kids understand. I took this job because I care about my community. I consider it an honor and a privilege to serve as sheriff and as long as I’m here, I plan to do everything I can to make this an even better and safer place to live.”

By Nancy Zoellner

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U.S. Marshals Deputize Clay County Sheriff’s Deputies

United States Marshal Mark S. James forged a new partnership with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.


Over the summer, U.S. Marshal Mark James swore in five members of the Clay County Sheriff’s Fugitive Apprehension Unit as Special Deputy U.S. Marshals. This collaboration is part of the ongoing effort to address violent crime in the Kansas City metro area. As special deputy marshals, sheriff’s deputies will join with other area law enforcement officers who participate in the U.S. Marshals Midwest Violent Fugitive Task Force. “The Clay County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Marshals have always worked together to bring violent criminals to justice, their special deputation today further solidifies an already on-going effort to combine our resources to protect the citizens of Clay County and beyond. I appreciate Sheriff Akin’s leadership in bringing this strategic partnership to fruition,” said U.S. Marshal Mark James.

The U.S. Marshals Midwest Violent Fugitive Task Force-Kansas City Division, operates in conjunction with members of the Kansas City, Independence and St. Joseph Missouri Police Departments, Jackson, Cass, Clay and Buchanan County Sheriff’s Offices, Missouri State Highway Patrol and other federal law enforcement partners. The task force objectives are to seek out and arrest fugitives charged with violent crimes, drug offenses, sex offenders and other serious felonies. It also provides direct support to law enforcement agencies in tracking down and recovering missing children. Nationally the United States Marshals Service fugitive programs are carried out with local law enforcement in 94 district offices, 67 local fugitive task forces, 8 regional task forces, as well as a growing network of offices in foreign countries.

Tips can be submitted anonymously to the Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers via the TIPS hotline at 816-474-8477, on the internet at KCcrimestoppers.com or on the free mobile app available at P3Tips.com. Tips can also be submitted to the U.S. Marshals service directly by downloading the USMS Tips app to your Apple or Android device. It can also be accessed online at https://www.usmarshals.gov/tips/index.html. Follow the latest news and updates about the U.S. Marshals Service on Twitter: @USMarshalsHQ.

Additional information about the U.S. Marshals Service can be found at http://www.usmarshals.gov.

 

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Facing Challenges, Rising Up

Sheriff Will Akin left a nightmare to live a dream — in Missouri.

Clay County Sheriff Will Akin is an overcomer. His dad left when he was 3. He, his little brother, and mom were homeless by the time he was 8. He was working when he was 12, and at 16, he dropped out of high school, worked three jobs to take care of his mom and brother – and started hanging with the wrong crowd. After a guy in that crowd shot someone, he knew he had to get out, so he earned his GED and in October 1994, joined the Army. He became a helicopter pilot but at 26, he was diagnosed with adult-onset asthma, grounded, and told he had to leave the military.


“That was devastating but I had a family to support so I started looking for a job. I had never considered law enforcement because in the neighborhoods where I grew up, we never had positive interactions with cops. But law enforcement presented an opportunity and I figured I was already used to structure so I’d give it a shot,” he said.


He got on with the Phoenix Police Department in 2002, went through the academy in April 2003 and worked there five years before taking a job with the South Bend, Indiana PD. One year later, he went to Afghanistan, first teaching members of the Afghan National Police, then working with the Family Response Unit investigating crimes against women and children. That’s where he met and became friends with former Clay County Sheriff Paul Vescovo.


“After Paul finished his contract, he returned to the states, ran for sheriff in Clay County and asked me to come to work with him if he won. My response was ‘Missouri? Are you out of your mind?’”


But Sheriff Vescovo was persistent so in the summer of 2012, while home on leave, he and his wife Jennifer drove from Columbus, Ohio to Liberty, Missouri to check things out — and they liked what they saw.


“I had to go back to Afghanistan but near the end of my third contract, I talked with my wife and said ‘Let’s rethink this. Why not move to Liberty, Missouri and work for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office?’


We decided there was no good reason not to. I had moved 38 times in 45 years, living in 10 states and three countries and the move to Clay County was the best move — personally and professionally — I’ve ever made. This is home.”


When he took the job, he told Sheriff Vescovo he would stay as long as he was sheriff, then he was moving on. He had always tailored his career to becoming a police chief.


“Then one day, Paul came to me, said he was going to retire at the end of his term and asked me to rethink what I had said about moving on. By that time, I had been here six years and had grown to love the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and Clay County. After discussing it with my wife, we decided this was the right course of action. I had a lot of support from the community, the campaign went really well, and the rest is history,” he laughed, adding that he recently learned that, at 45, he is the youngest sheriff to ever serve in Clay County.


Before being elected he was captain over the Emergency Preparedness Division and director of Emergency Management for Clay County and felt he had a good grasp of the operations of the sheriff’s office, “But on Day 1 I was overwhelmed by how much I didn’t know! Thankfully I’ve got a great team of commanders.”


His biggest challenge since taking office has been managing 230 personalities with 230 different opinions. And Sheriff Akin has given them plenty to think about!


He restructured the office and split the Field Operations Division into Patrol, which includes road deputies, a dedicated K-9, and traffic unit; and Investigations, which includes all task force deputies. He established a Professional Standards Division to pursue accreditation through CALEA and handle training, policies and procedures, background investigations, and internal affairs. In addition, the county absorbed park rangers who are now lake deputies.

He also made changes in the jail. Staff went to 12-hour shifts, which allows detention officers and deputies on the housing floor and in booking to get every other weekend off, and he worked with commissioners to implement a two-phase salary restructure to increase salaries — some as much as 17 percent. He’s working with Tri-County Mental Health to hire a social worker who will make sure school resource deputies, the civil unit and deputies know about the resources available to them, and with non-profit groups who will help inmates overcome barriers, obtain jobs and change their lifestyle after release from jail. To top it off, they’re “rebranding” their look with new uniforms.


When Sheriff Akin isn’t working, he enjoys CrossFit, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and mountain biking.

“I’m very active, but I’m also actively involved in doing everything I can to make our community better. It wasn’t until I got into law enforcement that I realized my experiences growing up would help me relate and connect with the spectrum of people in the community,” he said. “It’s what drives me today. I earned my associates degree while I was in the military, my bachelor’s degree while I was in Afghanistan, went straight into the master’s program and just graduated last year with my doctorate. Now I teach at a university here. I feel like I have made it. I share stories and tell people, ‘If I can do it, I know you can do it too.’”

By Nancy Zoellner

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Tenacity and Genetic Genealogy Provide Closure

Karen Kaye Knippers
Found Murdered May 25, 1981 — Identified May of 2021
A Child of God
 
Those are the words that will be engraved on the headstone of the woman whose body was discovered at a low water crossing near Dixon, Missouri with a pair of pantyhose tied around her neck, but who wasn’t identified until 40 years later.
 
Detective Doug (DJ) Renno of the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office shared the story that was four decades in the making.
 
“It was very odd. We’re a small rural community and everybody in Dixon knows everybody else, yet after the body was found, nobody admitted to knowing her. People have said someone probably pulled off the interstate and dumped her, but you couldn’t get off the interstate and find this place by accident. The gravel road where she was found was off MM Highway, which is off Highway 28. It winds down in the back hollers with a few farms and homes scattered here and there, then loops around and comes back up on Highway 28 — if you make all the right turns. The person knew where he was going,” Renno said, adding that because the investigation didn’t reveal anything that would identify the woman, she was buried in the Waynesville Cemetery in a grave marked “Jane Doe.”
 
With no leads, the case sat dormant until 2012, when Lt. Dottie Taylor with the Missouri State Highway Patrol entered Jane Doe’s profile in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a national information clearinghouse that compares the names of missing persons with unidentified remains. Nothing more was done until 2014, when Renno and Detective Linda Burgess attended a Missing in Missouri conference.
 
“We had been interested in this Jane Doe case and I had looked up information but hadn’t actively worked it. At the conference Todd Williams with NamUs spoke. He had been a coroner in Tennessee and had worked a case of an unidentified body and had spearheaded other investigations. It encouraged us so after the conference we decided to move forward with exhuming her body to obtain DNA,” Renno said.
 
Because neither he, nor anyone else at the sheriff’s office had ever attempted an exhumation, he talked to another agency that had to get answers to a long list of questions. Pulaski County Coroner Mikel Hartness submitted the paperwork to get the warrant needed to unearth Jane Doe’s body.
 
“We set a date and we exhumed her body. It was my ‘pet project,’ but there were also several other people involved in the exhumation: Deputies April Bryan, Pam Sherrell, Kim Luttrell, and Kandi Greer; evidence tech Hallie Nickels; Detectives Linda Burgess and Christian Butler; the Waynesville Rural Fire Department; Layne Lurcher and Vernon Martin with the Waynesville Memorial Chapel; Waynesville city officials and the Pulaski County Ambulance District. I absolutely couldn’t have done this without them,” Renno said.
 
Next, because Renno was concerned about shipping, Detective Burgess and Deputy Greer drove the remains to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification (UNTCHI) in Fort Worth. The forensic laboratory is globally recognized as a leader in forensic identification. UNTCHI services include forensic genetic and anthropological examinations for criminal casework and missing persons identification, local CODIS operations, and development and management of NamUs for the U.S. Department of Justice.
 
Renno said they were hoping to get DNA from the remains but didn’t know what to expect after 30-plus years of being buried. Fortunately, a forensic anthropologist workup was successful at getting both mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to child, and STR (short tandem repeat) DNA. A DNA sample was then entered into CODIS (the Combined DNA Index System — the FBI’s program of support for criminal justice DNA databases) to see if they could get a hit, but that never happened. “Then in 2016, while working on another case, we went through an agency that sent us an anthropologist and people from the University of South Florida who were working on their PhD. We were talking about our Jane Doe, and they said if we sent the remains to them, they would try to do an isotope analysis.”
 
That chemical analysis of tooth enamel and bones can determine where a person spent most of his or her childhood, as well as the last several years of life.
 
“We knew when she died, and we knew her approximate age, but we wanted to get an idea of where she was from,” he explained, adding that the information they were seeking was provided — kind-of.
 
According to the report, the remains were likely those of a 25-to-45-year-old female, possibly Hispanic, approximately 60.5 to 67.5 inches tall. Dental analysis indicated the presence of numerous dental restorations. Chemical isotope data were consistent with an origin of birth within the United States mainland. Oxygen isotope samples indicated that the decedent likely grew up in the southwest region of the U.S. from Texas to the east coast and from Georgia to south Florida. However, oxygen isotopes from her bone samples suggested that she spent a significant amount of time before her death to the north of this region — possibly in Missouri.
“It gave us something — it narrowed it down from the entire United States — but it didn’t help us identify her. Then in late 2017, I heard about the DNA Doe Project (DDP), which uses genetic genealogy to identify remains. They had just had their first success using genetic genealogy to identify a woman that had been found deceased in Ohio, so I contacted Margaret Press and Colleen Fitzpatrick, the women who run it, and they told me what I needed to send,” Renno said. “I told them I already had DNA, but they said they did a full genome of DNA and they had to have the remains before they could continue.”
 
He also learned that although the investigative work would be done by volunteers at no cost, the sheriff’s office would have to come up with an estimated $1,700 to ship the remains to the lab, to get UNT to share the DNA they already had, and to fund the lab costs involved in extracting and sequencing DNA from the remains. Because the sheriff’s office budget would not allow the expenditure, they held a raffle and asked for donations from the community.
 
In the meantime, the DDP had received a large donation that covered the cost of lab work for several small agencies, including Pulaski County’s, so Renno “paid it forward” to contribute to the potential identification of another agency’s Doe.
 
In April 2019, they turned everything over to the DDP and in November, they were notified that the results had been sent to one of their volunteer genealogy teams. Then in December, they got the news they were waiting for. The DDP provided a possible name of Jane Doe and the name of a possible relative who was residing in Alexandria, Virginia.
 
“The next step was to contact her next-of-kin, which was her brother — Edward Knippers — and I did that by telephone. First, I asked if he had a sister that he lost track of. He said yes — that they had lost track of his younger sister in the 1980s. I asked if he would be willing to submit his DNA for a possible match to unidentified remains that we believed was his sister. He agreed so I contacted NamUs and through them, sent a DNA kit to the Alexandria Police Department Detective Unit. The detective went to his home, took a sample of his DNA, and submitted it. Then we kicked it back down to the University of North Texas for a one-to-one comparison. And that takes us right up to the time COVID hit,” Renno said.
 
After investigating the case for six years, he had to wait another 15 months to get the results of that comparison.
 
“There was also a little bit of miscommunication between me, NamUs and the UNT folks, who had changed some procedures. But we finally got things squared away. Because of the way the DNA database is set up, at the time we submitted the brother’s DNA, we also submitted her as a missing person in CODIS. They ran it and it came up a match,” Renno said.
 
He also received a letter from UNT’s Center of Human Identification stating that the STR and the mitochondrial DNA were “19.4 million times more likely to be observed under the scenario that the unidentified remains originated from a biological sibling of Edward C. Knippers as opposed to the unidentified remains originating from an unrelated individual from the Caucasian population.”
 
“Everybody asked if I was excited, but I said that I had known it for about 15 months — I just couldn’t prove it. But that letter was proof enough to move forward and release her identity,” Renno said, adding that they still have her remains and are now working to get donations from the community to hold a small memorial service, then rebury her body in the gravesite it had occupied so many years. “The funeral home has offered to provide some of their services free of charge, but I also want to give her a headstone and we already know what the headstone will say. It will include her name and will say she was found murdered on May 25, 1981, and she was identified in May of 2021. We have a photograph of her when she was much younger and we’re going to see if we can get that etched on. Her brother, who wants to help with the cost of the headstone, asked that a cross and the words ‘A child of God’ also be included.”
 
Renno said he is thankful for the support of former sheriffs JB King and Ronald Long and current sheriff Jimmy Bench, whose desire to get to the truth made it possible for him to work on the investigation.
 
Although he hasn’t been able to find a Social Security or driver’s license number for her, and no one knows where the evidence from the autopsy went — the DNA samples, the fingernail clippings, everything — is missing, through his investigation he was able to learn that Karen Knippers was born in Oklahoma on December 5, 1948; she grew up in Florida and lived in an apartment in St. Louis for some time before she was murdered. Renno said he’s hoping that with a name, the family photograph, and the additional information, someone will remember her and come forward because his work is far from over.
 
Now his hunt for the killer begins.
 
By Nancy Zoellner
 
 
 

Acknowledging and Honoring Her Life

The Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, in a community effort with the Memorial Chapels and Crematory of Waynesville/St. Robert, plans to provide Karen Knippers with the memorialization she deserves in the Waynesville Memorial Park Cemetery.

Anyone who wishes to participate may do so by mailing or taking a donation to Memorial Chapels, 202 Historic 66 West, Waynesville, MO 65583. Checks should be made out to Memorial Chapel, but donors need to write “Karen Knippers” on the memo line. Do not take or send donations to the sheriff’s office.

“All donations will be used towards the public funeral services, reinterment in Waynesville Memorial Park Cemetery and permanent monument placement for Knippers. We are not making any money on this. We are partnering with the community to provide this service. The more donations that come in, the nicer the monument she’ll have, but if nobody contributes a dime, we’re still going to make this happen,” said funeral director Layne Lercher. “I was there when the body was exhumed. I will be there when she’s laid to rest.”

For questions about donating, call Memorial Chapels at 573-774-6111. Anyone with any information on the case should contact Detective Doug Renno at 573-855-1069.

 
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Living a Life Not Imagined

Sheriff Craig Allison strives to make a difference in his community.

Montgomery County Sheriff Craig Allison never envisioned working in law enforcement. It just wasn’t a childhood dream. “In fact, cops were not really my friends when I was young because I had a way of finding trouble,” he laughed. “And I sure never saw myself as sheriff!”

After finishing an active-duty stint in the U.S. Army, the young Allison returned home to work on the farm and took a job at an indoor hog confinement facility. After six miserable months of wearing ear plugs to block the constant squealing, he quit. A friend who had also recently left the military urged him to try law enforcement.

“I really wanted to return to military life. I was told I could re-enlist but I would have to drop a rank and I just couldn’t do that, so I decided maybe law enforcement was for me after all,” he said.

Don Bryson, who was chief of police for the city of Wellsville at the time and who is now his father-in-law — he wasn’t back then — said if he wanted to attend the academy, they’d help with tuition so in early 1995 he started working as a police officer. A few months later, he started at the Law Enforcement Training Institute as a fulltime student in the first 300-hour class ever held.

After graduating, he continued working at the Wellsville PD until July 1, 1995, when he dropped down to part-time and went to work fulltime for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. He’s been there ever since.

“What’s neat is that my friend Jim Graham, who originally got me interested in law enforcement, quit Montgomery County to take a job as sergeant with Wellsville just as I was starting at Montgomery County, and I got his DSN,” he said.

At that time, the sheriff, John Whyte, lived in the courthouse so there was no jail staff. When deputies made an arrest, they were responsible for booking and locking the prisoner up in jail. They also took turns working as bailiff — and handling any other duties that needed to be done. He enjoyed the work, he worked hard, and it paid off. In 1997, he was promoted to corporal over the patrol division and in 1998 he made sergeant. He worked patrol until 2008, when he was promoted to captain and was asked to take the position of jail administrator.

“I needed a challenge and I got one — but that’s when my career really took off. I got involved with ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and although holding their detainees meant a lot of inspections, that’s what held us to a higher standard and got us to where we are today,” Sheriff Allison said.

ICE has strict detention standards that include weekly, monthly and annual inspections, “and those annual inspections were hideous! Four inspectors would stay four days going over everything with a fine-tooth comb — and then they’d watch you perform,” he said. “It was rough, but I’m pleased to say we were told that we were the first jail in the Chicago District, which covers six states, to have a zero-deficiency inspection.”

In late 2016 he was asked to be the chief deputy under the upcoming sheriff, Matt Schoo, who took office in 2017. He gladly accepted, greatly enjoyed his job, and planned to stay on as chief deputy another five years. However, those plans changed in early 2020, when Sheriff Shoo announced he was retiring.

“I had been there 25 years, working hard to bring us to where we were, and I couldn’t stand to see the department crumble if someone who didn’t have the same values got elected, so after talking to my wife Lisa, my parents and God, I decided to run. I really felt it was something I had been called to do,” Sheriff Allison said. He won the primary and with no opponent in the general — and with Sheriff Shoo’s blessing — he hit the ground running.

He started developing an app for the sheriff’s office, and he created a community resource officer position. They took advantage of CARES Act funding to get new mobile patrol computers in their vehicles and brought in computer aided dispatching. “That happened at the same time our dispatch moved into the new joint communication center, so we were all dealing with a huge learning curve!”

Sheriff Allison said they have also stepped up their involvement in the community. “In the past, we were more about enforcement, but I wanted the people to get to know us, so we all started attending as many functions as possible. We now keep a list of upcoming events posted on the wall in the office.”

He also regularly attends Middletown Christian Church, serving as an elder, “And it means a lot to me. I don’t know how I could get through this job without relying on God.“

The most rewarding aspect of the job is knowing he is serving his community. The most challenging part is balancing his time between family, the office, and the people. “I also worry about letting people down so I’m always going to give it my all. After starting in law enforcement, serving my community as sheriff was my goal, but I’ve since adopted another goal: I want to serve four terms and then retire. By the end of that time, I hope I will have made a difference. I was born and raised here, and this community means a lot to me,” he said.

By Nancy Zoellner

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Governor Parson Makes Court Appointments

Governor Mike Parson ​appointed two prosecuting attorneys and two judges on Friday, May 1.

He ​appointed Kelly W. Puckett as the Grundy County ​Prosecuting Attorney​ and William Lynch as the Newton County Prosecuting Attorney.

Puckett has served as the interim prosecuting attorney for Grundy County since January 2019. He holds bachelor’s degree in legal studies from Missouri Western State University and a Juris Doctorate from Washburn University School of Law. 
 
Lynch has served as the interim prosecuting attorney since the Honorable Judge Jake Skouby took office as an Associate Circuit Judge in the 40th Judicial Circuit.​ ​Lynch holds bachelor’s degree from Missouri Southern State University and a master’s degree and Juris Doctorate from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Gov​.​ Parson ​also ​appointed the Honorable Scott A. Lipke as Circuit Judge for the 32nd Judicial Circuit​ and he ​appointed Alan Beussink as Associate Circuit Judge for the 32nd  Judicial Circuit.
 
Lipke​ will fill the Circuit Judge vacancy created by the appointment of the Honorable Michael Gardner to​ the​ Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District.​ ​Lipke, of Jackson, is currently serving as an Associate Circuit Judge of the 32nd Judicial Circuit. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, and a Juris Doctorate from Valparaiso University School of Law in Valparaiso, Indiana.
 
Beussink will fill the Associate Circuit Judge vacancy created by the departure of the Honorable Scott. E. Thomsen.​ ​Beussink, of Leopold, currently serves as a partner at the law firm Whiffen and Beussink. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law.

Department of Public Safety Deputy Director Retires

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 1, 2020

 

With today’s official retirement of Department of Public Safety Deputy Director Kenny Jones, local communities lose a true champion and supporter of local issues.

From 1985 to 2004 Jones served his community well as Moniteau County sheriff. In 2005 he continued his service to local communities when he was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives from District 117.

While in the House, Jones pushed for legislation to benefit local school districts, as well as legislation to provide better benefits for veterans who became state employees. He sponsored and was instrumental in passing legislation to pay local sheriffs’ deputies a living wage. Thanks to his dedication and hard work, today more than 350 local law enforcement families are no longer needing some type of public assistance.

During his time as deputy director, Jones consistently held the needs of local communities at the forefront – ensuring their needs were looked after – whether though funding, allocation of resources or simply through open communication.

Communities need representation from someone with local roots, a track record of serving at the local level, and a dedication to local communities.  As Jones moves into future endeavors, we encourage leadership to seek a replacement with qualities such as he brought to the department.

We wish Kenny Jones all the best in retirement. He will be missed.

 

Kevin Merritt
Executive Director

 

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Missouri Courts Suspend Jury Trials, Dockets in Response to Virus

Several courts across Missouri and beyond have taken steps, including suspending jury trials and high-volume dockets, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri

The Western District’s Mediation and Assessment Program has set requirements for mediations held on or before April 14.

Individuals required to travel from out of town to attend mediations, as well as individuals who have compromised health, may instead appear by interactive means, such as telephone, videoconference, FaceTime or Skype, “so long as they are fully participating in the mediation for the entire duration. Being available to receive an occasional call does not satisfy the remote appearance modification.”

Please direct any questions to the MAP office at 816-512-5080.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri

The court announced in a news release that it is restricting certain people from entering district courthouses, effective March 13.

Under the order of Chief Judge Rodney W. Sippel, the following people will not be allowed to enter the district’s courthouses:

Those who have traveled to any foreign country within the last 14 days
Those who reside or have had close contact with someone who has traveled to a foreign country within the last 14 days
Those who have been asked to self-quarantine by a doctor, hospital or health agency
Those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have had contact with a person diagnosed with it
Those with unexplained fever, cough or shortness of breath

According to the release, anyone attempting to enter the courthouse in violation of these protocols will be denied entry by court security officers.

Attorneys scheduled to appear at an EDMO courthouse but who fall into those categories are encouraged to contact judges’ chambers directly.

St. Louis Circuit Court

In St. Louis Circuit Court, jury trials will be suspended until April 13. Presiding Circuit Judge Rex M. Burlison issued the order during an emergency meeting of the court en banc March 13 in the St. Louis Civil Courts Building.

“The circuit’s intention is to make the courts available to the public during this health crisis but to reduce the public’s exposure as much as possible until we have further direction from public health authorities,” Burlison stated in a news release.

Walk-in wedding ceremonies are also postponed until further notice. Weddings had been scheduled for 2 p.m. March 20, April 3 and 17 at the Civil Courts Building.

The week of April 6 is a non-jury week so the decision will only affect trials scheduled for the next three weeks, Jury Supervisor Joanne Martin said. Those who received a jury summons for March 16 through April 3 should not report for duty and will be returned to the general jury pool.

Essential court functions such as insuring orders of protection and bond reviews for newly detained individuals will continue, said Thom Gross, public information officer for the 22nd Judicial Circuit of Missouri.

Judges were asked to report to Burlison how they intend to prevent contamination, including limiting the amount of people allowed in the courtroom.

The public health situation remains fluid, and the court could make further adjustments as considered appropriate, Burlison noted in the release.

St. Louis County Circuit Court

Presiding Judge Michael D. Burton issued an administrative order March 13 in which he scaled back court operations but said the courthouse would remain open.

Under his order, no jurors will be summoned for the weeks of March 16 and March 23, and municipal court proceedings will be suspended. Weddings, courthouse tours, meetings with outside groups, after-hours classes and community events will be postponed, and the public resource center and law library will be closed.

Criminal cases in which defendants are not in custody will be postponed and rescheduled. Hearings involving criminal defendants and probation revocation matters in which the defendant is in custody will be conducted by video-conference. Hearings on other criminal, civil, domestic, juvenile and probate cases will be postponed and rescheduled unless a specific judge assigned to that case notifies the parties that the hearing will proceed as scheduled.

Also to be postponed and rescheduled are large volume, high volume and/or multi-case dockets, including but not limited to Associate Circuit Court high volume civil dockets, Circuit Court civil case management dockets, Associate and Circuit Court domestic “call” dockets, landlord/tenant dockets/cases, small claims dockets/cases, uncontested dissolution dockets/cases, traffic and municipal dockets/cases, and treatment court dockets, including the SAFETI Family Drug Court, Burton said.

Full order of protection hearings scheduled for the weeks of March 16 and March 23 will be continued and rescheduled. All ex parte orders of protection currently in effect are extended until the new hearing date.

Juvenile detention hearings and protective custody hearings will proceed as scheduled, as will hearings for juveniles in custody at the county Juvenile Detention Center. All other hearings in abuse and neglect cases may be continued for good cause. All other delinquency cases and termination-of-parental-rights cases scheduled during the weeks of March 16 and March 23 will be continued and rescheduled.

The Family Exchange Center and parent visits supervised by the Family Court will remain in operation, but hours may be reduced subject to staffing limitations. The Adult Abuse Office will continue its normal operations.

Jackson County Circuit Court

The Jackson County Circuit Court issued an administrative order March 13 that suspends all jury trials and high-volume dockets scheduled for the weeks of March 16 and March 23.

According to the order, individual hearings on specific criminal, civil, domestic and probate cases will proceed as scheduled unless the specific judge assigned to the case takes action under the administrative order. The court has strongly encouraged judicial officers to consider alternative means for conducting hearings.

Under the order, in all criminal cases where the defendant is in custody at the Jackson County Detention Center, defendants will not be transported to court for hearings. Instead, all hearings will be conducted by videoconferencing, including initial appearances and arraignments.

At the Juvenile Justice Center, all detention hearings and protective custody hearings will proceed as scheduled, while other family court cases set for the weeks of March 16 and March 23 will be rescheduled.

Johnson County, Kansas

In Johnson County, Kansas, which has had four confirmed cases of COVID-19, the 10th Judicial District Court has also canceled jury trials scheduled through May 1.

Chief Judge Thomas Kelly issued an administrative order March 13 stating that while the courthouse and its offices will remain open, the court system cannot function without juries. All scheduled jury trials are continued pending further order of the court.

The court will continue to hear other matters at the courthouse as determined by individual judges.

The order comes a day after Kansas Governor Laura Kelly declared a state of emergency to address COVID-19.

Kansas City Municipal Court

In Kansas City, the judges of the Municipal Court voted at an emergency court meeting on March 12 to modify court operations following Mayor Quinton Lucas’ declaration of a state of emergency.

The court has cancelled court hearings scheduled from March 16 to April 10 for defendants not in custody, with the exception of hearings scheduled for domestic violence court, drug court, mental health court and veterans treatment court cases.

The court also canceled all walk-in dockets from March 16 through April 10. The court itself will be remain open for business. Court employees, including prosecutors, are still working at the courthouse.

St. Louis area

Several legal organizations in the St. Louis region banded together March 13 to recommend policy changes to Missouri officials that they say will help populations who are at the highest risk for contracting COVID-19.

ArchCity Defenders sent a letter to local and state officials, including court officials and prosecutors, in which it outlined the challenges of those high-risk groups, including the unhoused, the working poor, immigrants and people with disabilities. The policy recommendations also extend to areas within local governments and the criminal justice system, including police and immigration enforcement, courts, and jails, prisons and juvenile detention facilities.

Some examples of the recommendations include:

Abstaining from arresting people for ordinance violations, misdemeanors and non-violent felonies
Suspending immediately the in-person operations of all circuit, associate and municipal court divisions except those that are required to address orders of protection, confined individuals and other exigent circumstances, with periodic reassessment as to whether normal operations may resume
Releasing all individuals from jail who have not been preventatively detained for posing a danger to the community or a flight risk, including those held on cash bail and awaiting probation violation hearings or parole revocation hearings

Co-signers of the letter include the ACLU of Missouri, the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, the St. Louis University Civil Litigation Clinic and the Missouri State Public Defender System.

Federal Bureau of Prisons

The Federal Bureau of Prisons announced today that it is suspending social visits and legal visits to inmates for 30 days.

According to a news release, lawyers can receive case-by-case accommodation to visit with their clients in that time period, however. Inmates will also be allowed confidential calls to ensure they maintain access to counsel.

Attorneys seeking an in-person visit with their client or a confidential call should contact the institution’s Executive Assistant or contact the appropriate Consolidated Legal Center for the BOP institution.

If approved for an in-person visit, the attorney will need to under the same screening procedures as staff, the release said.

The Missouri Bar

In its weekly email March 13, The Missouri Bar said it is temporarily suspending its in-person events. The organization will provide updates to those who have already registered for events or are otherwise affected as more details become available.

27th Judicial Circuit

In the 27th Circuit, which covers Henry, St. Clair and Bates counties, the court said its facilities will remain open. The court will schedule events and use of additional courthouse spaces to prevent or lessen overcrowding in the courtrooms, will use tele- and videoconferencing when available and will thoroughly clean all surfaces and courtrooms.

31st Judicial Circuit

The Green County Circuit Court said it plans to stay open. Courtrooms will be cleaned and disinfected at the conclusion of court sessions, judges will take steps to reduce crowding in courtrooms and during jury selection, and tele- and videoconferencing will be used when appropriate.

34th Judicial Circuit

In the 34th Circuit, which covers New Madrid and Pemiscot counties, the juvenile offices are asking juveniles who are on formal and informal probation to check in by phone rather than attend face-to-face meetings.

Referral sources are asked not to send juveniles or their parents to the office without prior authorization from a juvenile officer. Officials say they will screen referrals based upon the urgency of the situation and might hold off on processing non-emergency referrals. Staff in both offices will continue to report as usual.

29th Judicial District (Wyandotte County, Kansas)

Judges for Kansas’ 29th Judicial Circuit in Wyandotte County decided to also postpone all jury trials through April 19, according to court administrator Anita Peterson. Peterson said the courthouse will remain open otherwise, and judges will still hear their other dockets.

For updates on courts that weren’t mentioned here, check Missouri’s courts website.

 
By​ ​Jessica Shumaker and Allen Fennewald ​| Missouri Lawyers Media molawyersmedia.com​

Missouri Sheriffs Rally at the State Capitol in Jefferson City

Some 50 sheriffs stood shoulder-to-shoulder in Missouri’s capitol on Wednesday, saying the new rules from the Missouri Supreme Court must change – and that they needed lawmakers’ help in accomplishing that.

The sheriffs shared how the new rules favor criminals instead of Missouri’s law-abiding citizens and reminded lawmakers that the justice system was based on taking care of victims.

Sheriffs also discussed how the state has fallen behind in payment of jail per diems – to the tune of $33.4 million as of December 2019.