The secret’s out.
A prosecutor’s now-dismissed effort to remove Jeff Curry from office accused the Franklin County sheriff of telling his lover — former county attorney Heather Jones — that federal authorities were investigating her for buying meth.
The allegations came to light Monday when Senior Judge John E. Sanders ruled in favor of a motion filed by The Herald and two Kansas City media outlets to unseal the civil ouster petition against Curry. The petition, filed by Stephen Hunting, Franklin County attorney, shortly after Curry’s Feb. 27 arrest, was intended to remove the then-sheriff from office, though Curry’s March 21 resignation announcement largely rendered it moot.
Information contained in the petition, however, detailed separate criminal allegations against Curry, which until Monday’s ruling largely had been sealed by Franklin County District Court.
“By notifying Heather Jones on or about May 30, 2012, that she had been identified and accused by a [confidential informant] of having purchased methamphetamine in Franklin County, Kansas, [Curry] unlawfully used confidential information acquired during the course of and related to [Curry’s] official capacity as sheriff of Franklin County for the personal and private benefit or gain of the defendant and/or Heather Jones,” the petition reads, noting the tip constituted a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct.
The alleged incident in May spurred a Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s probe into the sheriff’s department, which itself led to the Sept. 27 execution of a search warrant at the sheriff’s office, 305 S. Main St.
On or about Sept. 27, Curry participated in an interview with a special investigator as part of the KBI investigation, according to the ouster document. During that interview, Curry allegedly lied about engaging in an ongoing, sexual affair with Jones, who had resigned from her post as county attorney May 22.
“The defendant denied ever having an inappropriate or sexual relationship with Heather Jones,” the petition document reads, later adding that such a violation constituted the felony charge of interference with a law enforcement officer. “[Curry’s] assertions that he did not have an intimate and sexual relationship with Heather Jones were false. In fact, he and Heather Jones were involved in an ongoing, intimate and sexual relationship at the time of the May and September interviews.”
Curry and his attorney, Trey Pettlon, Olathe, did not appear to dispute revealing the information to Jones, who now serves as an assistant prosecutor with the Johnson County Attorney’s Office, nor did they deny the affair.
Pettlon, however, said certain accusations within the ouster petition — specifically those aimed at Jones — were false.
“All parties who have reviewed the evidence and followed up on the drug-related allegations have confirmed that the [confidential informant’s] report was completely false as it related to Heather Jones,” Pettlon wrote in a press release. “Subsequent investigation has confirmed that Ms. Jones was either knowingly or recklessly slandered by the [confidential informant]. This misinformation is what my client was trying to avoid all along.”
During Monday’s hearing, an attorney representing a “third party,” later identified as Jones’ attorney, stepped forward to address the court after both The Herald’s and Kansas City media attorneys offered statements. Robin Fowler, Jones’ attorney, argued against unsealing the documents on behalf of his then-confidential client on the grounds that the accusations were unfounded.
“The ouster petition unsealed today in Franklin County, Kansas, gives a misleading and inaccurate description of the investigation involving Heather Jones,” Fowler wrote later in a press release. “While the petition describes the allegation made last May in full detail, it neglects to point out that the confidential source has since that time been contradicted by at least two sources whom the [confidential informant] claimed would corroborate his/her version of events. ... The allegation that [Jones] purchased or used methamphetamine is false. She is not now, and never has been, the subject of any federal investigation. The state drug investigation has not only failed to corroborate the source of allegation, but has in fact developed evidence from multiple sources which contradicts that allegation.”
Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe previously declined to comment on the case. He told the Associated Press Monday that Jones had been working in his office as an attorney for about a year and that he has unsuccessfully pressed the KBI and prosecutors in Shawnee and Franklin counties for more information.
“Once we receive all the facts, we will make a decision on this matter,” Howe told the AP. “Beyond that we cannot comment on this personnel matter any further.”
Harm versus public interest
For the past month, details on the criminal allegations against Curry were sealed by Franklin County District Court without reason. Judge Sanders said Monday during a two-hour hearing that “protecting someone from public shame or embarrassment was not a reason to seal the petition” and later opened the court document. Sanders also denied requests to redact certain names within the ouster document.
While Sanders moved to unseal the petition for ouster document, he opted not to open documents related to Curry’s criminal charges. Those documents, which include details on names of confidential informants and other sensitive information, might hamper or adversely affect the ongoing KBI investigation, Sanders said.
After discussing the terms of Curry’s 12-month diversion, which if successfully completed would absolve him of the criminal charges against him, Sanders addressed the motions to intervene filed by The Herald and two Kansas City media outlets.
Special prosecutor J. Todd Hiatt previously indicated that the state had no qualms with unsealing the documents as long as the documents wouldn’t jeopardize the then-Franklin County sheriff’s access to a fair trial. However, Pettlon argued Monday against the unsealing of documents relating to the allegations against Curry. His argument aimed to prove that “a private harm that predominates the case and such interest or harm outweighs the strong public interest in access to the court record and proceedings,” according to court documents provided to The Herald.
Judge Sanders disagreed.
In a press release following the hearing, Pettlon defended the integrity of Curry, whose resignation as sheriff became effective Monday evening.
“Sheriff Curry has devoted his life to law enforcement,” Pettlon wrote. “He has made mistakes in his personal life that he regrets, but it never affected his ability or his desire to be the best sheriff he could be. Today Franklin County lost a good sheriff.”