A Douglas County judge is expected to decide this week whether to seal the arrest record of a Baldwin City police sergeant.
In the Douglas County case — the first of two petitions for expungement filed this month — Clint Epperly was charged in March 2014 with two misdemeanor counts of false impersonation for statements allegedly made on social media. The charges were later dismissed.
The second expungement petition is for a 2009 Lyon County case in which Epperly was charged with official misconduct and theft.
Epperly, who has been a police officer in Baldwin City for nine years, appeared in court via videoconference Monday afternoon before Douglas County District Court’s chief judge, James McCabria.
Epperly’s attorney, Tyler Pettigrew, argued that the case should be expunged because the dismissal never gave Epperly the opportunity to answer charges that he misrepresented his role in law enforcement in comments made on Facebook.
After confirming with Assistant District Attorney Brian Deiter that the state did not oppose, McCabria said that he would not grant the petition before taking into consideration whether the decision was consistent with the interests of public welfare.
“The case was dismissed, but these are crimes with implications in credibility and veracity,” McCabria said.
McCabria said the concern was if Epperly were called as the primary witness in litigation. He referenced Brady/Giglio disclosures, which are legal rules requiring that prosecutors share impeachment evidence that might cast substantial doubt on the accuracy of testimony by a law enforcement officer or other witness.
Pettigrew said statements made on a personal Facebook page are considered protected speech. He also argued that there was a difference between someone who impersonates face to face versus social media statements that were possibly presented in jest.
“An arrest only has to be supported by probable cause,” Pettigrew said. “It’s a low bar to establish. I’m not sure how you impersonate a law enforcement officer when you are a law enforcement officer.”
Pettigrew said the request for expungement in the Douglas County case was not a request for special treatment, but was afforded to all citizens by Kansas statutes. He also acknowledged that as a law enforcement officer, Epperly’s arrest would remain available through the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training, which would share the information with agencies seeking to establish Epperly’s eligibility for employment.
According to Kansas statutes, law enforcement officers require certification that can be revoked for felony convictions, misdemeanor crimes involving domestic violence, or other misdemeanors that reflect on the “honesty, trustworthiness, integrity or competence.” The statute also states that law enforcement officers must “be of good moral character sufficient to warrant the public trust in the applicant as a police officer or law enforcement officer.”
Mike Pattrick, chief of Baldwin City Police, said his department considers the record of each employee or potential employee on a case-by-case basis. The major concern is whether a law enforcement officer has a criminal background that might indicate a lack of truthfulness. Pattrick said any situation indicating a lack of truthfulness would prevent a candidate from being hired or an officer to remain in the employment of the Baldwin City Police Department.
“I completely understand the trust placed in all police officers, and I understand the public’s concern,” he said. “There is no one here with a record of untruthfulness. If they had they would not be working here.”
McCabria said he would issue an opinion on the expungement later this week.
“My guess is that if he had it to do over again he would do things differently,” McCabria said. “But we’re weighing this against the public interest and the public’s expectations for integrity in law enforcement.”
Lyon County case
The second petition for expungement was filed in Lyon County, where Epperly was arrested in July 2009 on suspicion of felony official misconduct and misdemeanor theft in connection with a Dec. 18, 2008, traffic stop he made during his tenure with the Kansas Highway Patrol.
According to court documents, Epperly was accused of removing items from a semi-tractor trailer that was seized as part of a drug investigation. The truck was towed to Williams Automotive in Emporia, where Epperly allegedly removed a GPS tracker and gave it to a Lyon County Sheriff’s Office deputy after deleting information from the device. Court documents state that on the same day, an Emporia police officer saw Epperly labeling a tool box with his KHP unit number and calling it his “new interdiction tool box.”
Investigators later submitted video footage from Dec. 20, 2008, identifying Epperly out of uniform and in his personal vehicle returning to the vehicle storage area at Williams Automotive. During an interview with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation on Jan. 13, 2009, Epperly turned over bolt cutters and a pry bar set from his personal vehicle. Two sets of evidence custody and vehicle inventory lists completed by Epperly provided conflicting reports of what was found and seized during Epperly’s KHP investigation, according to the documents.
Based on the evidence, Epperly was charged with two counts of theft less than $1,000 and one count of official misconduct for allegedly tampering with the GPS device, which prosecutors believed might have provided evidence in their drug prosecution.
Epperly was acquitted of all charges after a bench trial on Jan. 13, 2010. Kansas Senior Judge Philip Sieve said the state failed to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Pettigrew filed Epperly’s petition for expungement in Lyon County on Dec. 1, 2021, the same day he filed for expungement in Douglas County.
According to his job history on LinkedIn, Pettigrew recently resigned his position as assistant county attorney in Finney County to join the Law Office of Roger Fincher in Topeka. He served as a Lyon County sheriff’s deputy from August 2008 to June 2016, and was a marketing coordinator at Williams Automotive from January 2016 to September 2017.
Epperly’s hearing in Lyon County is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 24. Pettigrew did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment for this article.
Don’t miss a beat … Click here to sign up for our email newsletters
More coverage: Brady/Giglio disclosures
A plea deal Thursday resulted in a Lawrence man being convicted of one misdemeanor, seeing three cases dropped and getting out of jail on time served.
His case was the latest to call attention to an ongoing dispute between the Douglas County sheriff and district attorney.
A judge has ruled that prosecutors did not withhold information that should have been turned over to a defense attorney regarding an ex-deputy accused of violating law and policy. This case, the latest to highlight an ongoing conflict between the DA and the sheriff, leaves some questions lingering.
A federal civil case against an ex Lawrence police officer, the city, and a former police chief was set to proceed to trial this month, but the parties have reached a settlement.
Internal investigation documents in the case file reveal details that have never been made public about two cases that brought officer integrity issues into the spotlight in Douglas County.