A judge in Lyon County on Monday granted a petition to expunge the record of a Baldwin City police sergeant who was acquitted of felony official misconduct and misdemeanor theft more than 10 years ago, but the order does not seal the records completely.
Clint Epperly, an officer in Baldwin for nine years, had been charged in Lyon County in connection with a 2008 traffic stop made while he was employed by the Kansas Highway Patrol. According to court documents, Epperly was accused of removing multiple items from a semi-tractor trailer that was seized and impounded during a drug investigation. He was acquitted after a bench trial in January 2010.
Chief Judge Merlin G. Wheeler began Monday’s hearing asking for clarification on which statute Epperly’s attorney, Tyler Pettigrew, was seeking expungement under. Statutes covering expungement vary in the exceptions they make for sealing records related to law enforcement.
“When we’re dealing with a law enforcement officer, as this petition indicates, one of the duties of a prosecuting officer, in any case that he might be involved in, is to disclose that information,” Wheeler said. “My question is, if I issue the expungement order, how does a prosecutor even find out about that information if they don’t already have it as a result of the prior prosecution?”
As part of his questions regarding exceptions for law enforcement, Wheeler referenced an unrelated expungement Epperly is seeking in Douglas County. In that case, Epperly was charged with two counts of misdemeanor false impersonation for statements allegedly made on social media in 2014. Those charges were later dropped.
Douglas County District Court Chief Judge James McCabria in December had initially granted that petition for expungement, but he rescinded the order a day later after learning of the proceedings pending in Lyon County. Epperly was not legally required to include details about the Lyon County case in his Douglas County petition, and did not do so. In the order setting aside the Douglas County ruling, McCabria delayed re-hearing the petition until after the Lyon County case was settled.
“The district court records in Douglas County indicate that an expungement was actually issued in the case you referred to in your amended affidavit in this case,” Wheeler said. “I pulled the records of that, and it indicates that there were a number of exceptions made by the district judge in Douglas County in that order. One of which is that it required disclosure in any instance in which Mr. Epperly was a material witness.”
It was unclear on Monday whether Wheeler was aware that the Douglas County expungement had been set aside, but no mention of McCabria’s order to delay that decision was made in court.
In his ruling, Wheeler identified the exceptions to expungement pertaining to law enforcement that would apply to Epperly. Those exceptions include access for potential employers who are determining eligibility for law enforcement certification. Wheeler also specified that the sealed information would be accessible if requested as part of a trial.
“Whenever any record of any arrest, and I emphasize that phrase, has been expunged, there is a significant list of other circumstances under which the disclosure is made,” he said. “In addition, the court will require the disclosure in any circumstances under which Mr. Epperly may be called to testify as a witness in a criminal proceeding.”
The hearing to reconsider Epperly’s petition for expungement in Douglas County is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 31. Pettigrew has not returned the Times’ phone messages and emails seeking comment.