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Not yet cleared, officer in Lehigh shooting seems back on duty

Staff writer

A Marion police officer, thought to be the one who killed a disturbed Lehigh man in a standoff June 20, appears to have returned to duty even though an investigation of whether his actions were justified has not concluded.

Sheriff Rob Craft stated after the shooting, which is still being investigated by Kansas Bureau of Investigation, that “the officer involved has been placed on administrative leave through his department pending the investigation.”

A KBI spokeman confirmed Friday that KBI had not completed its investigation, which might take months.

However, the officer identified by several public safety sources and radio broadcasts as the shooter apparently returned to duty at least two days before KBI said its investigation was continuing.

The officer’s squad car, which had not appeared to move in the days following the shooting, was observed parked in a new location afterward, and police transmissions using the officer’s badge number were recorded as early as Wednesday of last week. He later was physically observed as being on duty,

County attorney Courtney Behm, who ultimately is responsible for determining whether the shooting was justified or charges should be filed, said Friday that she had not yet received KBI’s report and therefore could not render a decision or comment.

The KBI spokesman confirmed Friday that Boehm had not received a formal final report but strongly indicated that she had been receiving a steady stream of preliminary reports related to the shooting.

Marion police have several times declined to comment on the situation, stating that it is a personnel matter.

Both Boehm and Marion chief Tyler Mermis were allowed to preview this story and asked to comment or correct it. Neither responded. However, city attorney Susan Robson, who was seen reviewing the story with Mermis, said Tuesday that she would have no comment.

The question of justification was made more relevant by recordings made by this newspaper of police broadcasts at the time.

In his original statement, Craft said 50-year-old Robb Stewart, who had been reported to be drunk and suicidal, was carrying a gun when officers surrounded him in an outbuilding at his Lehigh home.

“When he pointed the handgun toward one of the officers,” Craft stated, “that officer fired at Mr. Stewart.”

Not included in Craft’s statement was that at least one other officer reported that Stewart had pointed his gun directly at him nearly a minute before the shooting occurred.

According to newspaper recordings of radio transmissions, one officer radioed to the sheriff’s office in Marion: “10-4, Marion, just be advised he does have a firearm in his left hand, pointed directly toward me.”

Ten seconds later, the same officer added: “Watch your area over there. There’s two windows.”

Four seconds after that, a second officer said: “I’m straight across from you, on the opposite side of the metal building.”

Ten more seconds elapsed after that transmission before a third officer, referencing the badge numbers of a Hillsboro officer and a sheriff’s deputy, said: “916, 127, be advised I am off the southwest corner of this building” followed by a garbled phrase that might or might not have indicated an aiming angle.

Another officer then said: “I can see the back side of — it looks like a camper or something.”

After an additional pause, came this frantic transmission from what appeared to be yet another officer: “Shots fired! Shots fired! Get the ambulance in here!”

When asked, the KBI spokesman said KBI investigators were looking into the time lapse between the initial perception of immediate threat and the eventual shooting by a different officer.

However, KBI said it would release no details, leaving that up to the county attorney, sheriff, and police chief involved.

So far, no documents or public statements have been made beyond the initial announcement June 20 by Craft and a very similar news released from KBI.

No official has ever confirmed on the record that a Marion officer fired the fatal shot, much less identified the officer by name.

As a result, the newspaper is withholding the name provided by sources and apparently verified by other transmissions related to the shooter being taken to St. Luke Hospital after the shooting.

Last modified July 20, 2017

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