Pubdate: Fri, 23 Sep 2005
Source: Ark Valley News (KS)
Section: Bel Aire
Copyright: 2005 Ark Valley News
Author: Amy Houston
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)

Bel Aire


A longtime Bel Aire resident has presented a petition calling for the 
police chief's dismissal, and the mayor has launched an investigation 
of what went wrong when police raided a couple's home searching for 
marijuana and instead found sunflowers growing in the back yard.

Mayor Brian Withrow announced during Tuesday's Bel Aire City Council 
meeting that he received phone calls and e-mails following 10 police 
officers' search of Harold and Carolyn Smith's Bel Aire home. Police 
obtained a search warrant Sept. 6 after an officer saw tall plants in 
the Smiths' back yard and suspected they were growing marijuana. 
Instead, authorities found Maximilian sunflower plants.

Withrow said Tuesday that someone on KSN Channel 3 news questioned if 
Bel Aire police could recognize the state flower. Withrow said the 
state sunflower is a different variety than the Maximilian, and he 
pointed out that the yellow flowers weren't blooming Sept. 6.

Withrow added that a radio station incorrectly reported that police 
had searched his home. He said he appreciated the accuracy of The Ark 
Valley News article about the raid.

The mayor, an associate professor of criminal justice at Wichita 
State University, announced that he asked a colleague "to take a 
comprehensive look" at the situation. He said Michael Birzer, an 
assistant professor of criminal justice at WSU, would work to answer 
seven questions:

*To what extent did the police department adhere to generally 
accepted policing practices during the initial phases of the investigation?

*Do sufficient controls exist within the department's procedures to 
ensure the civil rights of the suspects are preserved, and if so, 
were they followed in this situation?

*Are the officers sufficiently trained to recognize marijuana and/or 
distinguish it from similar plants?

*Based on your experience and knowledge, how common are these types 
of mistakes?

*Was the search conducted in a manner consistent with generally 
accepted policing practices and good judgment?

*Did the information available to the police prior to the search 
justify the use of multiple officers?

*Did the officers conduct themselves professionally?

Withrow expects the investigation to be complete in mid-October. He 
said results would be shared with the public.

Vern Slaby, a 35-year resident of Bel Aire, also spoke about the 
matter. He acknowledged that an outside consultant would look into 
the incident, and he said Berzer may notice a pattern of police behavior.

As a group circulated a petition in Bel Aire, Slaby said, some 
residents told stories of negative experiences with the police 
department. The petition asks, "Do we need protection from our police chief?"

It refers to the Sept. 6 raid, and it states that Bel Aire needs a 
police chief with more experience, common sense and discretion. 
Police Chief Chris Ludiker was appointed in November 2004 to replace 
Chief Chuck Quinn, who was asked to resign.

Slaby said the petition includes 166 signatures. He remarked that 
Maximilian sunflowers like the ones in the Smiths' yard also grow 
east of City Hall on Rock Road, in the right of way and ditch.

Slaby asked that only the city council view the petition. City 
Attorney Lee Parker said if it was presented to the council during an 
open meeting, it would be subject to the Kansas Open Records Act.

Withrow asked if that would be true if Slaby gave him the petition 
outside the meeting. Parker said he thought it still could be 
discoverable according to the open records law.

Withrow asked Slaby if he still wanted to present the petition. The 
mayor reminded him that it would be a public record.

"But in whose possession would they be?" asked Slaby.

Withrow said he would take possession of the petition.

"I trust that," Slaby said.

Harold and Carolyn Smith did not speak Tuesday but attended the 
meeting along with their attorney, Dan Monnat. Harold Smith is a 
former mayor of Bel Aire, and his wife is active in the local senior club.

Withrow announced that the couple has been involved in the community 
for more than 40 years.

"Harold and Carolyn Smith are important and critical members to this 
community," he said.

Withrow added that Bel Aire police reach hundreds of decisions each 
day, and he wouldn't hesitate to call them if he needed an officer in his home.

Ludiker was absent Tuesday. City Attorney Barb Crouse later announced 
Ludiker missed the meeting because his daughter was ill.

At the end of Tuesday's meeting, the council spent a total of 45 
minutes in closed session with Parker and Crouse for attorney-client 
privilege and discussion of nonelected personnel.
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