The attorney representing Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir in a misdemeanor case has requested a jury trial and has also asked that the prosecutor be recused from the case. The trial is scheduled for 9 a.m. on April 26 in Barton County District Court, although defense attorney Jess Heome from Wichita has also requested a continuance.
Because of the potential for a conflict of interest, cases brought against a sheriff are often handed to outside agencies. In this case, Barton County District Judge Mike Keeley recused himself after approving the appointment of Chase County Attorney William R. Halvorsen as special prosecutor.
The case itself was investigated by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation at the request of Barton County Attorney Amy Mellor. Senior Judge Edward Bouker from Hays has been assigned to preside over the case.
A motion filed by Heome on April 5 states Halvorsen should also be recused because he “was influenced by Mellor who had a direct conflict of interest and (he) was improperly appointed.”
Local law enforcement saw the obvious conflict of interest in overseeing the investigation, Heome wrote, suggesting Mellor also should have avoided overseeing the case.
“On the contrary, Mellor was involved throughout the investigation and may have frequently responded to inquiries by the detectives,” the motion states. “It is a fair assumption that Mellor had a significant role in recruiting an attorney to prosecute Bellendir.”
Heome asserts that when county attorneys are unable to take a case they typically chose an attorney from an adjacent county attorney’s office. “Mellor elected to retain a friend and former colleague from halfway across the state to review and prosecute the case.”
The Great Bend Tribune was unable to contact Mellor for comment on Wednesday and her automatic email response stated she will be out of the office from April 2 until approximately May 15. Assistant County Attorney Doug Matthews confirmed that Mellor is unavailable due to a previously scheduled surgery.
“It is a matter of public record that Mr. Halvorsen was appointed to prosecute the case by the Chief Judge of the 20th Judicial District, not by the Barton County Attorney,” Matthews said. “But, because the motion that you’ve asked about concerns a pending case that our office is not a party to, it’s inappropriate for me to comment further on that matter.”
Bellendir was charged last October with one count of mistreatment of a confined person, Nathan B. Manley. The charge against the sheriff alleges that on Aug. 10, 2017, Manley was detained in handcuffs by Bellendir, who spoke to him in a “vulgar, rude and/or angry manner” and struck him on the side of his head.
Manley, a 42-year-old Great Bend resident, has received a subpoena to appear in court on April 26. Others subpoenaed by Judge Bouker are Bryan Volkel from the Barton County Sheriff’s Office; Jefferson Davis and Chris Rowland from the Great Bend Police Department; and Jeff Newsum and Jason Diaz from the KBI.
In filing a request for the trial to be rescheduled, Heome wrote that the attorneys for both sides “have consulted and may continue to consult to discuss non-trial disposition options for this case.”