An emotional Denise Rankin pleaded with Barton County Commissioners Monday morning to take action against County Attorney Amy Mellor and her assistant Douglas Matthews, alleging their office had bungled the case against her ex-husband, Jeffrey Allen Rankin, alleging he molested her children.
“My case has been going on for two years,” Denise Rankin said, adding her case is not the only one being dropped. “The public needs to be aware these victims are being re-victimized by (Matthews and Mellor) who are failing to do their jobs.”
Jeffrey Rankin pled guilty earlier this month to two counts of sexual exploitation of a child. He originally faced 31 criminal charges in Barton County District Court, including rape and aggravated indecent liberties with a child under 14 years old, but those were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
The original charges alleged crimes against two minors, dating from as early as July 1, 2011.
Denise Rankin accused Matthews of gross prosecutorial misconduct for failing to file charges against her ex-husband within the 180 days allowed by state law. She said because of this, the charges against Jeffrey Rankin had to be reduced in a deal she did not support.
“If I’m the only victim standing up and giving everybody else in Great Bend and Barton County a voice and the courage, then that is what I will do,” Denise Rankin said. “If I have to go in and put the face of Amy and Doug and my ex-husband on every car and a poster on everybody’s door, then that is what I will do.”
The County Attorney’s Office is letting molesters go, she said. “I will protect every child this county is letting down because they refuse to do anything. I am not going to stand by and be quiet.”
She wanted this to go to a jury. “I wanted a group of his peers to decide my ex-husband’s fate because of the evidence they have.”
Denise Rankin said they had more than enough evidence to convict Jeffrey Rankin “who molested his children for six year and mentally and physically abused me for the 20-plus years I was with him.”
No child deserves to be let down like hers were by, not only their father, but by the County Attorney’s Office.
Now, she asked the commission to investigate the County Attorney’s Office. “The people in Great Bend don’t know what is going on in their own community,” she said.
She graphically outlined how, for six years, Jeffrey Rankin raped and sexually molested her two daughters. Although they have moved to the Wichita area, she also said they all still live in fear that he may soon be released to re-victimize them or someone else.
Her attorney, Stacia Boden of Derby, also addressed the commission. “Never before have I come before a governing body to lodge my ethical concerns about two attorneys.
“I drove all the way to the great town of Great Bend so I could look you in the eye and beg you as public, elected officials, the highest leaders of your community, to ask questions.” She also asked the commission to form a task force to “look into the responsibilities and the ethical obligations that are not being upheld by your county attorneys.”
Boden said she became involved in this matter too late. Denise Rankin turned to Boden after “she had done all the right things,” including calling the police, contacting the Family Crisis Center, divorcing her husband and getting her children to safety.
In fact, Tanya Day of the Family Crisis Center was in the meeting Monday comforting Denise Rankin.
“She asked me what more she could do,” Boden said. “I said it was in the judicial system. Justice will prevail. Have faith and believe.”
But, the cases she had against Jeffrey Rankin were dismissed due to speedy trial issues, Boden said. “It does not work this way.”
For two years, Mellor’s office did nothing, Boden said. “That is inexcusable. That is intolerable.”
Boden implored commissioners to imagine if it was their children in this situation. “You are in special positions. You can do something.”
She also said she has had a difficult time getting Mellor or Matthews to return phone calls and emails.
“How long is the community going to let this go on?” Boden said. “I hope everybody in this community starts talking about this.”
She said she has never seen a case being botched this badly and said she has filed a complaint with the state ethics commission.
Sheriff Brian Bellendir backed the statements made by Denise Rankin and Boden.
The sheriff also mentioned an incident in which a non-elected Barton County Sheriff’s Office employee had made “unkind” remarks about Mellor on social media. “The county attorney has asked that cease and she has threatened, I assume the county and Sheriff’s Office, with legal proceedings.”
Passing the buck?
Denise Rankin in no way blamed local law enforcement. In fact, she had nothing but praise for the Great Bend Police Department and the Barton County Sheriff’s Office.
“He (Matthews) put the blame on the Great Bend Police Department, he put the blame on the KBI, he put the blame on everybody but himself,” she said.
On April 21, 2016, Denise Rankin reported the molestation of her minor daughters by their father to authorities. She said there was ample evidence to convict her no ex-husband.
She said she continually called Matthews to check on the case’s progress. She was assured all was going well, but there were no guarantees anything would happen.
“There is no excuse why Doug didn’t get this to trial,” she said. He also refused to file appeals.
She said she looked passed Jeffrey Rankin’s criminal record when she married him. It was one thing for him to abuse her, but when she found out what he was doing to the children, that was different.
By a fluke, she learned her kids had planned a mutual suicide pact rather than endure more abuse. Thankfully, they never followed through with this plan.
The matter was not originally on the commission’s agenda and came up when Denise Rankin arose when commission Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz asked if there were any other discussion items.
After statements by Denise Rankin, Boden and Bellendir, commissioners thought it best to bring Mellor and Matthews into the discussion.
After taking a recess, the meeting reconvened with Matthews present. Mellor was in court and could not be in the meeting.
“There are some things I cannot comment on because the case is still active,” Matthews said.
He did not respond to Boden due to the filing of an ethics complaint against him.
But, “a number of charges in this case were dismissed and they shouldn’t have been,” he said. “I take full responsibility for that. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did.”
He assured everyone that his office prosecutes every case, from traffic infractions to murder, as vigorously as possible. “Unfortunately, in this case, that was not enough.”
Even so, Jeffrey Rankin was convicted of sexual exploitation. He said he could not make assurances as to the punishment Jeffrey Rankin will receive, noting that was in the hands of the judge.
(Last week, when asked about a possible sentence following state sentencing guidelines, Matthews told the Great Bend Tribune, “Depending on his criminal history, Rankin’s sentence could run from a minimum of 31 months up to 136 months of confinement in a Kansas prison.”)
Matthews’ words did not sit well with Denise Rankin nor Boden. They both stood again and called for the commission to take action, such as an investigation into the matter.
Nor did they sit well with Denise Rankin’s grandfather who was also present. He stood up and moved threateningly towards Matthews who was speaking from the podium, but was settled down by Bellendir before things escalated.
However, Schartz said there was little the commission could do on such short notice. She said she appreciated Denise Rankin for bringing this matter to their attention and promised it would be discussed further.
Mellor is an elected official. Matthews, who served as county attorney prior to Mellor being elected, was hired by Mellor to remain on as assistant county attorney.
Mellor was reached via email Monday afternoon. “This is still an active case, and I cannot comment any further,” she said.