BY VERONICA COONS
In October, 2014, a Barton County family was burglarized, their truck stolen. Days later, they discovered their vehicle at a Dillon’s parking lot in Great Bend, with stolen items found inside. The discovery was key in solving crimes that occurred in Missouri. So, why didn’t the Barton County family receive justice for the crimes committed against them? The Great Bend Tribune sheds a light on the answer with this, the second in a two-part series.
After receiving a personal call from Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir, Scott Boeh, the victim of a Barton County burglary, was frustrated and puzzled about how the County Attorney Doug Matthews had accepted pleas and the thieves were sentenced before law enforcement officers had completed their investigation. He was upset that now his family and other families would receive no further help in the matter, no restitution ordered for their belongings that were never recovered.
The Great Bend Tribune began its own investigation, based on information Boeh provided, and by searching public records.
Suspects charged, then pled and sentenced
Eldridge George Alarcon, Great Bend, was charged on Oct. 11, 2014, with a count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, one count of possession of drug paraphernalia, and two counts of possession of stolen property. His first appearance before the judge was Oct. 22, 2014. His next appearance was scheduled for Oct. 30. Doug Brunson was appointed as legal counsel. A continuance was requested by Assistant County Attorney Amy Mellor from Oct. 30 to Dec. 18 for the preliminary hearing, with lab reports or other documents cited as the reason. It was granted.
On Nov. 12, Alarcon agreed to plead guilty or no contest to the possession of drug paraphernalia charge and two counts of possession of stolen property in exchange for the state dismissing the count of possession of a controlled substance.
An order of probation was also ordered on Nov. 12, 2014. Alarcon was sentenced to 12 months suspended in the Barton County Jail for each of the three offenses. He was assessed fees for court costs, probation, sentencing, jail processing, Board of Indigent Defense Services (BIDS) application, Kansas Bureau of Investigation lab, and court-appointed attorney fees. Nowhere was there any mention of restitution to Boeh.
Alarcon was released from the county jail on Nov. 19, 2014, to the Missouri Department of Corrections. On Nov. 23, 2015, a year later, a journal entry was made noting that Alarcon was in violation of his probation agreement, as he had not paid anything towards his agreement, but because he was incarcerated at the Northeast Correctional Center with the Missouri Department of Corrections, serving a two-year sentence, the court terminated the defendant’s probation, and ordered all costs and fees due and owing in his case to be sent to collections.
Similar time lines exist for both Charles Caldwell and Randi Armstrong.
Charles Emory Caldwell Jr., Hollister, Mo., was charged with three counts, two for possession of stolen property and one for criminal trespass. His court appointed attorney was Jane Isern. On Nov. 3, 2014, a journal entry of plea and sentencing was filed, and one count of possession of stolen property and the count of criminal trespass were dismissed, and a plea of no contest on the remaining count of possession of stolen property was accepted. He received a suspended term of 12 months in the Barton County Jail, and was placed on supervised probation for 12 months, and assessed court costs and fees including probation, jail processing and court appointed attorney fees. Again, no restitution for Boeh. He was out on the street again before Boeh and his wife even had their recovered property back in their possession.
Randi Carol Armstrong, Hollister, Mo., was also charged with two counts of possession of stolen property and one count of criminal trespass. Donald E. Anderson II was appointed her attorney. On Nov. 6, 2014, a journal entry of plea and sentencing was filed, along with a heartfelt letter from Armstrong to the judge, claiming she had been set up by Caldwell, and that she needed to get home to her babies and her dogs in Missouri.
One count of possession of stolen property was dismissed, and pleas of no contest were made on the other two counts. She received one 12-month and one 6-month suspended sentences to run concurrent, and was placed on probation for 12 months, assessed court costs and fees, and still no restitution to the Boeh family. She was also given credit for the 26 days served since her arrest. She was released Nov. 26 to Taney County, Mo., for their charges, according to the Barton County Jail Log.
The Tribune asked Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir if he could verify Boeh’s account. According to Bellendir, there were emails and other communication with the county attorney and the assistant county attorney that Alarcon, Caldwell and Armstrong were suspects in several other cases, including Boeh’s. But those investigations were halted when the sheriff was notified by Assistant County Attorney Amy Mellor that they had already been pled out.
“They had charges waiting in Missouri,” Barton County Sheriff’s Office Detective David Paden said. “The evidence we collected in our case cleared those Missouri cases.”
Matthews states his case
Why was Boeh not told of the plea agreements? And, why did the Barton County Attorney not seek restitution for Boeh in the plea agreements?
The Tribune interviewed Matthews and Victims Advocate Camilla Komarek about Boeh’s case.
According to Matthews, he did not know Boeh’s case was related to the Missouri cases until after all three perpetrators’ pleas were approved and sentencing occurred.
“Mr. Boeh had not come to our attention until after the last case had been pled and sentenced,” he said. If at the time his office had filed, they had known or someone had indicated that there may have another individual out there that has had his truck stolen, and the investigation was still ongoing, “We can hold off and amend the complaints that we have and add more charges. But I can’t speculate on something I hadn’t been told about.”
Emails tell a different story
Paden and Bellendir said they had indeed communicated via emails with the county attorney’s office that the three from Missouri were connected to other cases.
The Tribune obtained copies of those emails via a Kansas Open Records Act request.
As early as Oct. 20, 2014, in an email with the subject line “Connecting cases,” Paden informed both assistant county attorneys Casey Hubbard and Mellor that at least four cases, including Boeh’s, “appear to all be tied into Alarcon, Eldridge/Caldwell, Charles/and Armstrong, Randi.”
In an Oct. 27 email to Komarek, subject the Missouri case (B14-C-1286), Paden clearly linked it with Boeh’s case.
“Hey also Camilla, on the case for Scott Boeh which is B14-C-1223 Marshalls will have a tow bill on that vehicle that needs to be added into the case for the suspects to pay as well as the vehicle that was towed in the case #B14-C-1286.”
Despite the fact the cases were linked, the county attorney’s office continued to move ahead on reviewing plea requests from all three suspects.
On the morning of Nov. 3, 2014, the same day Charles Caldwell’s plea and sentencing were filed, probation agreed upon, and he was released, Hubbard sent an email to Mellor and Paden, copying Matthews indicating charges had been filed against the three suspects and case #B14-C-1286 was moving forward.
“Do you expect that any or all of these cases will be completed and forwarded to our office for charges? Amy will need to know this as the cases filed based on case #B14-C-1286 move forward in the process.”
Moments later, Paden responded in the affirmative, adding that he was getting all the suppositions finished and photos copied, and hoped to have a summary of it all that day. A few hours later, he followed up, and informed her that suppositions were added to the first case, and they were being sent to Undersheriff Bruce Green for approval so the reports could be sent over.
On Nov. 4, 2014, Caldwell came to the sheriff’s department to retrieve his personal belongings, which was detailed in an email Paden sent to the Missouri detective involved in that case.
The next email released by the Sheriff’s office is dated Nov. 25, 2014, from Paden to Mellor, after all three suspects had entered pleas and been sentenced. In it, he referred to a message he received from Komarek the week before concerning Scott Boeh, claiming she had never heard of him before and that he was calling the county attorney’s office:
“I attached a photo of an email I sent to her regarding Scott Boeh, and I also attached an email I sent to you and Casey about connecting cases. I know we talked, and she pled on what you had, but there is no way possible I could have had all those reports finished, even by the time she plead. If you have Casey look in the report on 1286, there is a supplement dated 11/13/2014 where I found more property. Boeh has been in reports from the start. There is a supp that talks about his pickup being recovered in case B14-C-1286 as well. His particular case is B14-C-1223. Camilla and I got to looking and she said things hadn’t been approved on our end. Camilla and I worked this out and I made sure all cases were forwarded over and the week before I had sent all photos and video interviews over. Scott Boeh is also listed in the first search warrant I did at Matt Jones house on 10/20/2014.”
Sticking to his story
When questioned why charges couldn’t be made against Caldwell, Alarcon and Armstrong also, Matthews said his concern was “joinder of offenses.”
“What the law doesn’t tolerate is the idea of filing a case with one or two offenses, and turning that into two or three or four or five cases when you can just as easily file it as one,” he said.
While he admits there are judges and lawyers that would disagree with him, it is his opinion that if his office had filed another case on Boeh’s or any of the other cases against the three suspects at that point, it could be determined to be a violation of due process.
“I think if we would have gone back after the fact and said, “um, wait a minute, our bad, we’re going to file a brand new case, the defense attorney would have filed a motion to dismiss, and it would have been,” he said.
Didn’t it seem odd as he was reviewing the cases, that there wasn’t more there? When pressed, this is what Matthews said:
“Anytime I receive a report from somebody, ‘we have information that this individual committed this crime,’ I obviously have to ask, is there anything else? And if we receive additional information, we review it that to determine if yes, there is additional charges we can add, or no, we have some interesting information here but we’re not going to take action on. There have been very few that I’ve looked at that I haven’t asked ‘is there additional information out there?’”
He also stated that law enforcement is usually good about getting him the information that he requests, and that he did ask if there was more.
“Why Mr. Boeh didn’t come to our attention earlier, I don’t know,” he said. “I feel badly for him.”
As far as restitution goes, Matthews said he couldn’t request it for Boeh because, again, he was not aware the cases were connected. But, he said, Boeh can still seek justice through small claims, or a limited action or a civil case. When The Tribune pointed out that now Boeh would have to shoulder the burden of having the culprits brought to Great Bend (and because of this would require him to file a federal civil case), perform and investigation, and go to trial, Matthews agreed this was so.
“I cannot get involved with civil matters,” he said.
Attorney general’s response
Boeh asked Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s assistance in seeking restitution for the stolen items and justice for the experience his family was put through.
“I believe a trial and jail sentence are warranted for a crime of this magnitude,” he also stated in the letter. “I want to express my sincere gratitude to the Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir and his staff for all the time and effort they put into making a case very worthy of being prosecuted, but never was.”
Schmidt’s reply informed Boeh that county attorneys do not answer to him.
“Each county attorney and district attorney in Kansas is an independently elected official and is thus accountable to the constituents within their jurisdiction,” he wrote. He also quoted policy that he would only assist in a prosecution at the invitation of the county attorney, which he had not received.
Boeh has also learned because restitution was not requested by the county attorney before a plea agreement was made, it’s something Boeh is not even eligible for now through the Victims of Crime Act.
When asked if Boeh’s experience was unusual, Bellendir provided this statement:
“The Sheriff’s Office does everything we can to see that victims get compensation, restitution and justice, but once cases are turned over to the county attorney, we have no control. There are instances where I think the system fails people and they don’t get the justice that they should.”