If you’ve committed a crime in Barton County, you can bypass justice by pressing the County Attorney for a plea agreement. You’re pretty much guaranteed you’ll get it. That’s the message many victims are receiving when it comes to prosecuting thieves who have burglarized them in this county.
At a recent service club meeting, Barton County Attorney Doug Matthews was asked to share about how his office serves the people of Barton County. He shared some statistics about the number of cases that come across his desk in a year. In 2015, that included 2,300 newly filed cases, for charges ranging “from murder to seat belt violations,” according to a Jan. 30 story in The Great Bend Tribune. Of those, 430 were criminal cases.
“If a report comes to me, I review each and every one of them,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of the cases we file end in a plea to one charge or more.”
Rather than simply prosecuting cases, Matthews stated his first responsibility is to make sure justice is done.
But some victims are left scratching their heads, wondering how justice has become so elusive for them. Today, we bring you part one of a two-part story of one man’s experience. It is not the only one brought to the attention of The Great Bend Tribune.
Rural Barton County resident Scott Boeh and wife Melia learned the hard way. On Oct. 2, 2014, their home was burglarized, their truck stolen.
The Boeh’s put their trust in law enforcement, who found the perpetrators. Then, they placed their trust in the Barton County Attorney’s office. Their assumption that justice would prevail, however, was dashed months later when they learned the perpetrators had been allowed to plead out, leaving them for all intents and purposes without recourse, all without their knowledge.
“It was like the crimes committed against me and my family had been treated like kids stealing grapes from the grocery store,” he said in a January 2016 interview.
Burglary, then an amazing find
Boeh works outside. He arrived home early one rainy October morning. Something didn’t feel right.
“I found the house had been entered and ransacked,” he said.
The thieves entered the house with a spare key that was hidden in a tool shed behind the house, he deduced. Items stolen from inside the home included a laptop computer, a digital camera, all of Melia’s jewelry, and some loose change. While inside, they grabbed the keys to our 2005 GMC Sierra pickup truck and drove off with it.
Luckily, his wife and daughter weren’t home that morning. Others, Boeh later learned, who were targeted by the thieves weren’t so lucky. He contacted the Barton County Sheriff’s Department who came to his home and took a report.
Ten days later, Boeh found his truck, “by the grace of God.” After dropping Melia and his infant daughter Clara off at the front of a Great Bend Dillon’s store, he searched for a parking spot. That’s when he spotted his truck, parked and abandoned.
“I could see through the window that the back seat was full of items that did not belong to me.”
Boeh again contacted the Barton County Sheriff’s office, and Detective David Paden began the investigation.
Thieves already in custody
It turned out, the Sheriff already had the thieves in custody. The night before, Deputy Aaron Conaway was dispatched to a reported burglary in progress. A deputy spotted and stopped a silver Toyota with Missouri tags driven by Eldridge George Alarcon of Great Bend, leaving the area of 5540 2nd St. in Great Bend. The Kansas Highway Patrol also apprehended two other suspects, Randi Carol Armstrong and Charles Emory Caldwell Jr., both of Hollister, Mo.
After obtaining a search warrant and documenting the property inside both vehicles, Paden was able to link some of the property to burglaries that had occurred in Missouri, and he began working in conjunction with Missouri Law Enforcement on their open cases which included stolen property claimed by four individuals in Missouri, all of which were mentioned in complaints filed by Paden on Alarcon, Armstrong and Caldwell.
After the property had been catalogued, Boeh and his wife were asked to examine property in two different interview rooms. That was on Oct. 22, 2014. A necklace belonging to Mrs. Boeh was identified. That necklace had been found in the Toyota Alarcon had been driving when apprehended. In the second room, she identified a bracelet that belonged to her. Boeh was then allowed to retrieve his truck.
On Nov. 14, his wife was allowed retrieve her jewelry. Besides the truck, these were the only items recovered for the Boehs. It was through the Sheriff’s office that day they learned the thieves had been released back to Missouri. Alarmed, Boeh contacted the Barton County Attorney’s office to find out why.
Boeh kept in dark
Camilla Komarek, Barton County victim advocate,returned his call. She told him that while they had indeed been extradited back to Missouri, his case was still pending, and that once their office received the necessary paperwork from the Sheriff’s Office, they would be brought back to Kansas to face charges. He was also assured he would be contacted at every step of the process, including when the case went to trial. Realizing this could take time, he waited to be contacted with further developments.
However, in its investigation,The Great Bend Tribune found this is where things went wrong for Boeh. During a Feb. 11, 2016 interview with County Attorney Doug Matthews and Komarek, Matthews said he had already accepted plea agreements and sentenced all three of the suspects captured on Oct. 11. Days later he would decide not to file an additional case on Boeh’s behalf. Boeh was never contacted.
Waiting for word
In July 2015, after several months went by without word, Boeh contacted the County Attorney’s Office. That was when he was told that while his case was related to two other cases because of the stolen merchandise found in his truck, charges would not be filed on his case. The blame was placed with the Barton County Sheriff’s Department.
“She told me that the Sheriff’s Department failed to get them the necessary paperwork in time, and as a result, the thieves were given a plea bargain on a related case, and charges could not be filed on my case.”
Something didn’t add up for Boeh. He started looking into what went wrong. His first stop was the Sheriff’s office. There, Detective Sharon Wondra showed him a list of entries made in the computer by Paden, about 30 in all, documenting interviews, crime scene investigations, and more. It also showed the necessary paperwork had been sent to the Attorney’s Office on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014, the same day the County Attorney’s office had told him they were still waiting on the paperwork.
He went back to the County Attorney and confronted them with this new information. Now, he received more details.
“I was told that they did receive the paperwork, but because one, my case was related to the case in which the thieves were offered the plea deal, and two, that the paperwork was not received before the thieves were given the plea deal, my case could not be prosecuted, and no attempt would be made to seek restitution, end of story.”
Boeh received a personal call from Bellendir, who explained his department had done everything they could to put together a case that merited prosecution. He also expressed his ongoing frustration with the County Attorney’s office handling of his case and those of many others.
“It puzzles me how the thieves in a crime of this magnitude could be arrested, jailed, offered a plea bargain and released in less than 30 days,” Boeh said.
Sunday, The Tribune will detail its investigation. Communications between the Barton County Sherriff’s office and the Barton County Attorney play a key role shining a light on what happened.