ELLSWORTH — Ellsworth County Attorney Shepack announced Thursday he will file two juvenile offender complaints alleging battery, stemming from the events that took place Feb. 6 on a Great Bend USD 428 school bus coming back from a boys swim team meet.
From the accounts given by the nine people who heard or saw something, Shepack’s office will allege that an episode of teenage male athlete horseplay progressed (or degenerated) into several incidents of battery upon a 14 year Great Bend High School student-athlete, he stated in a news release.
Shepack said he took the day off on March 31 to “read and re-read a voluminous police report compiled largely by Ellsworth County Sheriff Tracy Ploutz.”
The Saline County Sheriff’s Department, the Barton County Sheriff’s Department and the Great Bend Police Department assisted in creating the report, which consisted of 175-plus pages and contained several handwritten statements from civilian witnesses plus CD/DVDs of interviews.
“Indeed, there appears to have been 25 persons aboard a Great Bend school district bus on Feb. 6, and Ellsworth County Sheriff Ploutz obtained or attempted to obtain statements from almost all of these people,” Shepack said. “In addition, Sheriff Ploutz obtained, via search warrants, records of cell phone communications and texts relating to behavior on the bus on Feb. 6. Sheriff Ploutz should be commended for his diligence.”
Of the 25 persons aboard the Great Bend school bus, 14 said they heard or saw nothing.
Two more refused to talk with the sheriff.
The legal definition of “battery” in this case is to “unlawfully, willfully, and intentionally cause physical contact with the person of doing so in a rude manner.” If the crime was perpretrated by an adult, it was be a Class B person misdemeanor.
Arrest warrants will not be issued, Shepack said. Rather, the persons accused in the juvenile complaints will be allowed an opportunity to surrender themselves at the Ellsworth County Courthouse in the company of their attorneys.
Shepack noted that each of the juveniles who will be charged has retained legal counsel. He cautioned everyone to remember that in all cases, defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. “The fact of someone retaining legal counsel prior to being charged has no bearing, whatsoever, on their guilt or innocence.”
Juvenile respondents/defendants who are 14 years of age or older are subject to open court proceedings where citizens and press may attend.
“Upon conclusion of the juvenile offender cases above-referred, the Ellsworth County Attorney’s office will, notwithstanding a 32-year-old policy and the provisions of K.S.A. 45-221(a)(10), allow the press and interested parties access to the above-described ‘voluminous’ police report,” Shepack said. “This is because the Ellsworth County Attorney has observed, with some concern, the incredible rumor phenomenon concerning the events on the Great Bend school bus on Feb. 6. Some rumors, bandied about on social media, state/suggest that younger boys were raped and/or sodomized on the Great Bend school bus on Feb. 6.
“Said bus contained 25 persons, both male and female. Reasonable people would think that if such events were occurring, then the adults and/or older teenagers on the bus would have intervened.”
Shepack said that while it is not clear in what county or counties the incidents occurred, it will not preclude prosecution in Ellsworth County under Kansas law.
“In this case, the bus ride began in Riley County and ended in Barton County with the bus passing through Geary, Dickinson, Saline, Lincoln and Ellsworth County. It has been this prosecutor’s experience (33 plus years, coupled with several dead-bodies-in-cars cases) that prosecution usually occurs in the ‘starting county’ or ‘ending county’ as those are ‘safe harbors’ per K.S.A. 22-2608 and case law thereunder,” Shepack said. “However, as the Ellsworth County Sheriff’s Office was asked to work the case, venue may as well be in Ellsworth County.”