The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is investigating “allegations against personnel of the Barton County Register of Deeds Office,” said KBI Communications Director Melissa Underwood in an email Wednesday afternoon. The names of those under investigation and other details about the probe were not being released by the agency.
There had been no arrests nor any charges filed as of Wednesday. But, Pawnee County Attorney Doug McNett, who was asked to serve as a special prosecutor in the case, said Thursday afternoon formal charges “are not appropriate at this time.”
According to a statement from Barton County officials, allegations stemming from an employee termination in the department prompted the investigation into an elected official. The only elected position in the Office of Register of Deeds is Pam Wornkey.
Details of the matter
The KBI’s investigative reports concerning the matter were referred McMett on March 10 for review as a special prosecutor to determine possible formal criminal charges, he said. The KBI investigation was initiated at the request of the Barton County Sheriff’s Office on or about Feb. 16.
This came after the Sheriff’s Office received notice from Barton County Counselor Patrick Hoffman of an allegation that a conversation had been recorded in the open area of the office without the staffs’ knowledge or consent, he said. The conversation in question was alleged to have occurred on or about Feb. 3.
“All parties involved fully cooperated with the investigation,” McNett said. After reviewing the reports, as well as conferring with the investigating agent, he determined formal charges were not called for now.
“The facts set forth in the investigative reports do not establish clear circumstances to meet required charging standards for criminal breach of privacy,” he said. Under Kansas law, criminal breach of privacy that does not involve nudity or content of a sexual nature is a Class A nonperson misdemeanor.
“The decision to decline criminal charges in no way diminishes any alleged aggrieved party’s right to pursue other remedies of law,” he said. “All criminal suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
According to the Barton County website, the primary function of the office is the recording of real estate-related documents, deeds, mortgages, assignments of mortgages, or other interests in real estate, easements or other documents involving real estate. According to state statute, the register of deeds’ responsibility is to “have custody of and safely keep and preserve all books, records, deeds, maps, papers and microphotographs” submitted for recording. In addition, it is the repository for “maps and plats of cities, subdivisions or additions to the same within (each) county.”