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News conference planned on alleged sex assault case
A felony charge is possible
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The Barton County Sheriff’s Office will hold a news conference at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in the County Commission chamber on the first floor of the Barton County Courthouse, Sheriff Brian Bellendir said. The topic will be the alleged incident involving the Great Bend High School boys’ swim team that occurred on a USD 428 school bus on Feb. 3.

An official source said authorities are expected to recommend a felony charge in the case of a student who was allegedly assaulted on the bus as it was returning from a swim meet in Salina.

However, officials will release more detailed and updated information during the the morning news briefing.

The Barton County Sheriff’s Office learned earlier this month that it had to reopen its investigation into an alleged sexual assault. The action was necessary following the Kansas Bureau of Investigation's decision not to accept the case.

The Feb. 3 allegation was reported to the BCSO and the Great Bend Police Department on Feb. 6, Bellendir said. This was the same day as similar allegations were made against team members on a Feb. 6 bus ride home from Manhattan.

When the reports were made to Barton County authorities on Feb. 6, it was unclear where the alleged assaults took place. So both were forwarded to the Ellsworth County Sheriff’s Office.

Ellsworth County officers determined that only the Feb. 6 allegation took place in Ellsworth County. They contacted Saline County about the Feb. 3 incident.

However, the Saline County Sheriff’s Office’s investigation determined that the incident may have actually occurred in Barton County, Bellendir said. They contacted Barton County in late February.

This is when Bellendir saw potential jurisdictional issues and contacted the KBI. 

But, Bellendir said his office was notified by the KBI that the Bureau had declined investigation. In a letter dated March 3, the KBI cited excessive case load due to the Hesston shooting incident, as well as a substantial current case load.

This is separate from the Feb. 6 incident being handled by Ellsworth County authorities.

Ellsworth County Sheriff Tracy Ploutz said earlier this month that his investigation turned up no evidence of sexual assault. However, he did find evidence of four victims of battery and two victims of criminal restraint. There were three suspects in the battery cases and five in the restraint cases, with some of the suspects alleged to have been involved in both. Ploutz has turned the case over to County Attorney Joe Shepack. As of Tuesday afternoon, no charges had been filed.