The sheriff and I are very glad that the trial is over,Hoeme said.
Friday morning, Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir and his attorney Jess Hoeme were met by cheers and applause from supporters as they assembled on the east side of the Barton County Courthouse. The press conference followed the delivery of a “not guilty” verdict in the misdemeanor case filed by Chase County Attorney William Halvorsen following an incident with a man in custody, Nathan Manley, that happened in 2017. Halvorsen was assigned by District Judge Mike Keeley after Barton County Attorney Amy Mellor disqualified herself from the case.
Attorney questions how sheriff and county attorney will move forward
“The sheriff and I are very glad that the trial is over,” Hoeme said. “This has been a long time in coming, and it’s something that should have never come in the first place, but it did. Unfortunately, it had to come to this point.”
Following closing statements earlier that morning, jurors returned minutes later with a verdict, which Hoeme underscored in his statement.
“The jury has spoken loud and clear.”
He said the case had been very frustrating, and he questioned how the county attorney’s office will overcome differences with the sheriff’s office in light of the results of the trial. Although Mellor recused herself from the case to avoid any conflict of interest, Hoeme had argued that she hand-picked and recommended Halvorsen to Keeley. The defense also noted that Mellor’s husband, Kansas Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Bruce Mellor, assigned the KBI agents who investigated the case.
“We are pleased with the verdict, and the jury did the right thing, and they did so in a quick and loud fashion: Not Guilty, as it should be,” Hoeme said.
The verdict was a relief, he said, speaking with emotion.
“With jurors, you have to be careful because you never really know what people are thinking,” he said. “I feel in my heart that they did the right thing. We are very proud of the jury and the people of Barton County for supporting the sheriff.”
Hoeme expressed hope that the people of Barton County will find solutions to “these revolving doors at the county jail.” According to testimony at the trial, Manley has been arrested 55 times since he became an adult. “The people of Barton County, the farmers, the business owners, have had to suffer on a regular basis,” Hoeme said. “They need a tough cop in Barton County and the people elected Sheriff Bellendir in 2012 as their tough cop. He is going to do everything in his power to help the people of Barton County.”
In the very near future I’ll be calling upon the citizens of Barton County to help make that change.Brian Bellendir
Reaction from Bellendir
Before reacting to the verdict, Bellendir took a moment to thank the citizens of Barton County, the Board of County Commissioners, his personnel and deputies and his wife and family for their support. He also thanked Hoeme, for the “excellent job” in bringing his defense.
“The revolving door at the Barton County Courthouse has got to stop,” Bellendir said. “The jail, people coming and going, this failed County Attorney’s office needs to be changed soon.
“In the very near future I’ll be calling upon the citizens of Barton County to help make that change.”
He emphasized change needs to originate with the citizens, that it could not be a personal crusade for him.
“A change of government in the County Attorney’s office is needed as soon as possible. Criminals need to go to jail. They need to be prosecuted. They need to quit losing paperwork, they need to quit losing cases, they need to quit wasting the taxpayers’ time and money on cases like this.”
He called the thousands of dollars of taxpayer dollars spent bringing the case a waste, laying blame at the feet of Barton County Attorney Mellor.
“How many thousands of dollars have we spent on this case?” Bellendir asked. “This is a waste that Barton County is going to pay for, and it was orchestrated and guided by the Barton County Attorney Amy Mellor. In the very near future I will have more to say on this matter.”
As he wrapped up the conference, once again thanking the citizens and other elected officials of the county for their support, he made a promise to the electorate of Barton County.
“You will get the whole story before this is done, and it is not pretty,” he said. “Thank you. I’m going to go the Sheriff’s Office now and take care of sheriff’s stuff.”
Audrey Bellendir, the sheriff’s daughter, reacted to the verdict. “I’m just really glad it’s over for now,” she said. “It’s been really stressful for our family and I’m just glad to see that it’s finally figured out and I’m really pleased with the not guilty verdict. It’s hard on anyone to see their father go through something like this but we’re strong and we made it.”
Barton County Detective David Paden was ecstatic with the verdict.
“I think it’s great for law enforcement across the country. There is no place for frivolous suits against law enforcement,” he said.
Barton County Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said the integrity of every elected official in Barton County was on trial.
“With this decision, we know that Brian has a lot of integrity, and the jurors who are residents of Barton County understand that,” she said. “I know it’s been so hard on Brian. The commission has been so supportive of him all along, and we have wanted to do something but it was one of those things, we had to pick the right time to do it and come out in support of him. We are all of a like mind; he is a good sheriff, he does a good job, he’s been elected twice, so it’s what people want, and he’s just doing his job.”
Schartz declined to comment on Bellendir’s statement concerning the County Attorney’s office.