Darrin Hirsh’s former supervisor testified Friday that Candice Hirsh told him she “fabricated” a story about her husband threatening her with a gun. But prosecutors maintain Darrin asked her to say that so he wouldn’t lose his job as a Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper.
Darrin Hirsh’s trial will resume on Monday, when attorneys said they hope to finish questioning witnesses. Hirsh is charged with threatening his wife Candice with a handgun on March 12, 2013, and with violating a protective order on March 11 and 12, 2014. Felony charges are aggravated assault and two counts of criminal threat; misdemeanor charges are domestic battery, two counts of witness intimidation and two counts of violating a protective order.
Defense attorney Sal Intagliata called his first witness shortly after 2 p.m. on Friday, and the jury stayed a few minutes past 5 p.m. as attorneys wrapped up the questioning of Steve Billinger, who was Hirsh’s supervisor on the KHP.
The defense included character witnesses such as Sandy Vink, a neighbor of the Hirshes when they lived together at Bissell’s Point. Vink described Darrin Hirsh as “a very calm individual” and “an attentive father.”
Barton County Undersheriff Bruce Green testified about the criminal investigation that began nearly a year after the alleged assault. He said Talaya Schwartz contacted BCSO Deputy Kyle Reed in March, 2014, and Reed contacted KHP Trooper Dave Jacobs.
“Kyle should have contacted our department for the investigation to continue,” Green said. “Master Trooper Dave Jacobs was not even working that evening.” Because of the violation of protocol, the case was quickly reassigned to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, he added.
Darrin Hirsh’s aunt, Brenda Ryan, testified that in 2012 she heard Candice Hirsh comment, “With Darrin being a law enforcement officer, all I would have to do is say he threatened me with a gun and he would be in big trouble.”
Lt. Steve Billinger testified that Dave Jacobs told him about an incident in March 2013, but it didn’t rise to the level of official involvement. He denied hearing about a gun, a pillow on her face, or threats to kill Candice or the children in 2013.
Billinger called his captain in Wichita and was advised, “you can’t go in the middle of a marital dispute.” If there was something physical involved, “she can make a report.”
Asked if he was advised that a gun was involved, Billinger answered, “Absolutely not.” He said the words emphatically each time Intagliata asked about a pillow, about threats to Candice and about threats to the children.
“Absolutely not,” he repeated. “I would add, 1,111 days since that day, Dave (Jacobs) has never told me one time there was a gun, or a threat to his (Hirsh's) kids.”
In March of 2014, Billinger heard something that did require official action. Schwartz was on the line, speaking excitedly, saying “Candice is in the hospital – he’s going to kill the kids – oh my God we’ve got to do something!” Billinger said. He thought she was talking about something that he just happened.
He called his captain and the sheriff, then found Hirsh and placed him on administrative leave.
He said he later got a call from Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir, who told him to tell Jacobs to “‘stop calling my people. He’s telling people Darrin is going to kill somebody. If there’s any reference to a ‘Buck Causey coverup,’ I’m going to the colonel.’
“I said to Dave, ‘Keep your mouth shut; it’s an investigation,’” Billinger said, describing that warning as, “essentially, a gag order.”
However, Billinger said, he did not tell Jacobs he wasn’t allowed to cooperate with the investigation.
Billinger also testified he had a “chance meeting” with Candice Hirsh in June of 2014. He was at the Hirsh home, which was occupied by Darrin.
“She pulls up with (their son) Easton to the house. ... She ends up telling me, ‘We’re just a normal family that goes through hard times. Now we’re the talk of the town. I have to tell you Steve, I fabricated all of this.”
During cross examination by Assistant Attorney General Jessica Domme, Billinger was asked if he would be in trouble if it came out that he covered up that he knew in March 2013 that Darrin Hirsh had allegedly put a gun to his wife’s head.
“Oh my God, really? I would never cover up anybody holding a gun to a person’s head,” Billinger said.
Domme referred to testimony that Billinger told his supervisors he “vaguely recalled” hearing something more about the bruises Dave Jacobs said he saw on her neck in 2013.
“You did nothing about it, correct?” Domme asked.
“That’s true,” Billinger said.
Domme said Candice had testified that “Darrin told me to go to Lt. Billinger and tell him it isn’t true.” However, Intagliata said Candice did not testify to that.
“Yes, she did,” Domme said. Judge Ron Svaty said they could check Ms. Hirsh’s testimony, but Domme instead continued her cross examination.
“You wanted to believe the best about Darrin Hirsh. Is it possible you minimized what Dave Jacobs told you?”
“I believe the gist of the call was given,” Billinger said. “I pretty much told him what I heard.”