The Finney County Sheriff’s Office submitted an affidavit to the Finney County Attorney’s Office in June alleging that Holcomb Police Chief Tony Forsen provided false information while off duty to sheriff’s deputies after he was involved as a passenger in a “possible DUI” accident on June 16.
Forsen, 41, was a passenger in a 2008 Honda Accord driven by Sarah Dawn Claar, 25, of Scott City. According to a sheriff’s accident report, at 11:26 p.m. June 16, Claar was westbound on River Road when she veered into a ditch and struck a utility pole, causing her vehicle to roll over. The vehicle was totaled and Claar was transported to St. Catherine Hospital for treatment of her injuries. No one else was hurt and there were no other passengers.
But the sheriff’s office alleges in court documents that Forsen initially gave false information on how he arrived at the scene of the accident, and “gave several false statements and told [the] driver of the vehicle not to tell deputies he was a passenger in the vehicle at the time of the accident.”
Court documents suggest the false information was reported to Deputy Jared Mindrup, “knowing that such information is false and intending to influence, impede or obstruct such officers' or agencies’ duty, namely investigation of an accident and possible DUI.”
The Finney County Attorney’s Office filed a misdemeanor charge of interference with a law enforcement officer against Forsen, who has since reached a diversion agreement with specially appointed prosecutor Scott County Attorney Rebecca Faurot that effectively acts as a conviction in the eyes of commissioners for the Kansas Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, an agency with the power to revoke Forsen’s license.
Under the diversion agreement, Forsen can’t violate any federal, state or local laws for 12 months, including traffic violations resulting in tickets, according to court documents. He also is required to remain in Kansas over the course of the next year, complete 24 hours of community service and pay $808 in fines. If he can complete each of those things within the 12-month diversion period, the charge will be dismissed.
According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, law enforcement officers are each required to recite an oath before assuming their duties. The oath reads as follows:
“On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions. I will always uphold the constitution, my community, and the agency I serve.”
Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier said Forsen’s credibility has been compromised through his false statements, potentially causing problems for future cases prosecuted by the county attorney’s office that might otherwise use Forsen as a witness.
“Any time an officer is involved in an incident where their integrity and credibility become an issue, it can result in problems for the prosecution,” Richmeier said Thursday. “As prosecutors, whether the officer is on-duty or off-duty is not the issue. The issue is, and will always be, the officer’s integrity and whether or not that officer continues to be believed and trusted by the general public they are employed to serve.”
In a statement given to KSN, Holcomb Mayor Gary Newman said the Holcomb City Council believes that “because it happened off duty, it’s something that Tony is going to have to deal with on a personal level.”
When asked if he feels that Forsen is not accountable for his off-duty actions, Newman clarified.
“It does matter what the officers do off duty,” he said, but, “To date, no agency has provided the City of Holcomb with any official information, so for us to take any kind of personnel action without having any facts, we can’t. So the direction and the discretion of the city is that it’s a personal matter.
“Officially we know nothing,” he added. “Unofficially, we have information that was provided to us by Tony. But officially, no agency has provided the city with any information, so for us to take any type of personnel action would be wrong without us having the facts.”
Holcomb City Attorney Bill Heydman says he received a copy of Forsen’s signed diversion agreement, which states: “By signing the agreement, Forsen admits to the claims set forth in the ticket or probable cause affidavit filed with the complaint.” It goes on to say that Forsen waives all rights to a speedy arraignment, preliminary examination, speedy trial and trial by jury through his signature — effectively convicting him of the charge against him.
Heydman said he couldn’t recall whether he provided the diversion agreement, an open record accessible to any member of the public, to the mayor.
“I seem to recall that I did, but I can’t find the actual email if I did,” he said. “I know that the council is aware that something happened, and nobody has asked me for a copy of the diversion agreement. For that matter, anybody can get a copy of the diversion agreement.”
Gary Steed, executive director of the Kansas Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, said cases like Forsen's would affect a law enforcement official's ability to testify in court, as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court decision reached in Giglio v. United States.
The Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors are required to tell defense lawyers when the credibility of witnesses, including law enforcement officers, may be in question due to misconduct.
“That is a concern to the local agency,” Steed said, adding that the ability to testify in court isn’t a requirement to be a law enforcement officer. While Steed wouldn’t divulge whether there is a case against Forsen pending with KCPOST, he said it is typically protocol for investigators to look into details of such a case for presentation to its investigative committee.
“The case that he had was diversion,” Steed said. “Diversion counts as the same thing as a conviction under the [Kansas Law Enforcement Training Act], and… has the potential to be a violation of the training act, so it has the potential to have an action taken on a license.”
Those actions, Steed said, can include revocation, suspension, censure or mandated training.
“We have some flexibility in what we can do,” Steed said. “Most commonly, the commission has revoked certifications, and certainly the revocation would become more likely because of the diversion agreement, which is the same thing as a conviction.”
Steed said the commission’s process is a slow one, but once the investigative committee recommends an action, an officer has the ability to appeal the decision to a hearing committee that would review the case again.
Sheriff Kevin Bascue said a similar incident committed by a sheriff’s deputy “would have been handled differently” on the local level. He clarified that more disciplinary action would have been taken.
The silence of Holcomb’s city council doesn’t seem like it would be affected by a new council member. Sam Mesa is contesting Councilman Ron Schreibvogel for his seat in the upcoming election, but Mesa was noncommittal in his assessment of the situation.
“With the information I have right now, I am not going to comment,” Mesa said.
Schreibvogel took the same position as Newman.
“Since it was on his own time, he has his own legal counsel and we had to not do anything,” Schreibvogel said, declining to comment further.
Newman suggested in an official statement that nothing will be done to address Forsen’s role as police chief.
“Chief Forsen has kept the city apprised of the ongoing legal process, and the city continues to consider this a ‘personal’ matter,” Newman said in an official statement released to media. “Chief Forsen has served the community of Holcomb as an exceptional officer and police chief for many years, and I am confident that he will continue to do so in the future.”
Forsen didn't return multiple calls seeking comment.
Contact Mark Minton at firstname.lastname@example.org.