In November, the KBI opened an investigation into the Halstead Police Department. That focus quickly turned to its top cop Steve Lewis. Within a month, Lewis suddenly retired.
A FactFinder 12 investigation revealed Lewis had been fired three times from other Kansas departments before Halstead hired him as chief. Since Halstead City Administrator J.R. Hatfield told us he didn't know about Lewis' termination history, we wondered what the vetting process was like in Halstead.
Who better to ask than the man who hired nearly every officer currently working for the department? We asked Lewis if he didn't know anything about an officer, and saw they had been fired three times, would hire them.
"No, I mean there's always two sides," said Lewis. "The city or the county or whoever you're working for has their reasons and it may just be that the officer didn't work out."
The real question: why didn't they work out?
Four men work fulltime for Halstead Police Department: Shawn Robinson, Russ Cook, Matt Ayers, and acting Chief Josh Orem. We asked Lewis if they have a history of being fired from other places.
"No," said Lewis. "The current chief is very qualified. He came from Hutch. Shawn Robinson just graduated the academy. Russ Cook's been a long time police officer. So they're well qualified. They don't have a mired background."
He left out Matt Ayers, so we asked him again.
"Oh I forgot Matt Ayers," said Lewis. "No. He's been in law enforcement for quite some time. Came from Wichita. He's in the national guard. He's been in the marines. So very qualified."
Lewis said no, but that's not exactly true.
Acting Police Chief Josh Orem resigned from Hutchinson Police Department in 2010 under questionable circumstances. That means he left while being investigated, or while investigative, disciplinary, or legal action was being contemplated. The information is available to anyone through the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers Training and Standards, also known as CPOST.
Same goes for Russ Cook, who resigned from the Maize Police Department under questionable circumstances in 2011.
What about Matt Ayers, the one Lewis left out? The Wichita Police Department fired him in 2005. Two years later, Ayers negotiated an involuntary resignation from the Andover Police Department. That means the department offered him the opportunity to resign, to avoid potential disciplinary, adverse employment, or legal action. Despite his background, Lewis hired Ayers to join Halstead PD in 2013.
"There are times that the officer is not completely up front about why," said Lewis. "There's no way to do a check to find out exactly what the circumstances were so they slip through the cracks."
Did Lewis slip through the cracks?
The pending KBI investigation focused on him involves improperly handling drugs, according to the Harvey County Sheriff. We asked Lewis about his drug take back program.
"We would take them, store them, and when we got quite a few we'd take them out to Harvey County landfill and they would dispose of them from there," said Lewis.
We asked Lewis if he ever mishandled any drugs that went through his department.
"Absolutely not," he said. He continued by saying he never tried to resale any of the drugs. Results of the investigation will soon reveal if Lewis is telling the truth.
The City of Halstead sent us a statement in response to our investigation. You can read it using the link on this page.