KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Public safety is at the center of complaints against Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree as Tuesday’s primary approaches.
Critics claim Dupree’s lack of experience in his first term in office has resulted in an increase in plea deals and dismissed cases along with a decrease in successful prosecutions of violent crimes.
Long-time defense attorney KiAnn Caprice said her clients have benefited from plea deals she didn’t expect to get, but she also said the public is not as safe as a result.
Caprice recently posted a Facebook Live video of Tremayne Quinn after he was found not guilty of first-degree murder.
In the video, Quinn said, “I’m not guilty. Yes, I did it. I murdered him. I shot him. I had no co-defendant. I shot him.”
“I believe they could’ve gotten a conviction in that case if they presented the lead detective and other pieces of evidence,” Caprice said.
When asked about the Quinn acquittal and video, Dupree said, “I have not looked at it. Here’s what I know. We put our best foot forward and the jury made a decision. The ball was not dropped. It is our desire, and every prosecutor's desire, to win every case, but it doesn't happen."
"I see that he's an unqualified prosecutor, he's an unqualified leader, he's a politician," Caprice said, who has also posted an altered picture of Dupree on her Facebook page with horns coming out of his head.
Dupree sees an ulterior motive: "This is purely political motive to simply smear what this office and all of the assistant district attorneys are working so hard to do," he said.
Additionally, Dupree's office provided further context of Quinn's criminal history.
In 2016, Quinn was charged with manslaughter.
Court records show Wyandotte County Assistant District Attorney Kristiane Bryant signed off on a plea deal for Quinn to involuntary manslaughter.
That deal allowed Quinn to ask for and get probation in that case without any objection from Bryant.
Bryant is Dupree's opponent in Tuesday's Democratic Primary for Wyandotte County District Attorney.
Bryant said three men had attacked Quinn in that 2016 case.
She said as Quinn was running away, he shot one of the men in the leg.
That man later died from a blood clot.
Bryant also said the men chasing Quinn had brass knuckles and a box cutter.
Mollie Hill was a long-time Wyandotte County Assistant District Attorney with years of trial experience.
After Dupree’s 2016 election, she was told her services would no longer be needed.
While she agreed Dupree has the right to hire his own people, Hill said he dumped all the assistant district attorneys with any trial experience except one.
"It's something that takes years of experience, years of practice," Hill said.
She said that one holdover with trial experience, overwhelmed with work and no support, later left.
"It is a significant public safety issue, because there is no experience in handling cases, no experience in handling jury trials," Hill said. "That is unbelievable in a prosecutor's office that that would occur, that there are people that don't have that experience."
Hill also said, as a practicing attorney, she checks appeal and Supreme Court cases each week.
She said she never finds Wyandotte County cases, indicating that cases aren’t going to trial.
As a result, she said too many cases result in plea deals.
"What is frightening is there are very violent cases that are being pleaded down to almost nothing," Hill said.
One example is cases against Marco McElwee, Jr.
In 2016, McElwee was charged with murder and robbery committed during a marijuana drug deal by Dupree's predecessor Jerry Gorman's Office.
In April, 2017, Dupree's prosecutors agreed to a no contest deal allowing McElwee to plead guilty to robbery, but the murder charge against him was dropped.
Court records then show following McElwee's release from prison after serving his robbery sentence, he's now accused of murdering his father Marco McElwee, Sr., on June 28, 2020.
That case is pending.
Dupree defended his assistant prosecutors, saying, "My assistant district attorneys are experienced. They are efficient. They do the job well, and they're public servants."
Additionally, a spokesman challenged Hill's assertion of Wyandotte County not filing appeals.
The spokesman said three appeals were filed last week.
The 41 Action News I-Team has obtained a list of the first seven months of felony arrests in 2020.
Based on the law, the district attorney has 48 hours to charge those felony suspects or they’re released from jail.
Wyandotte County records show 182 felony suspects were released from jail because they weren’t charged within that 48-hour time frame.
The list includes suspects already on probation or out on bond in other criminal matters as well as suspects with other uncharged felony arrests.
Released suspects can be charged at a later date, through the grand jury process, for example, but the lack of timely charges puts those suspects back on the street.
"I think it's always a public safety concern, but there are many moving pieces to the charging process," Dupree said. "One of the biggest issues that prosecutors’ offices have across the nation is the lack of witnesses. Just because someone is arrested doesn't mean that they committed a crime and to assume so is absolutely flawed."
Hill acknowledged that there are cases where additional information is needed, so they can't be charged in that 48-hour time frame, but doesn't believe Dupree's office is doing enough.
"In cases of violent crimes, those really should be few and far between," Hill said. "I think every effort should be made that those individuals should be charged."
During Dupree’s tenure, he’s also been involved with several criminal cases for law enforcement officers.
In one of them, former KCK Police Officer Colleen Radford and Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew O’Neal were charged with giving a gun to a convicted felon and child endangerment.
"We did move forward with the charges, but a judge ultimately found that the case should've been dismissed," Dupree said.
Former KCK Police Chief Terry Zeigler criticized Dupree in a recent Facebook post about that case.
Zeigler said Radford, who he did not name, allowed drugs to be sold out of her home and cited evidence, including “numerous calls for service, an overdose case and the recovery of over 1,000 used drug needles.”
Dupree said it was Radford’s son who had the drug problem, not the officer. He said Zeigler pushed the prosecution in order to get a conviction to make it easier to fire her.
"It's very difficult to deal with folks who consistently and constantly lie," Dupree said.
However Bonner Springs Prosecutor Shane Lillich said he was successfully able to prosecute Radford in that city's municipal court.
Lillich said after filing multiple charges against Radford, she took a plea deal.
"He (Zeigler) went and found someone that he could bully into filing charges," Dupree said.
But Lillich said the Bonner Springs case against Radford was made based on the evidence.
And he said there was no pressure from Zeigler to do it.
Zeigler also said via Facebook he initially supported Dupree in 2016, “because he personally told me that he was going to be tough on crime and work with the KCKPD to aggressively prosecute gang members & violent crime - he has failed to do both."
In another KCKPD case, Dupree obtained a guilty plea to a lesser charge against Steven Rios, a police trainer who was accused of sexual battery against a cadet he was training.
By pleading guilty to a lesser charge, Rios is not on the sex offender registry, but Dupree said the real injustice in the case was that Zeigler fired Rios’ accuser.
"Why is it that this young lady, who has enough backbone to stand up to someone who is her superior and express what is happening and report it, is then fired by her chief?” Dupree asked. "No good officer wants to be under the thumb of any corrupt administration."
When the I-Team asked Dupree if he would characterize Zeigler’s administration as corrupt, he said, “I don’t throw blows like that, so no.”
Ater a series of I-Team stories about Zeigler getting rent, labor and gas mileage credits during paid time off to fix up and live at a Wyandotte County-owned lake house, Dupree asked the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to look at the case.
KBI turned over its investigation results to Dupree in May 2019. Fourteen months later, Dupree said it’s still an open investigation, so he couldn’t comment.
Two other cases against law enforcement include one against KCK Officer Brandon Holloway and another against Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Simmons.
Holloway was accused of pistol-whipping a handcuffed suspect. When that suspect invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid incriminating himself at a probable cause hearing, the judge tossed out the case against Holloway, noting Holloway would have no opportunity to cross examine his accuser.
Meanwhile, Simmons was arrested for driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident last December. He was placed on paid administrative leave at the time.
So far, Dupree’s office has not decided whether to file charges in the case, so he couldn’t comment.
Commenting on the still open Zeigler and Simmons' cases, Bryant said cases involving officials given the public trust should be expedited.
"I can't understand why it takes so long to review a completed file. The community deserves an answer in a timely fashion," Bryant said.
The I-Team reached out to the Wyandotte County Sheriff's Office, KCKPD and Zeigler for further comment.
A spokeswoman for KCKPD declined comment.
Zeigler and the sheriff's office didn't respond to a request for comment.
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