STEWARTSVILLE, Mo. — Less than two months after law enforcement officers shot a man in DeKalb County, some residents are seeking an independent investigation into broader concerns about the sheriff’s department.
An online petition asks for an investigation into what critics call a pattern of illegal searches, verbal threats, misconduct and intimidation in DeKalb County. So far, some 294 individuals have supported this online petition, which focuses on the area in and around Stewartsville. The community of about 750 residents sits on the county’s southern border, adjacent to Clinton County and U.S. Highway 36 is on its north side.
For those involved with the petition, many of the complaints center on one person: reserve sheriff’s deputy Kyle Schmitz.
“In my opinion, Deputy Schmitz and his coworkers have little or no respect for the law, DeKalb County residents’ rights or the oath under which they serve,” said Shannen Martin, the Stewartsville-area woman who started the petition. “If you’re on his hit list, he will hunt you down. I’m willing to tell the world what he’s doing.”
An elected official disagrees. Eric Tate, the DeKalb County prosecutor, is familiar with the work of Schmitz, who is one of the county’s three reserve officers certified by the Missouri Department of Public Safety.
In addition to Sheriff Wes Raines, the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department consist of five full-time deputies, three reserve officers and six dispatchers.
“The quality of the deputy’s work is more than satisfactory,” Tate said of Schmtz.
The sheriff said Schmitz’s road patrols produce more driving while intoxicated and drug cases than any other deputy he has. “And our goal is to provide good service, safe roads and safe communities,” Raines said.
Concerns about the department came to a head in late November, when law enforcement officers shot and killed 53-year-old Lionel Kerns at his mobile home in DeKalb County. Schmitz and a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper were present at the time of shooting, though details of what happened were not released. Troopers said at the time that Kerns pointed a weapon at officers, prompting the fatal shots.
All officers involved in the shooting, including Schmitz, were taken off duty and required to obtain a psychiatric evaluation. Schmitz is back on duty having passed his psychiatric evaluation, Raines said.
Tate said the Missouri State Highway Patrol is conducting an investigation and will release details when it is competed. No date has been announced for completion.
The investigation hasn’t eased the concerns of Martin and other critics of the department. Her first experience with the sheriff’s department occurred in May, when Schmitz stopped her son, an Army veteran back from four tours in Afghanistan, for not having a front license plate.
Martin alleged the deputy used foul language and was threatening in his talk. About 15 minutes later, he stopped Martin’s car in Stewartsville. A friend was driving and he started asking questions all over again, she said. No charges were filed, but both incidents were unsettling to the mother.
“The mama in me came out,” she said.
Another area resident, Louis Hughes, raised concerns about Schmitz doing a driving while intoxicated stop in his own white pickup with no emergency lights in March 2014.
After a high-speed chase, Schmitz dragged Hughes’ son out of a vehicle and struck him with the butt of a gun until blood came out of his ear, Louis Hughes alleges.
Hughes did say if a deputy’s life is threatened he’s “got to do what he’s got to do.” But she’s not sure there was any threat, because in court Schmitz testified the man was so drunk he couldn’t stand up.
“I got to thinking he could have killed my son and that’s why I’m in on it,” Hughes said of the petition. “I’ve always supported the department, but he needs to conform to the law.”
The sheriff said he doesn’t like deputies using their private vehicles.
“I don’t condone it, but I’ve done it myself,” Raines said.
The county is an area of small communities and people call people they know asking for help, Raines said. And if a deputy is in the vicinity, they will respond, he said.
Another person maintained they’d seen Schmitz with a dispatcher going to a crime scene and they thought it highly inappropriate.
The sheriff said he encourages dispatchers to do ride-alongs with his deputies.
“They need to understand what deputies do and likewise I encourage deputies to sit with dispatchers and learn their job and frustrations,” Raines said.
Another woman, Amanda Sego, said she feared for her physical safety when DeKalb County deputies knocked on her door in May and tried to arrest her. She said deputies used foul language and she believed her life was in danger until a Cameron police officer arrived.
Sego was charged with spitting at a deputy. She maintained her innocence but was found guilty of the misdemeanor offense.
Residents also raised concerns about the death of Timothy Harris after 25 days in the Daviess/DeKalb Jail. The family filed a federal lawsuit over the death and also claimed the arrest had been retribution for social media criticism about another incident with the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department.
The issues in the jail were not associated with Schmitz.
Deputies believe the accusations misrepresent their work, Raines said.
Several deputies, including Schmitz, came to the sheriff following the shooting and asked for the department to acquire body cameras.
“I’ve put money in the budget to buy them (body cameras) this year,” Raines said. While body cameras aren’t meant for evidence, they would show the details of what happened during an arrest, he said. There will be enough cameras for all eight deputies.
The sheriff maintained he’d never had anyone want to come in and write out a formal complaint.
“There are no forms for complaints,” Raines said. “But I do have people talk to me about their concerns. Even if they don’t want to file a formal complaint, I call the guys and talk to them about it (a complaint).”
Schmitz has never been charged with any crimes related to his law enforcement work and has no outstanding complaints on file at the sheriff’s office. He was invited to respond to this story but did not respond.
The petition is just the beginning for Martin.
“I’m going to keep complaining until something is done,” she said.