Just weeks after nearly having a high-profile sex assault case thrown out for apparent dereliction of duty, the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office has, inexcusably, done it again.
Though declining to dismiss the nefarious charges against Dennis E. Clark — the nurse accused of sexually assaulting anesthetized patients at two Kansas City-area hospitals — a judge did sanction the DA’s office financially Friday for negligently slow-walking parts of the case this year.
Inexplicably, Assistant District Attorney Crystalyn Oswald’s case against Clark — first brought by another prosecutor way back in 2014 — hit the shoals for her indefensibly and repeatedly failing to provide Clark’s attorney with evidence in the state’s possession as required by law.
Similarly, the case against Michael E. Mastel, the former Wyandotte County deputy charged with child sex abuse, nearly ran aground a month ago after the district attorney’s office failed to hand over its evidence to the defense, and a prosecutor showed up to a scheduled preliminary hearing unprepared to go forward. That hearing was allowed to proceed a week later, and Mastel was eventually bound over for an upcoming trial, but only by the good graces of a forbearing judge.
The judge and defense attorney in the Clark case have likewise indulged the district attorney’s peculiar foot-dragging — until now. The law is the law, and must be applied equally, no matter how despicable the crimes. In an extraordinary sanction, Judge Michael A. Russell fined the DA’s office an unspecified amount for the extra time Clark’s defense attorney put into the case due to delays in obtaining the evidence, including the time spent researching and filing the motion to dismiss the case.
It’s sheer providence that Clark wasn’t already out on the streets; in an almost identical Johnson County case, he’s currently serving nearly 13 years for sexual assaults on three patients at Overland Park’s Menorah Medical Center.
There are now five known victims in the Wyandotte County case, arising from alleged assaults in 2014 at Providence Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas.
Damningly, Kansas City, Kansas, Police Detective Stuart Littlefield testified at a Sept. 20 hearing that the DA’s office had never subpoenaed nor even alerted him about a scheduled Sept. 16 trial in the Clark case.
Clark’s defense attorney, James L. Spies, also noted that, after months of delays in getting the evidence in the case from the district attorney’s office — and even Judge Russell’s directive to the prosecutor to get it done last April — the prosecutor interestingly managed to get him the evidence some 30 hours after Spies filed the motion to dismiss Sept. 4.
Only after the case had reached the edge of the cliff.
Motions to dismiss are normally a matter of some routine. That the judge in this case took a week to rule — and multiple sources tell The Star that the motion was a conspicuous topic of discussion in the Wyandotte County courts in recent days — indicates just how perilously close the district attorney’s office came to blowing this case completely and having it dismissed permanently.
That two such significant, high-profile sex abuse cases have been dangled over a legal precipice in just the past month also suggests the potential of a disturbing pattern — one that risks letting serious offenders walk, and presents a possible public safety hazard.
The delays alone risk successful prosecution: One victim in the Johnson County case has since died. Meanwhile, the Wyandotte County victims and loved ones are still waiting for justice.
It’s also possible that with Wyandotte County convictions added onto the Johnson County case that Clark could serve life in prison without parole. Without the Wyandotte case, the clock is already ticking on his release.
As part of his sanctions against the DA’s office, the judge Friday also prohibited the prosecution from telling the jury about Clark’s Johnson County convictions.
That’s a huge, albeit richly deserved blow. The DA’s office is just lucky the case wasn’t dismissed for all time.
It all raises the question: What in heaven’s name is going on at the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office? Even if the Clark case ends with convictions on these most heinous charges, the DA’s office will have much to answer for after fumbling these two cases to the brink of disaster.
The clumsiness of the district attorney’s office now has the full focus of the county’s criminal judges.
It needs the public’s rapt attention as well.
Kansas City Star