THE FOLLOWING STORY APPEARED IN THE OCT. 22, 2008, EDITION OF THE NEWTON KANSAN.

A letter signed by the three former Harvey County law enforcement officials citing problems in the Harvey County Sheriff’s Department under the direction of Sheriff A.J. Wuthnow did not constitute blackmail but are protected under rights of freedom of speech, a letter signed by Assistant Kansas Attorney General Richard Guinn said.

The blackmail allegations were investigated by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, but the attorney general’s office has declined to bring charges against the former officials.

“One of the necessary and essential elements of blackmail is that the communication subjects the alleged victim to public ridicule, contempt or degradation. In this instance, the letter in question, which was sent to various local newspapers, expressed Motter’s opinion with regards to your job performance as sheriff. These kinds of letters to newspapers are commonplace concerning the job performance of public officials,” Guinn said in a letter to Wuthnow.

Wuthnow alleges former sheriff Byron Motter and former undersheriffs Mike Watkins and Steve Bayless came to his office and threatened to release a letter to the media that would “ruin” him.

“I felt violated,” Wuthnow said. “I couldn’t believe three men with a combined 90 years in law enforcement could march into my office and commit a felony.”

Wuthnow said Motter entered his office with a piece of paper in his pocket but never showed him the letter prior to releasing it to the media.

In the letter released to the media, Motter and the others cited alleged problems with contracts awarded to Wuthnow’s electric company without bids and the firing of a long-time sheriff’s employee, allegedly without cause.

Wuthnow maintains the firing was justified, but the law restricts him from talking publicly about the personnel matter.

Wuthnow said he was disappointed in the attorney general’s decision to not file felony charges against the three men.

“It is unfortunate that the attorney general did not decide to press charges against these three men. The good ol’ boy system prevailed, and the attorney general failed to see the statute how it was written,” Wuthnow said.

Wuthnow’s wife, Sharon, said she was concerned for her husband’s reputation, the security of the family business, Arlis Electric, and the safety of their family.

“I was approached by a member of law enforcement from another county at the state fair and told to watch my back. People are killed over things like this,” A.J. Wuthnow said. “... I was concerned for my family.”

“I still am,” Sharon Wuthnow said.

Undersheriff B.J. Tyner was in Wuthnow’s office when the three men allegedly threatened the sheriff.

Tyner said he, too, was disappointed the attorney general had failed to file blackmail charges.

“They were trying to scare him into resigning,” Tyner said. “He had already lost the primary race for sheriff. The only thing he had left was his electric business. They were interested on him resigning on their terms. They wanted to damage his credibility in the community and the opinion of him in public.”

Watkins, who Republican candidate Bruce Jolliff announced last week would be his undersheriff if elected, said he had no comment on the blackmail allegations.

Bayless did not return phone calls from the Kansan.

Motter said he did not want to comment about the blackmail allegations, but added “We just need to move on and get a new sheriff. It’s been a bad episode.”

Wuthnow announced last week he would run a write-in campaign. He lost to Jolliff, a trainer a the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center, in the primary. Jolliff said he had no comment on Wuthnow’s write-in campaign. Democratic candidate T. Walton, a lieutenant with the Newton Police Department, said he thought the re-entrance of Wuthnow to the campaign would make the race more interesting.

“What kind of sheriff would I be if I didn’t show my true strength and not put forward that I am not a quitter,” Wuthnow said. “I will fight for what I believe in and use every opportunity afforded to me in this great country.

“I believe I am well qualified for the position,” Wuthnow said. “I have proven I am strong and have the ability and pureness of my motives and asked the citizens to keep me as their sheriff.”

Wuthnow said he thinks he still has a lot of support in the community and, despite the odds against a write-in candidate, he and his wife said they were “in it to win.”

Wuthnow said continued comments about low morale in the department are unfounded.

“When members of the department have seen me come under such attack, they have to wonder if they are next and wonder about the future of the department,” he said. “... I assure you the sheriff’s office is running well, and most employees are dedicated to seeing it continue in that way.”