Wellington, KS

Holding Law Enforcement Accountable Is Not a New Idea

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The star of law enforcement in the old west.Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Old West History from newspaper accounts

Police use too much force in apprehending a criminal sometimes. What is too much is debatable, especially when the person resists arrest or flees. It is not a new issue though. 100 years ago in a small Kansas town, a sheriff was held accountable for beating up a nearly blind man over a bad check.

In 1921 two small towns were involved in a case where the sheriff ended up being charged just as a regular citizen would have been. The newspaper reporters writing up the account did not seem to think it was unusual.

This came from a newspaper in Wellington, Kansas, which is in Sumner County. The case also involved the town of Anthony, in Harper County, which was next door.

Mike Smith was a farmer in the area and was nearly blind. He wrote a check for $1.50 at a store in Anthony, KS. (about $25 today) When the store owner went to cash the check, he found it was worthless. He filed charges against Smith for passing a bad check.

Later the store owner back in Anthony decided he did not want to press charges after all when he learned that Smith had trouble seeing. In those days stores kept checks from area banks, and you picked up one of their checks and wrote out the check. Smith apparently picked up one from the wrong bank.

The sheriff had gotten word that the charges were to be dropped, but he would not allow it. Apparently, sheriffs could refuse to allow charges to be dropped then.

A day or two later Smith was in Wellington, KS, at a drug store trying to buy some medication for his eyes. The sheriff, George Garver, happened to spot Smith and went to arrest him. Smith was apparently a big man, and the sheriff had a couple of people helping him.

Onlookers said the sheriff beat Smith repeatedly, and one said he had his hands around Smith’s neck trying to choke him. Smith later said he had tried cooperating and agreed to go with the sheriff.

There were some people who said the abuse was exaggerated. The Wellington police chief said a little too much force was used, but he thought Smith brought it on himself by resisting. Smith had to be taken back to Harper County. The jailer at Harper County said the sheriff was still abusing the prisoner when they arrived.

The sheriff was arrested the next day in Wellington and charged with assault and battery.

Smith paid the $1.50 back and $20 in court costs and was released. It was determined that the bad check was not intentional, so there were no charges filed.

The newspaper account said there had been ill feelings between Smith and Garver for years over a horse trade that had gone bad, which may have been why the sheriff was abusing Smith.

There was a jury trial, and the defense attorney tried to show that Smith had a bad reputation and, therefore, was likely resisting arrest. The jury did not buy that defense and convicted the sheriff. He was fined $10 and had to pay court costs.

The star of law enforcement in the Old West.Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Note: This is a new thing. I will be writing stories on Old West History from newspaper accounts. If it gains some interest I will continue.

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Writing and living in Kansas. Retired journalist. Writing about local things, but not much about politics.

Arkansas City, KS
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