The former superintendent of the Kansas Highway Patrol was forced to resign despite asserting he appropriately responded to sexual misconduct and domestic violence scandals involving headquarters personnel at the highest level of the prestigious organization.
Executive decisions playing a key role in the ouster of Superintendent Mark Bruce, appointed in 2015 by Gov. Sam Brownback to correct a toxic work environment and address deep-seated morale problems at the state law enforcement agency, included Bruce's handling of an incident of alleged domestic violence by KHP's second in command and a separate allegation of sexual impropriety involving KHP's top attorney and one of the agency's captains. Bruce allowed all three to keep their jobs.
Seriousness of the KHP's personnel issues prompted a deeper inquiry by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which was already engaged in an extensive background check of Bruce.
Bruce, who was placed on administrative leave and given the option of resigning or being fired by Gov. Laura Kelly, said in a statement and interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal that he took appropriate steps to deal with both staff personnel situations.
"I in no way wanted to embarrass Governor Kelly, the profession I represent or the men and women of the Kansas Highway Patrol," Bruce said.
Bruce said contact was made with staff with Gov. Jeff Colyer and Kelly to inform them of the incidents and progress of investigations. In late March, Kelly reacted to actions attributed to Bruce by ending the superintendent's three-decade career with the state patrol. His top deputy, Lt. Col. Randy Moon, was implicated in a domestic violence case and simultaneously compelled to resign.
Kelly spokeswoman Ashley All said evaluation of the KHP brought to light "some longstanding management issues" and made clear "new leadership was needed," but she declined to wade into details of the housecleaning.
"The governor’s office has no comment on personnel issues or investigations regarding job performance, ethical concerns or background checks," All said.
Just three months earlier, Bruce said he looked forward to years of collaboration with Kelly, who praised his commitment to Kansans. The honeymoon for Bruce ended 73 days into Kelly's term as governor.
The police report
A December instance of suspected domestic violence in Excelsior Springs, Mo., put a spotlight on Moon, who was selected four years ago by Bruce to be the No. 2 executive of the state patrol. Moon came under scrutiny after Missouri police were called to The Elms Hotel and Spa. By the time officers arrived at the scene, Moon had vanished.
His girlfriend sustained injuries to her left elbow and head, the police report said, but she declined transport to a hospital. Hotel staff said the alleged perpetrator was a KHP officer, who was identified by the woman as a state trooper. The woman said they consumed too much liquor, had an argument and that her boyfriend "tossed her." At the hotel, the woman told officers she was anxious that Moon would find out she was speaking to authorities.
Excelsior Springs police contacted KHP dispatch the day of the incident in an attempt to locate Moon.
The case was subsequently dropped by the Missouri law enforcement agency after Moon told investigators by phone that he was innocent. During that conversation with an Excelsior Springs captain, Moon handed the phone to the alleged victim. She recanted statements implicating Moon that she made to law enforcement officers responding to the hotel. The police report was silent on whether investigators considered the potential of the woman being coerced into changing her story.
Moon wasn't placed on administrative leave during the resulting KHP inquiry. He was cleared of impropriety a few days later based on an assessment by a KHP major who reported to Moon and Bruce. Both of the highway patrol's highest-ranking officers had worked at KHP since the 1980s.
In an interview with The Capital-Journal, Bruce referred to Moon as a loyal friend and accomplished officer.
"I trust everything he does and says," Bruce said. "That's the relationship we have."
As speculation spread throughout KHP about Moon's predicament and Bruce's response, representatives of the Kansas State Troopers Association encouraged the superintendent to take seriously assertions that Moon engaged in unprofessional conduct.
Any prosecution of Moon would have transpired in Missouri, but an administrative inquiry into Moon's alleged behavior could have resulted in disciplinary action.
In Kansas, incidents of alleged domestic battery of the sort contained in the Excelsior Springs police report would require officers to make an arrest. A conviction in Kansas of domestic battery would end the career of a law enforcement officer because that person would no longer be eligible to carry a firearm.
Kelly, who retained Bruce at KHP after taking office in January, announced March 28 that Bruce and Moon had agreed to retire immediately.
While defending his leadership at KHP, Bruce acknowledged allegations of sexual misconduct at the agency's headquarters. The case involved the patrol's general counsel, Tammie Lord, and KHP Capt. Craig Phillips, who worked together in Topeka and engaged in an affair. An internal review of their conduct resulted in an admonition from KHP brass to cease engaging in undue familiarity in the workplace.
Lord and Phillips, at one point, were told by a KHP supervisor to "stick to business" and to end their personal relationship. Phillips and Lord remain employees at KHP.
A series of personnel controversies at KHP were featured in documents shared widely by email with government officials, state legislators, law enforcement officers, domestic abuse organizations and journalists. Copies of the documents were received by KHP and made their way to the governor's office at the Capitol.
One of the memos distributed to reporters included writing by Kyle Lord, the ex-husband of Tammie Ford. It accused Tammie Ford and Phillips of engaging in sexual activity at KHP offices and elsewhere.
A Kansas Open Records Request filed with KHP revealed no trace of text messages between Phillips and Tammie Ford on three telephones examined by state investigators. Herman Jones, who was Shawnee County sheriff when appointed by the governor to replace Bruce as colonel and superintendent at KHP, said in a letter the agency reached out to its cellphone provider, Verizon, to determine whether there was a method of retrieving old text messages no longer visible on cellphones.
"Verizon advised text message conversation content is only available for three to five days," Jones' letter said.
Kyle Lord chose not to cooperate with a Kansas Department of Administration inquiry into KHP leadership. He declined a request for an interview with The Capital-Journal but explained his reluctance to speak publicly.
"I am sure I know what the story is about, and that an email I sent started this whole situation," Kyle Lord said. "The truth is this whole thing has destroyed my life, is harming my children emotionally and potentially financially, and it is just a very bad situation for my family."
John Carmichael, a Wichita attorney and former chairman of the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers' Standards and Training, said Bruce was an automatic member of CPOST because of his role at KHP. CPOST is the state agency responsible for reviewing complaints against law enforcement officers and determining whether officers retain or lose their certification. During the four years Bruce served on the commission, more than 200 officers lost their licenses.
"To have a man as deeply involved in what appears to be misconduct by his immediate subordinate and misconduct among his command staff, in his own office, serving on the Commission on Peace Officers' Standards and Training — I don't know if it's an oxymoron, but it's certainly not a situation which would engender the public's trust of law enforcement. The man needed to go," Carmichael said.
Carmichael, a Democrat who also serves in the Kansas House, said Bruce had a reputation in the Legislature of "being fast and loose with the facts" and didn't "show the level of integrity that we would expect" from the top officer in KHP.
Carmichael said investigation of allegations against command staff members at KHP ought to have been referred to another law enforcement agency, such as the KBI. In the Moon case, one of Moon's subordinates was in charge of examining the Missouri incident.
"It appears the investigation was perfunctory at best," Carmichael said.
Carmichael also struggled to understand why police investigators in Missouri would allow anyone viewed as a potential suspect in a domestic battery case to be in the same room as the victim during an interview.
"Whether it is domestic violence or otherwise, you do not have a witness recanting their testimony over the telephone with the alleged assailant standing in the room," Carmichael said. "That is not the way you conduct a police investigation."
Rep. Monica Murnan, D-Pittsburg, said application of evidence-based personnel procedures was hampered in state government and private businesses by executives willing to place their personal preferences ahead of by-the-book policy.
KHP leadership or government administrators in similar positions should focus on protecting victims of wrongdoing, holding organizations up to accountability and preserving integrity of the public service provided, she said.
"There is blurring of the lines on rules based on what your position is," she said.
Leavenworth Rep. Jeff Pittman said Bruce would have had difficulty leading the KHP given concern about his integrity.
"I can't speak to those allegations, whether they are true or not, but if they are true, then his integrity has basically been compromised," Pittman said.
A 'KHP family'
Bruce said it would be improper to portray him as having attempted to conceal or minimize alleged impropriety of officers or employees at KHP.
"I owe it to members of the patrol, the public and my family to refute those false allegations," Bruce said. "I challenge anyone who claims to have evidence that I acted improperly, or failed to act, to provide proof. Having been born into the KHP family, I never really wanted to do anything else."
In 2015, Brownback selected Bruce to replace KHP Superintendent and Col. Ernest Garcia in wake of an internal survey of KHP troopers exposing profound dissatisfaction with Garcia's leadership. Garcia portrayed criticism as sour grapes for his attempt to dismantle a "good old boy" network within the KHP organization.
Bruce said he inherited an agency "disillusioned with management and suffering from poor morale." He said a follow-up survey five months later indicated improvement in trooper opinion of KHP management.
Erosion of KHP staffing became a point of emphasis during Bruce's four years as superintendent. He said staffing had fallen from 500 in 2006 to 400 by 2015, but he left KHP with a trooper workforce of 470 and with 44 recruits preparing for the agency's training academy.
"I knew our inadequate staffing had a direct and negative impact on the safety Kansans deserved from our agency," Bruce said. “Not only were we unable to properly protect the public, our ability to assist local law enforcement was diminished."
Bruce said he helped create a new pay plan for KHP troopers to boost recruitment and implemented a deferred retirement initiative to slow attrition among senior officers. He expanded recognition of troopers killed in the line of duty, started a mobile reaction force to handle civil unrest and earned a new level of accreditation for KHP.
"I have been blessed to represent the best of the best," the former KHP superintendent said. "I have every confidence that the patrol will continue to serve the state admirably in the future."