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Investigators conclude emails to Dodge City mayor weren't direct threats

Vincent Marshall
Dodge City Daily Globe
On Dec. 17, Dodge City police concluded no direct threats were made to former Mayor Joyce Warshaw who resigned on Dec. 15.

Investigators in Dodge City have concluded angry emails sent for former Mayor Joyce Warshaw didn't contain threats.

The emails, which contained such messages as "You and your city council should be tried for murder," led Warshaw to resign effective during a Tuesday meeting.

The Dodge City Police Department and Brad Ralph, counsel for the city, released the investigation summary Wednesday.

According to the summary, emails sent to Warshaw were turned over to Dodge City Police detective Sgt. James Thompson through Dodge City Police Chief Drew Francis.

"The first email was time stamped 9:18 p.m.," the summary said. "The only text contained in the subject line read, 'You and your city council should be tried for murder.'"

The second email stated in the subject line, "History will scorn you," and the third said, "There is a good chance you and your commissioners will burn in hell."

The sender in the emails was John L. Brawner. No other information other than the email address were listed in the emails.

A search of Dodge City police records didn't reveal the name Brawner.

"I searched a public record database and searched the name John L Brawner and found the record of a 64-year-old male out of Kentucky that could possibly be the person I was looking for," Thompson said in the summary. "I reviewed the three emails and determined that the text did not meet the elements of Kansas Criminal Statutes.

"No specific, direct, or implied threat was directed at Mayor Warshaw. The text contained in the subject lines were more in line with an individual's opinion rather than a threat."

On Dec. 16, the information from Thompson was sent to city prosecutor Mark Cowell for legal opinion.

According to Thompson, Cowell said, "I have had the opportunity to review your email and the messages sent to Mayor Warshaw. It is my legal opinion that these email messages, having brief comments in the subject line only, without more, do not amount to a threat in violation of the criminal code."

Ford County Attorney Kevin Salzman, who also reviewed the information agreed with the opinion.

Salzman said there were no threats directly implying and act to commit violence, such as "You'll get yours" or "watch your back."

Salzman added, "Could potentially be harassment using telecom device but then we would get into potentially dicey First Amendment issues. Are we criminalizing someone's right to express grievances against their government? All of this again, is potential."

Thompson made contact with the phone number in Kentucky and spoke with a man who stated his name was John Brawner.

Brawner told the investigator he acknowledged sending the emails, according to the summary.

Brawner said he sent the emails due to reading an "MSN" article on Dodge City's heightened infection rate of COVID-19 in Dodge City.

Brawner sent the emails due to his frustrations and after having "had a few beers."

Due to having underlying health conditions, Brawner said he was concerned with people not wearing masks and how he read that its, "the worst in the United States with people sick in the area."

Brawner went on to say they weren't threats just a frustration of an opinion.

"I am very happy these three emails were found to be non-threatening although I still received verbal and other forms of communication that I found troubling and concerning," Warshaw told the Daily Globe on Thursday. "Initially when I received these emails with all others, I felt like they were from someone in Dodge City that created a false email account to send them."

Brawner said he felt the city commission hadn't done enough regarding the mask mandate which was passed on Nov. 16 with a 4-1 vote.

"It wasn't enough until what I think the flu season? She decided to do a mask thing," Brawner said in the summary. "The frustration wasn't enough."

Brawner concluded by saying he was in favor of the mask mandate.

"After speaking with Brawner I do not believe there is a threat to Mayor Warshaw or anyone else regarding these three emails," Thompson said. "Brawner was candid that he had sent the emails and explained it was simply out of frustration and was only his opinion. Brawner said he knew it was against the law to make threats of violence and that was not what he intended."

Thompson made contact with Kentucky law enforcement for a records check and according to the Kentucky law enforcement said it, "revealed nothing of concern regarding violence or indication of potential threat regarding this subject."

Regarding the investigation, Ralph said, “Abusive communications to officials are never appropriate either as threatening violence or as violent rhetoric.

"Elected officials are simply trying their best to get through some very difficult situations with the best interests of constituents at the forefront.

"But the city is also relieved to determine that the communications in question did not originate from any citizens of Dodge City or even Kansas residents, and were, in essence, an attempt to express displeasure with the fact that the city did not adopt a mask protocol sooner."

To contact the writer, email vmarshall@dodgeglobe.com