A longtime Aggieville bar owner told the law board Monday he has been harassed by the Riley County Police Department since the board’s March 17 meeting.
Rusty Wilson, owner of Kite’s Bar and Grill and Rusty’s, accused the RCPD of selective enforcement aimed solely at him and his businesses as a means of intimidation.
During the law board meeting last week, there was discussion of a proposed state bill that would make the RCPD director an elected official.
The law board currently appoints the director under a law enacted in1974.
Citizens Assuring Transparency, a group including Wilson, hired lobbyist Kevin Barone of Topeka to introduce the measure, which is being debated in the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee. Members of the citizens group are expected to speak during the law board meeting on April 21.
In the meantime, however, Wilson insisted several incidents had convinced him that the RCPD was singling him out for harassment.
“I can’t sit back and be shoved around any more than I have been,” he said.
Wilson claimed he’s not asking for special treatment.
“I’m asking that everybody follows the same rules,” he said.
RCPD director Brad Schoen said Wilson exchanged emails with the department this past weekend about the following issues:
Glare from detective
Wilson said this occurred when a comment from resident Helen Roser was presented at the March 17 meeting.
“When it was brought up in the room, about three-quarters of the room snickered because we all know Helen has been very vocal in her many years in Manhattan,” he said.
Wilson said Detective Brian Johnson turned around and glared at him twice, singling him out.
Capt. Kurt Moldrup said Johnson told him he looked back over his shoulder in the general direction of the snickering.
“He didn’t even know which one was Rusty Wilson,” Moldrup said.
After the March 17 meeting, an off-duty officer waved at Wilson and his friend—and later was reprimanded for it, according to an email from Wilson.
Wilson said Monday he heard that information from a lawyer at the courthouse.
RCPD determined that Capt. Hank Nelson was the officer who waved – so Schoen asked Nelson at Monday’s meeting if he had been reprimanded.
Nelson said no.
Bar checks at noon
Wilson said he had police officers come into his business at noon for a bar check.
He said officers told him they are allocated 28 hours per week to check four bars in Aggieville that serve lunch.
“If we’re going to check bars, we need to check bars at every place that has a bar,” Wilson said. “Olive Garden has a bar. Applebee’s has a bar. Chili’s has a bar. La Fiesta has a bar.”
Schoen said RCPD received a grant to check for minor-in-possession violations.
He confirmed the grant calls for 28 hours per week of minor-in-possession enforcement, but disagreed with Wilson’s other details.
“It is not correct that all of the checking occurs in Aggieville, nor is it true that it all occurs over the lunch hour,” he said.
Schoen said the lunch check likely will stop, since none of the officers have caught any violators to date.
Wilson said he received a smoking ordinance warning last week after not having any previous issues.
According to the RCPD, Lt. Steve Boyda drove down the alley and saw one of the back doors open and people smoking near the entrance.
The ordinance, which was adopted in 2009, prohibits smoking within 20 feet of any entrance or exit.
Boyda also saw a couple of people with alcohol preparing to leave a bar.
“My bar manager was told, ‘Rusty doesn’t think he has to follow the rules, so we’re here to make sure that he follows them,’ ” Wilson said.
Boyda replied that the RCPD gives warnings to both of Wilson’s businesses – but also to other Aggieville bars.
Boyda gave his version of what he told the bar manager that night.
“I told him to tell Rusty this is his last warning,” Boyda said. “If you guys aren’t even going to try to enforce the laws, then we’ll issue citations.”
He said they were no employees present outside, which he considered a lack of effort to enforce the law.
“What we want is self-policing,” Boyda said. “We don’t want to have to go into bars, but we’re not going to ignore issues, either.”
Officer taking pictures
Wilson said he was taking pictures Saturday of different marquees in Manhattan when he noticed an off-duty officer in his rear-view mirror.
He said the officer was taking pictures of his license plate.
In his email to Schoen, Wilson said he recognized the officer—but Wilson also said on Monday that the officer wasn’t at the March 17 law board meeting.
Schoen said the department assumed Wilson was referring to seeing that officer on March 17.
Moldrup asked officers who attended that meeting if any took pictures of Wilson’s truck.
He said the officers all said no.
Schoen said RCPD will continue to look into the matter, and address the situation if Wilson’s allegation is true.
Wilson said the officer was present at Monday’s meeting but didn’t say his name publicly.
Wilson said a couple of his customers were harassed by Officer Ryan Doehling on Saturday night after one patron folded his arms.
“He rushed to the table and asked for ID, and took out a flashlight and began to search under the table—thinking they were concealing something,” Wilson said.
Wilson said the customers were “extremely livid” after the incident.
“They didn’t understand why they were being checked and why they were treated that way,” he said.
“This is just one story. I have dozens of the (same) young officer doing similar things.”
Schoen said Doehling and another officer entered during a routine check, when he observed a customer putting his hands below the table while appearing to do something with a hoody.
Schoen said the officer didn’t approach the person right away, but eventually asked what the customer had in his hand, and the customer replied nothing.
He said Doehling briefly used his flashlight to check under the table, but that the bar manager asked the customer for his ID after Doehling told the manager the officers didn’t check for it.
City commissioner Wynn Butler, who also had communication with Wilson during the weekend, said the enforcements appear to be legal, but the perception is that the level of enforcement was overzealous.
“Was the same level of enforcement taking place two weeks previously or a month previously?” he asked.
Schoen said he was willing to go out on a limb and insist nothing had changed.
“These complaints have been around as long as there have been bars in Aggieville and a police department,” he said.