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Arrested veteran released to his attorney

Newell charged with stalking church group

Managing editor

No one can relate to exactly what Ryan Newell has been through. There are those who can relate to some of his experiences — those who also served in the military in a war far from home.

The decorated, wounded U.S. Army veteran, Newell, 26, of Marion, was charged Thursday in Sedgwick County on a felony charge of conspiracy to commit aggravated battery and five misdemeanors — stalking, three counts of criminal use of weapons, and false impersonation. Newell reportedly stalked members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka while they were in Mulvane for a protest.

Newell was released Tuesday afternoon from Sedgwick County Jail to his attorney, Boyd McPherson, of Joseph and Hollander, PA, of Wichita.

Sedgwick County Detention Bureau Captain Larry Bragg, who was working in the jail Tuesday, said the only way a judge would release Newell from jail on his own recognizance was with the condition that Newell check into a secured Veterans Administration Hospital. The nearest secured VA hospital is Colmery O’Neil VA Medical Center in Topeka.

Gary Chaput, a veteran himself and an active member of American Legion Post 22 James William Miesse in Marion, served twice in Vietnam with the Air Force.

His first deployment was when he was 21 years old. He was married with two children.

“It was difficult being away from home and my family,” he said.

When he returned, Chaput said he was a loner. When he saw news coverage of members of Westboro Baptist Church picketing a veteran’s funeral, he took action.

“I can thank Fred Phelps for getting me involved,” he said. “It sparked our patriotism, especially for Vietnam veterans.”

Chaput and other members of the local veterans’ organizations were instrumental in assisting Newell and his family after Newell was wounded, including organizing volunteers to help build a home through the Homes for Our Troops project this summer.

“I’ve been where Ryan’s at,” Chaput said. “In my eyes, he’s still an American hero.”

He continued that Newell protected his fellow soldiers even after he had been wounded — wounds that resulted in both legs being amputated.

“We can’t judge another person until we’ve been there,” Chaput said.

Originally from Goddard, Newell has lived in Marion with his wife, Carrie, and four children after nearly a year of recovering from wounds he sustained Jan. 7, 2008, in Afghanistan in a roadside bomb attack.

He was a member of Battery A, 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery when the Humvee he was in was attacked. There were six in his unit, two in the vehicle with him. Newell was the lone survivor.

Newell reportedly flat-lined twice during the four days following the attack.

He was transported to a hospital in Germany, and then later was in recovery for nearly a year at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

On Nov. 30, Newell was arrested and accused of stalking the Phelps family and members of Westboro Baptist Church.

He is also accused of carrying and concealing a military-issued rifle, a .45-caliber Glock pistol, and a .38-caliber Smith and Wesson pistol, as well as impersonating a law enforcement officer.

Newell was held on a $500,000 bail. The next hearing will be 9 a.m. Dec. 16.

Westboro Baptist Church members are known for protesting at military funerals. The protesters claim God is punishing the nation for immorality.

Newell’s arrest was the result of events that unfolded Nov. 30, when church members were at Mulvane High School to protest. During a traffic stop by Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputies after the protest in Mulvane, Newell allegedly told officials he was providing protection to the church group.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a spokeswoman for the church, told the Record that she had seen the incident unfold.

According to Phelps-Roper, who was at the Mulvane protest Nov. 30 with other church members, law enforcement had been a buffer between protesting church members and a group of people who opposed the protest at the high school.

“There were some strange things happening at the picket,” Phelps-Roper said. “We do this every day. We know how this works.”

When the group was packing up and boarding the church van, law enforcement escorted the van with church members away from the crowd.

The van traveled to Wichita city hall for a meeting, Phelps-Roper said. There were two vehicles following the church van at the time.

“At a stoplight, we noticed the vehicle behind us was a police officer,” she said.

A sheriff’s deputy approached the second vehicle — a white, Ford SUV, according to Phelps-Roper. She also noted the driver of the SUV was wearing sunglasses.

“It looked like the driver of the second vehicle was indicating he was with us,” Phelps-Roper said.

The light turned green, and the van proceeded. At the next stoplight, the sheriff’s vehicle pulled in front of the van. The sheriff’s deputy approached the church van and asked if they were all right.

“We told the officers we were heading to the police department when the officer casually mentioned something about the car behind us,” she said. “We told the officer that the second car wasn’t with us.”

When officials were told Newell was not with the group, he was stopped again in downtown Wichita.

A man whom Sedgwick County deputies identified as Newell showed identification and told a detective he was a reserve law enforcement officer in another county.

Marion County Sheriff Rob Craft verified Dec. 1 that Sedgwick County officials contacted him Nov. 30. Craft told the officials that Newell was not with the sheriff’s office.

After conferring with Craft, detectives were able to locate Newell in the parking lot of Wichita city hall and arrested him.

“We were told he had two guns, a rifle, an assault rifle, and three magazines with 30 clips of ammunition,” Phelps-Roper said.

The last time the church members saw Newell, the SUV was backed into a parking stall by the police station.

Phelps-Roper believes he was preparing to ambush the family when they left the building.

“As soon as we can get it into our schedule, we’re going to go to the hometown where that young man was raised and picket,” she said.

The church group has scheduled a picket for Sunday at five Marion churches.

“I’m going to do everything I can do to protect Carrie and her family,” Chaput said. “I see this as an attack on our community.”

However, the Marion American Legion organization will not take any action.

“The best way to handle this is to ignore them,” Chaput said. “They’ll come and they’ll go. This community is strong. We’ll get past this.”

Chaput said it was important for the Newell family to know the Marion community supports them.

“We support the Newell family but more importantly we’re going to pray for them,” he said.

Last modified Dec. 9, 2010

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