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Suspected shooter leaves Marion police

June 20 incident still under KBI investigation

Staff writer

While an investigation into a June 20 officer-involved shooting in Lehigh is still weeks away from completion, the Marion officer believed to have fired the fatal shot has left the department.

Local law enforcement officials and Kansas Bureau of Investigation have repeatedly refused to identify the officer who shot Robb Stewart, 50, who was reported by Sheriff Rob Craft to be drunk, armed with a pistol, and suicidal.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the situation have separately identified former officer Lee Vogel as the shooter, which matches a badge number of an officer transported to a hospital from the scene of the shooting, as transmitted during emergency dispatches and recorded by this newspaper.

Additional monitoring to determine which officer was suspended following the shooting was consistent with Vogel.

The City of Marion paid for counseling services in this time frame, consistent with what might be provided to an officer involved in such an incident.

The suspension was apparently lifted in mid-July, when Vogel was observed to be back on duty, but the KBI investigation was still ongoing.

About two weeks later on Aug. 1, the city council of Plainville, a town of 1,900 about 20 miles north of Hays, approved hiring Vogel as a police officer with the investigation still not complete

Plainville city administrator Jim Mesecher said Monday he did not know of a July 20 officer-involved shooting KBI investigation.

“Boy, you got me,” Mesecher said. “I’d have to get with our chief.”

He said he was not involved with the hiring, so he would check with Police Chief Troy Rudman.

“They kind of wanted to run their own show,” Mesecher said.

On Tuesday, he directed the newspaper to Rudman, who confirmed Vogel’s hiring.

But when asked if the department had knowledge of a July 20 KBI officer-involved shooting investigation, he said, “I’m not going to comment on that.”

He added, “Thank you, have a good day,” before promptly hanging up.

Refusals to comment by Marion and Plainville officials leave unanswered questions about what they knew about the KBI investigation, when they knew it, and what information they used to justify reinstating Vogel in Marion or hire him in Plainville.

KBI spokeswoman Melissa Underwood said the investigation is ongoing, awaiting the final autopsy report before presenting the case to the county attorney.

Nine weeks ago, she said the report should be done in six to eight weeks.

County attorney Courtney Boehm said the KBI told her two weeks ago that the independent laboratory had a backlog that would push the final autopsy results back another 12 to 14 weeks, five months or more after the shooting.

Boehm, who would have the ultimate decision of whether or not to file charges, said she does not have enough information from the KBI to determine if the shooting was justified.

“I don’t have anything,” she said. “I just have my observations and conversations with the KBI at the time.”

Boehm emphasized the importance of letting the investigation run its full course.

“I need to see the whole package before I’ll make a decision,” she said. “It’s not something to take lightly, so I want the full story before I release a decision.”

Underwood said determining whether a shooting is justified is up to local authorities.

“We often times communicate with the local authorities during an investigation, not to mention they typically already know facts and information related to the case from the time of the incident,” she said. “The decision on whether their personnel returns to work is made by the local officials, not by the KBI.”

Boehm said she was not contacted before Vogel’s suspension or reinstatement.

“I have nothing to do with the hiring or discipline of officers,” Boehm said. “That’s purely the city and the Marion Police Department.”

She also said that to her knowledge, no one from any other department has contacted her office.

Marion Police Chief Tyler Mermis said he had no comment when asked about the KBI investigation.

Mermis said Vogel left about two weeks ago. Combined with the recent departure of officer Mike Stone, Marion has lost 40 percent of its full-time police force in the past month.

Part-time officer Bryce Suffield has filled one of the spots. The other position is unfilled. Mermis said it may remain that way until September or October, and may be filled with part-time officers.

Last modified Aug. 31, 2017

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