SOUTH HAVEN, Kan. — The family of Joe LaMasters — who was shot in South Haven, Kan., on March 4 — is not satisfied with the Sumner County Attorney’s official report that was issued on March 22.
Kerwin Spencer, Sumner County attorney, determined that no charges will be brought against the 52-year-old Sumner County man who pulled the trigger on LaMasters, 42, of Creston on that Monday in early March.
“Those two men made a choice, they chose to leave the safety of their own home and go out and search for a man,” said LaMasters’ spouse, Tonya Brown on March 29. “I don’t know how that warrants self-defense.”
Upon hearing of Spencer’s decision, LaMasters’ relatives started looking at their options.
“He (Spencer) spoke to my brother and said that if we didn’t feel the investigation was fair we could call the state attorney,” Brown said. “I did speak with her brother, and he asked if there was any one else they could complain to, and the only person with any authority that I knew of would be the attorney general’s office,” Spencer said.
The family was confused after hearing from the AG’s office that nothing could be done on their end without the county attorney’s go-ahead – which Brown says Spencer knew before hand.
Spencer said the AG’s policy was news to him.
“I didn’t see any point in asking them to come in and investigate something that I had fully investigated and made what I thought to be the appropriate decision,” Spencer said.
The AG’s office has not returned The Wellington Daily News’ phone call to confirm their policy. Brown is not happy with the way she was treated on the phone, and that the county has the final say.
“...It doesn’t sit well with me,” she said.
Brown and the rest of the family are frustrated after hearing and reading several different accounts as to what happened on March 4.
“I simply asked the county attorney, that if you’re confident in the job you have done, and the investigation you have done, you should have no problem turning it in to the state,” Brown continued. “Myself, and our two daughters, deserve to know what happened to their father.”
Spencer responded: “The Attorney General’s office said it was my job to figure it out, and that they would only become involved if I think I need help. I don’t think I need help.”
Clearly, LaMasters’ family feels the county attorney does need help. In Spencer’s official report, the entire day’s events were outlined.
The father and son had encountered LaMasters once before the shooting, and called the authorities, but LaMasters ran off. The father and son then proceeded to check on a cousin’s property to make sure everyone was safe, only to find no one was home.
“The father checked the house, found the house was secure, the son checked the shed, and the outbuildings,” Spencer said on March 22. “By coincidence the father was coming up to the outbuilding where the son had just emerged from.”
The son hollered at his dad, saying the man was in the shed. From there the situation escalated to the father holding LaMasters at gunpoint.
“I can only take him (the father) at his word that he was concerned about what this suspect was going to do,” Spencer said (on March 22) that knowing the suspects intent is impossible. “...(The father) either takes the shot immediately or he risks getting into a wrestling match for the firearm and he loses the advantage he has.”
Brown retorted: “I’m sure Joe’s intentions were to hide, then get on the interstate after it got dark. ...The house was secure, why were they checking outbuildings ...if he’s such a threat, and such a badass, why was he hiding from those two men? Nothing makes sense.”
Spencer said: “She doesn’t know any better than I know what was running through his (LaMasters’) mind.”
Brown also feels her husband of 26 years wouldn’t have made threatening remarks to two people with shotguns.
“... I don’t think they (the father and son) made that up,” Spencer said. “If that’s what he’s saying then they have every reason to think that’s what his intentions were.”
Seeking closure to the events that unfolded is the family’s objective, and they still hope the AG will pick up the case.
“If the state comes back and says ‘hey, we feel this was self-defense, too.’ I’ll have to live with that,” Brown said. “But I don’t think one man in a small county should be making that decision.”
Brown also feels the picture that has been painted of LaMasters has been very one-sided.
“The man that I knew was loving and supporting, we were high school sweethearts,” Brown said. “We have two amazing and beautiful girls. He was the dad that cooked dinner every night.”
She admits the year has been a rough one for them. Brown said LaMasters was arrested in Creston in February 2012 for possession of methamphetamines, with intent to deliver and spent time behind bars. Prior to that, Brown said she had no idea of LaMasters’ drug addiction.
“He was still home every night, went to every ball game, went to work everyday,” she said. “Joe was the type of man that would take on three extra jobs after putting in a 12-hour day to make sure his daughters had everything they needed and more.”
As to why LaMasters was making his way South, Brown can only speculate he was looking for work in a warmer climate. According to the county attorney’s report, LaMasters was wanted for probation violation in Iowa.
“I just think it was bias and prejudice from the very first day, all they seen was somebody who had enough charges in the last year, he was a nobody, and they just thought it was going to be washed away,” Brown said.
She added she doesn’t know where reports of a potential civil case have come from.
“All I’ve ever said to him (Spencer) is ‘I know my legal rights, I know what I can do,’” Brown said. “... I’ve told him repeatedly, it’s not about the money, it’s never been about the money. It’s about justice for Joe.”
Brown feels it’s not right for people to take the law into their own hands, and said that’s what happened in Sumner County, Kan., on March 4.
“To me they were trying to be heroes that day, and they shot and killed an innocent man. They murdered him,” Brown said.