The Kansas Department of Corrections, fresh off its black eye over a drugs-for-sex scandal at a prison for women, is now filing legal action against the lawyer who helped expose the wrongdoing.
Attorney Keen Umbehr entered the Topeka Correctional Facility for women Aug. 10 to interview two inmates, one of whom was impregnated by a prison plumbing instructor before allegedly being threatened and bullied into aborting her child. The instructor was charged with rape but later plea-bargained to unlawful sexual relations, a lesser crime.
Umbehr was accompanied on the August visit by Tim Carpenter, a man who had been assisting Umbehr for months in uncovering prison employees’ trading of tobacco, drugs and money to the inmates for sexual favors.
Carpenter, however, is also an investigative reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal, and following his visit with the inmates, he exposed the prison’s sex ring through a series of stories in the paper.
Two days after Carpenter’s exposés hit newsstands, the state slapped Umbehr with an ethics complaint.
KDOC spokesman Bill Miskell told the Capital-Journal the state has protocols in place for when reporters want to enter prisons and has to maintain the security of its facilities.
“Basic to that responsibility is knowing who is entering our facilities and the purpose for them doing so,” he said.
But the Capital-Journal fired back a scathing editorial, calling the action a “smear attack.”
“The interviews helped lead to stories revealing illegal sexual relationships and traffic of contraband in the prison,” the editorial states. “You might have thought KDOC would have bigger fish to fry than to lodge the complaint against Umbehr – like turning its full attention to improving prison security measures and increasing supervision of corrections workers.
“If there’s ever been a more obvious case of shooting the messenger, it’s hard to remember it,” the paper concluded.
Umbehr responded to the ethics complaint with a letter of his own to the state’s office of attorney discipline in which he alleges the complaint is “disingenuous.”
“I assert that that [the] ethics complaint against me was retaliatory in nature and designed to punish me,” Umbehr writes.
The ethics complaint charges that in seeking permission to interview the inmates, Umbehr referred to Carpenter as his “legal assistant” and that he signed the visitor logbook indicating both he and Carpenter were attorneys. The KDOC alleges this violates Kansas rules of professional conduct for attorneys, which state a lawyer “shall not knowingly make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person.”
Umbehr, however, says he only referred to Carpenter as an “assistant” and even confirmed to prison officials that Carpenter had no bar card, which would indicate attorney credentials.
Furthermore, Umbehr states, a prison employee filled out the logbook. He points out that handwriting similar to the Umbehr and Carpenter entries appears later for another visitor and that his name is misspelled in the entry.
“I know how to spell my own name,” Umbehr said.
Umbehr further told the paper that he welcomes his case to be tried by the disciplinary office, district court, federal court or the court of public opinion.
“I’ll win in all four courts,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson has ordered an independent review of the prison system.
“We must ensure that the policies we have in place are working and that when people do not follow these policies, they are appropriately dealt with,” the governor said in a statement.
As WND has reported, the U.S. Department of Justice has documented a rising tide of rape by prison guards on inmates across the United States.
The report from the inspector general of the Department of Justice found that sexual abuse of inmates by staff members in U.S. federal prisons has doubled over the last eight years, outpacing by far the increases in both inmates and staff.
The report, issued in September, found that 257 cases were uncovered and referred for prosecution, but only 102 actually were prosecuted. The cases resulted in 83 convictions against prison employees.
“It is a scandal that people in the custody of our government should be sexually assaulted by those in authority over them,” said Mark Earley, president of the Christian organization Prison Fellowship. “Society cannot look the other way as officials who carry a badge and represent the authority of the state assault the men and women under their supervision.”
Pat Nolan, vice president of the group, added, “No crime – no matter how heinous – has a sentence that includes rape.”