Florence Council suspends police chief

The Florence City Council voted Monday night to suspend Police Chief Merlin Stout for one week with pay and then without pay should accusations prove true he improperly touched a woman without her consent at an area restaurant.

Stout was arrested at 1 p.m., Friday, by Marion County Sheriff officers on two charges of sexual battery. Stout was booked into the Marion County Jail and released on $1,500 bond.

The investigation began when a woman flagged down a deputy and complained of sexual misconduct against her by Stout, Sheriff Lee Becker told the Wichita Eagle for a story that appeared Sunday.

Because of insufficient evidence, Stout was not arrested on that allegation, but the investigation led to another woman who said she also was victimized.

Stout was hired as police chief in Florence about three months ago. He came to Marion County from Morton County, where he had served as a county commissioner and sheriff, according to Becker.

Monday’s meeting of the Florence City Council attracted various media from the area, including crews from three Wichita television stations as well as the Wichita Eagle and Hutchinson News.

Cameras rolled as Ben Brunson, Johnson’s General Store general manager, described his frustration regarding incidents he’d heard happened in his store.

He said he had approached a city council member about incidents he declined to confirm were related, and asked why no response from the council was received in the following weeks.

Mayor John Lehman replied he’d been unable to reach Brunson on numerous occasions.

Brunson asked what steps he should take if similar incidents occur in the future and was told to request a spot on the next council meeting agenda.

Cameras were on the council again following an executive session. Councilor Randy Mills proposed that Stout be suspended with pay for one week and without pay after that time should accusations against the police chief prove true.

The action passed 3-1, with Councilor Tim Parmley expressing opposition to the paid status. The council will convene within the week to further discuss this matter.

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