Jury Finds High-Ranking Wyandotte County Official Guilty Of Battery Against Female Employee
A Wyandotte County jury found a high-ranking official of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, guilty of misdemeanor battery against a female employee Tuesday.
Maddie Waldeck, a former Unified Government employee, said on May 1 last year that she was having a "light-hearted" conversation with colleagues after work when her boss, Dennis "Tib" Laughlin, grabbed her by the shirt and pushed her against a wall.
"At the time, it struck me as funny," Laughlin testified.
Eyewitness Theresa Duke, who was subpoenaed to testify, told the court she did not find it funny.
"Honestly, I was shocked," Duke said.
Duke said she did not want to testify because Laughlin was and is currently her boss — he is General Services Director at the UG, and has worked there for 21 years.
In closing arguments, Wyandotte County Assistant District Attorney TC Penland pointed out that Laughlin was in a position of authority over Waldeck at the time of the incident, which he called a "power move."
"There's a line between unacceptable and acceptable," Penland said. "He crossed that line when he grabbed a female subordinate by the shirt and pushed her into a wall. From polite to rude, from complimenting to insulting, from innocent to guilty."
Laughlin's lawyer Vincent Rivera implored the jury to consider his client's intent and the "jovial" work environment under Laughlin. County Administrator Melissa Sieben, Laughlin's supervisor, testified that Laughlin is "ridiculously intelligent" and that some people don't get his humor.
After the trial Tuesday, Laughlin, through his lawyer, declined KCUR's request for comment. Laughlin faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Laughlin's sentencing is set for the end of August.
Waldeck, who waited outside the courtroom Tuesday, said she feels relieved.
"I hope this sends a message that no one else should have to go through what I went through and I hope that that helps others," she said.
Waldeck told KCUR that the two years she worked with Laughlin were the "most stressful and heartbreaking" of her professional life. She documented over those two years that she said made her feel uncomfortable.
After Tuesday's verdict, Waldeck said she's hopeful it will bring change to the Unified Government, where she worked for five years.
"Wyandotte County is full of great people, and it's a great place to live. I think it's time we stand up against things that people do wrong," she said.
In a statement, the Unified Government told KCUR the incident was thoroughly investigated when it was reported.
“That investigation came to a different conclusion than the jury. But now that the jury has spoken after a trial, the UG will take steps it deems appropriate,” it read.
Editor's note: This story was updated with a response from the Unified Government.