Details emerge in lawsuit against Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp will resign Thursday amid revelations that he kept up an ongoing romantic, sexual and financial relationship with a female employee of the sheriff's office while she had a pending lawsuit against Jackson County for harassment.
Sharp acknowledged in a court deposition that he gave Christine Lynde $8,000 as a down payment to buy a house after Lynde sued the county for harassment.
Clay County court records show that Sharp and Lynde, an administrative assistant in the sheriff's office, have owned a house together since last year.
Court records also say Sharp approved multiple promotions and pay raises for Lynde, to the point where she became the highest-paid civilian employee in the department. He also gave her perks that other county employees did not get, such as a bi-weekly $240 car allowance and permission to work from home, the documents say.
Sharp also took Lynde on personal and professional trips that he and Jackson County taxpayers paid for, according to an April 11 court document. In a partial deposition attached to that filing, Sharp acknowledged that he, Lynde and his now ex-wife had sex together.
Multiple sources told The Star that Sharp cleaned out his office on Tuesday in the face of the damaging revelations.
Sharp issued a statement around noon Wednesday that did not address his future as sheriff, but a department spokesman confirmed that Sharp submitted his letter of resignation to take effect at the end of the day Thursday.
That statement said, in its entirety:
"I allowed my judgment as Sheriff and my obligations to Jackson County be clouded because of my feelings for someone I cared deeply for in the past. I am accountable for my actions."
Under the county charter, County Executive Frank White will appoint Sharp's replacement for the rest of this year. White said he would do so "in the coming days," but did not say when.
In November, voters will choose a successor to fill out the remaining two years of Sharp's term.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said in a statement that her office had been notified by the Jackson County counselor, prompting the prosecutor's own investigation into the matter.
Baker also contacted "a law enforcement agency" about the matter, but would not say which one.
"While the allegations that have come to light are extremely troubling, today’s resignation satisfies the state’s interest regarding a potential 'quo warranto' action to remove the Sheriff from office," Peters Baker's statement said. "We will continue to monitor this matter and take any appropriate action in the future."
Lynde sued the county in 2016, alleging sexual harassment by two female co-workers, as well as Sharp’s second in command, Col. Hugh Mills.
Lynde said the harassment began shortly after she began working at the department in September 2013.
In an April 4 deposition, Sharp acknowledged that he provided $8,000 to Lynde for a down payment on a house. Both Lynde's and Sharp's names are on the deed of the house, purchased in May 2017, according to Clay County records.
In Lynde's Feb. 21 deposition, she said she had been approved for a loan through a credit union, but was told two days later that her loan was no longer valid.
Lynde said she called Sharp to explain the situation and that Sharp said he would help her out.
Lynde also testified that she was hired as a part-time employee making $10 an hour, then received a 70 percent pay increase within a month of taking the job. Within less than four years, her pay rate increased to $25 an hour. Her raises and promotions, she testified, were attributable to Sharp.
Sharp, in his deposition, testified that since 2013, he helped pay Lynde's bills and found other ways to supplement her income.
The two went on a cruise together to Mexico and went on trips to Phoenix, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Branson and the Lake of the Ozarks during the time she was suing Jackson County.
A separate court filing said that Lynde and Sharp discussed Lynde's lawsuit against the county, including attorney-client privileged discussion and "what it would take to settle this case."
While they were discussing it, county taxpayers were paying an attorney to represent Sharp, county officials said late Wednesday afternoon. His legal fees total $67,420 so far, while the county's defense has racked up $324,227 in bills.
As of Wednesday evening, the county had not responded to a request for comment on whether taxpayers will continue to pay Sharp's attorney, Patrick McInerney.
Lynde's original lawsuit alleged that she faced a hostile environment within the Jackson County Sheriff's Office. That began, she said, after a then-sheriff's department employee accused Lynde of sexually assaulting her in 2013 in a motel room after a night out drinking.
The employee told Lee's Summit police that Lynde removed the woman’s shirt and encouraged a male friend to take photographs of her on a bed in the motel.
The woman told police she was unsure what happened next, according to the report, but awoke to find her pants had been removed. She then quickly left the motel.
When she told Sharp about the incident, he showed "resentment" toward her, the report said. The employee told police that she believed "this was a result of Lynde and Sheriff Sharp being friends."
No charges were filed. The woman resigned in October 2014 after receiving a $95,000 settlement from the county in exchange for dropping her harassment claim against the sheriff's department. Another female sheriff's department worker received a $58,500 settlement in 2015 for dropping a related claim.
According to Lynde's suit, she told Mills, the second in command, that she had been falsely accused but that Mills "retaliated" against her."
Among other things," the suit said, "Colonel Mills has called her a 'strong-willed lesbian,' threatened to write her name and phone number on every men's bathroom stall, and challenged Lynde's job duties."
She also said in the suit that an unnamed male co-worker later made "inappropriate comments" and "touched her inappropriately" and that someone slashed her tires when her vehicle was parked in the sheriff's department lot in 2014.
Before becoming sheriff in January 2009, Sharp spent 26 years with the Kansas City Police Department, mostly in a reserve officer capacity while running a carpet business and managing commercial real estate he owned in Lee’s Summit.
He topped a field of four candidates in the 2008 Democratic primary vying to replace then-Sheriff Tom Phillips, who did not seek re-election. Sharp then won the general election and was re-elected in 2012 and 2016 with only token opposition.
The platform he first ran on stressed his desire to boost deputies' pay and professionalize the department.
But allegations raised by current and former employees in court filings in recent years alleged that he oversaw a hostile work environment.
Sharp’s challenger in the 2016 primary, Brice Stewart, raised some of those issues at the time, but they didn’t resonate with voters. Stewart specifically mentioned some of the allegations in the lawsuit brought by Lynde and the police report filed by the woman who said she was attacked in the motel.
Stewart also called attention to complaints filed against Sharp in 2015 by his ex-wife. She complained that after their 2014 divorce Sharp spied on and harassed her after learning of her romantic relationship with a mutual friend.
In emails and text messages attached to a Raytown Police report, his ex-wife wrote that she felt threatened, the report said.
“Do not contact me again,” she wrote in one email to Sharp. “You are intimidating and scaring me.”
County legislator Crystal Williams said Sharp did the right thing in resigning and couched her statement in the context of the #metoo movement and other political scandals that have come to light recently.
"We are beyond fatigued as we listen to unending tales of misogyny and inappropriate behavior on every level of government," she said. "Enough."