Homicide increase rattles Gladstone’s image of safety

As public safety director for Gladstone, Michael Hasty routinely speaks at churches and to civic and community groups about the latest crime trend or crime prevention idea.

But he had to significantly modify his message this summer after the small Northland bedroom community experienced a sudden spike in homicides over a three-month period.

“I told them the homicides were related to domestic and interpersonal issues and not indicative of a community that has unchecked crime running rampant,” said Hasty, who has been with the department 28 years, the last four as police chief.

This year, there have been a record five homicides in Gladstone, two of them just five days apart. The city has recorded more killings this year than in the previous four years combined.

The 2012 homicides included the beating death of an AT&T technician and the close-range shooting death of a Romanian-born psychiatrist killed by a woman who drove 250 miles from central Kansas to Gladstone.

“We simply don’t have statistics that support that we have a lot of violent crime in our community, absent of the recent homicides,” Hasty said.

Nevertheless, Hasty said he set out to reassure residents, business owners and city leaders that those slayings, while tragic, were an anomaly and that Gladstone is still relatively safe.

“Up to the AT&T worker, all of them were related to interpersonal relationships that spun out of control,” he said. “Citizens require some reassurance from the police department that we recognize these issues and are trying to take steps to address them.”

The 2012 cases:

• Irina A. Puscarin, 46, was shot three times Jan. 13, moments after answering the doorbell at her home. Shannon O’Roark Griffin, 52, of Grandbury, Texas, was charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action. O’Roark Griffin had accused Puscarin of having an affair with her estranged husband.

• Juan M. Orozco-Vargas, 25, was stabbed to death June 21 during an altercation with another man outside a Gladstone residence. Luis Morales-Hernandez was charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action. Authorities alleged the men argued over a woman.

• Nancy Bowman, 52, was found stabbed to death Aug. 7. Police discovered her body in the woods behind Mountainview Apartments, near 61st Street and Bircain Place. No arrests have been in made and police are continuing to investigate.

• Christine Niccoli, 52, was killed in a murder-suicide five days later on Aug. 12. The bodies of Niccoli and her husband, Anthony Niccoli, also 52, were found inside an apartment complex in the 6900 block of North Park Avenue. Police were told the two had “mutual health concerns.”

• Kevin M. Mashburn, 58, was clubbed from behind Sept. 19 while making repairs on a cellphone tower. Police said Mashburn was attacked with a crowbar, which split his skull. Days later, Bryan J. Middlemas, 35, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Middlemas also faces attempted robbery and armed criminal action charges.

Hasty said that after the last homicide, he continued to make the speaking rounds, even talking to a small group of residents in the children’s play area at a church. His task was to reassure residents that the department worked quickly to solve those violent crimes and that officers would have an increased presence in the community.

“My job was just to communicate with the public that we were pulling out all of the stops and being diligent,” he said.

Mayor Carol Suter said citizens have always supported law enforcement. Two years ago, voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax that added public safety officers and replaced the city’s aging emergency radio system.

“It’s been kind of a sad year in a sense that we saw more violence than we have ever,” Suter said. “But I don’t expect that we will see a repeat of this next year or any time soon.”