Judge rules JoCo drug, sex case against Schlitterbahn’s Jeff Henry can proceed

A Johnson County District Court judge, after hearing testimony Friday from Merriam police officers who discovered substantial quantities of methamphetamine in a hotel room where Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry was staying last year, ruled there’s enough evidence for a criminal case to proceed.

Johnson County District Court Judge Thomas Kelly Ryan ruled on Friday at a preliminary hearing that there’s probable cause that Henry possessed methamphetamine with the intent to distribute, illegally possessed prescription drugs and drug paraphernalia and bought sex.

At the same time, attorneys for Henry signaled possible lines of defense as they questioned the police officer about how she entered the hotel room, whether Henry’s rights were explained to him during the investigation and to what extent evidence recovered was tested for DNA.

Henry has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The charges stem from an incident the evening of July 13, 2018, in which Merriam police were called to the Drury Inn at 9009 Shawnee Mission Parkway after guests and management complained about a man pounding on the door of a hotel room there for about an hour.

According to court documents, police discovered Henry with two other women, one who has been described as a victim of human trafficking, in a hotel room with methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. Police concluded that one of the women had been brought to the hotel for sex with Henry, which he allegedly paid for with $240 and 10 passes to the Schlitterbahn water park.

The charges came at a troubling time for Henry. He had been in Kansas City for a court hearing the day before on criminal charges in connection to a case in Wyandotte County where he was accused of recklessness in the death of a 10-year-old boy on the Verruckt water slide in Kansas City, Kan.

The indictment against Henry in the Verruckt death case was dismissed last month by a Wyandotte County judge who ruled that the Kansas attorney general had shown a grand jury improper evidence.

But the charges against Henry in Johnson County remain.

Merriam master police officer Kristin Jasinski testified that she arrived at the hotel room where Henry was staying and encountered the Schlitterbahn co-owner, who is credited with designing many of its most prominent rides.

She said Henry spoke to her at first through a cracked hotel room door with the safety chain affixed. When the door was opened, Jasinski said she saw Henry dumping the contents of water bottles down the bathroom sink.

“He was sweating,” she said. “He was obviously frantic about something.”

Jasinski encountered a woman identified in court records as K.M., who has said she had been dating Henry, according to court records. Jasinski said K.M. showed signs of being intoxicated by stimulants.

“She had slurred speech, she was having a very hard time following her thoughts,” Jasinski said.

K.M. also had a bruise on her neck that Jasinski said had the hallmarks of an injection site, including track marks.

Police responding to the scene also discovered another woman, identified in court records as K.W. According to a police affidavit, K.W. told authorities that she was prostituted by a man named Ronnie Hargraves, who was allegedly the man who caused the disturbance at the Drury Inn by attempting to beat down the hotel room door where Henry and the other women were present.

Hargraves was charged in Johnson County with battery of K.W. in connection with the July 13 incident, but failed to show up to a court hearing and has a warrant for his arrest.

K.W. was taken from the hotel to a safe place.

Jasinski testified that she told Henry he would not be arrested if he cooperated. Henry and K.M. were later allowed to leave with their possessions. When Jasinski and another officer searched the room, they discovered three baggies with methamphetamine in it, a metal pipe, a Walmart bag with hypodermic needles, a pill bottle and medicine droppers.

On cross examination by Henry defense attorney Carl Cornwell, Jasinski acknowledged that she had not read Henry his Miranda rights, a formal notification that whatever he told officers could later be used against him at trial. Henry was not arrested, but he was also not initially allowed to leave the hotel as police officers started their investigation.

Another Merriam police officer, Jeremiah Waters, testified that the methamphetamine in Henry’s hotel room was discovered in three different baggies.

“Multiple baggies are common in distribution cases,” Waters said.

Under cross examination, he acknowledged that other signs of distributing drugs, such as large amounts of cash, dealing records and ledgers, were not found at the hotel. In Kansas, possessing more than 3.5 grams of methamphetamine comes with a presumption that there’s an intent to distribute it.

Also, tests on the evidence recovered from the hotel room showed the presence of DNA from several people, not just Henry. Waters said that the DNA of others present at the hotel room and Hargraves were not submitted for testing.

Cornwell signaled to the judge that he may file motions to suppress and challenge the search and seizure of evidence.

That’s likely to be discussed at a June 14 hearing.

Henry, who was present at Friday’s hearing but barely spoke, remains on house arrest in Texas where he has been in treatment for depression and substance abuse. Cornwell said his client has “had no hiccups, nothing.”

“He’s just done remarkably well,” Cornwell said.

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Steve Vockrodt is an award-winning investigative journalist who has reported in Kansas City since 2005. Areas of reporting interest include business, politics, justice issues and breaking news investigations. Vockrodt grew up in Denver and studied journalism at the University of Kansas.