KC homicide detective investigating why veteran died after VA police confrontation

The Kansas City Police Department is investigating the death of a veteran who had a fatal brain hemorrhage after a confrontation with Veterans Affairs Police last year.

Department spokesman Jacob Becchina said the case of Dale Farhner has been assigned to Sgt. Richard Sharp, a longtime homicide detective.

“The results of our investigation will ultimately be compiled and forwarded on to the prosecutor’s office for their decision as to what if any applicable charges may apply,” Becchina said. “There is little info that can be released at this point, as it is now an open death investigation on our end.”

The VA has said the incident has already been investigated by federal law enforcement, and its officers have been cleared of wrongdoing.

But Becchina said that “a little less than a month ago” the Jackson County medical examiner forwarded the results of Farhner’s autopsy to Kansas City police to investigate.

The medical examiner has declined to release the results of Farhner’s autopsy, citing open investigations first by the VA and now by police.

Farhner, of Kingston, Missouri, was driving himself to the emergency room at the Kansas City VA Medical Center in May 2018 because of an infection from a hernia surgery he’d had there. A VA Police officer stopped him because he was going the wrong way in the parking lot. An argument ensued, and one or two officers took Farhner to the ground, according to a suit filed by his family.

He was semi-conscious when he got to the emergency room and was transferred to the University of Kansas Hospital, where he died two days later at age 66.

The Star began looking into Farhner’s death after receiving an anonymous tip about it shortly after.

An open records request revealed that the VA had nearly 20 pages of documents, plus audio and video recordings related to the incident in the parking lot. But the agency has rebuffed repeated requests for the information, saying the matter was still under investigation and that making it public “would likely negatively impact a frank discussion on matters of policy between subordinates and supervisors.”

The VA has also refused to provide information about Farhner’s death to members of Congress and Farhner’s family, who filed their wrongful death suit in May 2019 after they got no response to an administrative complaint.

The leader of a Kansas City Vietnam veterans group has said the agency’s silence smacks of a cover-up, and Kansas City VA Medical Center director Kathleen Fogarty has been accused of cover-ups at her previous job leading the Tampa, Florida, VA hospital.

Kansas City VA hospital spokesman Vernon Stewart denied last month there was any attempt to obscure what happened, saying that federal law enforcement had “fully investigated this matter and determined that VA acted appropriately in its interaction with the veteran.”

“VA will cooperate fully with any additional official investigations,” Stewart said.

That now means cooperating with Sharp, the KC Metropolitan Crime Commission’s 2018 Officer of the Year. Sharp’s duties include coordinating Metro Squad investigations of murders in small towns near Kansas City.

“He has some paperwork from the VA and he is waiting on some more, and he’s also going to check with our federal partners to gather any investigative material they may have compiled on this prior,” Becchina said. “This may be a process that takes some time, as any death associated with police contact would, in order to get everything right.”

A report published in December by the VA’s Office of Inspector General found that the agency’s 4,000-plus police officers operate without effective management or oversight, leading to a system lacking accountability.

In an article published Monday, the news website The Intercept said it had reviewed the VA Police’s performance over the last 10 years and “identified dozens of credible allegations that VA cops in every corner of the United States have neglected standard police procedures, violated patients’ constitutional rights, or broken the law.” It briefly mentioned the Farhner case.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to contact the Kansas City Police Department homicide unit at 816-234-5043. To remain anonymous, call the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-8477.

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Kansas City Star health reporter Andy Marso was part of a Pulitzer Prize-finalist team at The Star and previously won state and regional awards at the Topeka Capital-Journal and Kansas Health Institute News Service. He has written two books, including one about his near-fatal bout with meningitis.