‘I didn’t say it was valid’: Johnson County sheriff admits he didn’t have signed warrant

Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden acknowledged on Monday that no judge signed off on seizing old ballots in his long-running elections investigation after he falsely said last month he had a “search warrant in hand.”

The admission came after Hayden, a Republican in a competitive race for reelection, in April accused Johnson County Election Commissioner Fred Sherman and other officials of rushing to destroy old ballots from several past elections, suggesting they were attempting to eliminate evidence just as the sheriff was on the verge of obtaining a search warrant for them.

In fact, Johnson County at Hayden’s request had previously held off on complying with a state law that mandates the regular destruction of old ballots. But with Hayden unable to obtain a court order to preserve the records, officials earlier this year moved forward.

Hayden’s comments on Monday came in a fiery exchange with Mike Kuckelman, a former Kansas Republican Party chairman who opposes Hayden’s candidacy, during a candidates’ forum in Olathe. Kuckelman posted a video of the exchange to social media.

“I’ve been catching all kinds of trouble. Mike, you can read that, can’t ya? I’m not going to give you anything you can’t see,” Hayden says in the video as he holds papers clipped together.

Hayden then refers to a meeting with Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe and five officers. “So when you want to tell me I need to be Giglio’d have your stuff together,” Hayden says.

Brady-Giglio rules generally require law enforcement to disclose information about officers that call into question their credibility as witnesses.

Kuckelman, who doesn’t appear on screen, can be heard asking “which judge,” followed by Hayden responding “there’s no judge.”

“A judge has to sign a search warrant to be valid,” Kuckelman says.

“I didn’t say it was valid,” Hayden replies.

Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden speaks at the press conference Thursday afternoon, Aug. 27, 2020 that announced charge in the Westwood Apple Market killing in 2003.
Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden speaks at the press conference Thursday afternoon, Aug. 27, 2020 that announced charge in the Westwood Apple Market killing in 2003.

While law enforcement officials can prepare a search warrant application, warrants must be approved by judges. And in Johnson County, standard practice calls for the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office to review all search warrant applications before they are submitted to a judge.

Melody Webb, a spokeswoman with the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office, previously said the office is “unaware of any search warrant being submitted to a judge for review.” Webb on Tuesday said Howe “has no further comment on this.”

A spokeswoman with the sheriff’s office previously declined to comment on an “open investigation” – even as Hayden regularly makes public comments about the probe. Hayden’s office didn’t immediately comment on Tuesday.

Hayden’s claim that he had a search warrant has become a flashpoint in the sheriff’s race ahead of the August primary. Hayden, who ran unopposed in both 2016 and 2020, faces Republican challenger Doug Bedford, a former undersheriff. The race has so far drawn one Democratic candidate, Prairie Village Police Chief Byron Roberson.

Kansas law requires the regular destruction of ballots. But the county hadn’t destroyed them from the 2019 election onward as Hayden probes an election software company previously used by the county to manage poll workers. The sheriff’s investigation has produced no criminal charges.

County officials said late last year they received reminders from Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a Republican, to destroy ballots in compliance with state law. Johnson County chief legal counsel Peg Trent in a November letter asked Hayden whether he was still investigating and had any objections to the ballots being shredded.

The sheriff’s office asked for the records to be preserved, saying they were crucial to the investigation. Trent responded by asking if Hayden planned on obtaining a search warrant.

When no search warrant was served, the Johnson County Election Office in late February shredded the ballots from the 2019, 2020, and 2021 elections.

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach, a Republican who joined Hayden in urging the county to preserve the ballots, is now crafting a legal opinion on whether the election office had the authority to destroy the election materials amid a criminal investigation.

Schwab, who oversees the state’s elections, has said election officials have no authority to disregard state law absent a court order.