CASPER, Wyo. — The lawyer for an elementary school teacher arrested at work this week said police had broken an agreement to allow his client to turn himself in and risked traumatizing students.
Casper police arrested Kellan Holbrook, who teaches second grade, on Monday at Crest Hill Elementary School. Prosecutors charged him the next day with four misdemeanors, including two counts of domestic battery. He has pleaded not guilty.
Don Fuller, who represents Holbrook in the case, had asked police last month to contact him regarding charges or warrants, according to police paperwork.
Fuller said police did not do so. Instead, police attempted to embarrass his client, Fuller said, and could have traumatized children in the process.
"We offered to turn ourselves in and they said, 'No, we’d rather get the publicity,'" Fuller said.
Chief Keith McPheeters said he was not aware of any agreement between the department and Fuller regarding Holbrook's arrest. The chief said he did not know if police had tried to contact Fuller in advance of the arrest, but said he thought his officers had acted appropriately.
McPheeters said the vast majority of warrant arrests are not self-surrender cases. Instead, such arrests are often conducted following traffic stops. He said no children were put at risk during the arrest.
"This was never a threat of being a use-of-force arrest," McPheeters said.
When pressed on the issue, McPheeters acknowledged that police work can be unpredictable. Despite that acknowledgement, he said the department did not think it would have any issues taking the teacher into custody.
The chief said the warrant was issued Nov. 20 and police made multiple attempts to arrest Holbrook at his house. He said the officer who went to Holbrook's house was under the impression that the teacher was trying to avoid him by not answering the door. McPheeters said it is common for police to arrest people on warrants at their work.
McPheeters said he was unaware of his department conducting any other warrant arrests at schools this year.
He said police gave school staff time to arrange for a substitute teacher to take over Holbrook's second-grade classroom. Holbrook was called into an office, away from children, where police arrested him, the chief said.
Verba Echols, the Natrona County School District's associate superintendent for human resources, said police notified Tom Ernst, the district's director of safe schools, of the impending arrest as they were en route to Crest Hill. Officials at the school did not know what was happening until the officers arrived and were in the office.
Echols said she didn't question the validity of the department's actions.
Fuller and McPheeters have clashed in the past. In August, Fuller accused the chief of forcing one of his clients, a police officer shot in the line of duty, to return to work before it was medically advisable. McPheeters initially declined to comment on the allegations before saying he failed to effectively communicate with the officer.
Fuller, who was out of the country at the time that Holbrook was taken into custody, told the Star-Tribune the arrest was "nothing but media seeking." He said police knew he was on vacation when they arrested Holbrook. Despite that, he said the agency did not call his office to ask Holbrook to turn himself in. That, he said, is unusual.
By arresting Holbrook at school, police disregarded student safety, Fuller said.
Fuller, who appeared at the police department with his client in early October, said he and police had arrived at an agreement to allow Holbrook to turn himself in if and when charges were brought.
"We were at the police department cooperating with them and they could've arrested us then," he said. "They know better than to treat people like that."
McPheeters, meanwhile, said the arrest was a non-issue.
"We can Monday morning quarterback this all day long," the chief said. "You're looking for a story that doesn't exist."
Star-Tribune staff writer Seth Klamann contributed to this report.