December 1, 2010
A wounded veteran is in the Sedgwick County Jail, accused of stalking members of Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church.
Sedgwick County jail records show Ryan Newell, 26, of Marion, was booked into jail on charges including stalking and false impersonation.
Sedgwick County Sheriff Bob Hinshaw said authorities arrested Newell while he was parked at Wichita City Hall after stopping him twice when they noticed his vehicle following a van carrying members of the Westboro Baptist Church. The church members participated in a protest at Mulvane High School Tuesday morning.
Hinshaw said Newell first told authorities he was providing security for the church members, which the protesters confirmed was not true. As detectives questioned Newell a second time, he reportedly told them he was a reserve law enforcement officer in another county. Deputies called that county and confirmed Newell was not a law enforcement officer. Members of the Westboro Church were inside City Hall speaking with law enforcement officers when detectives arrested Newell in the parking lot. Hinshaw would not comment on whether Newell's vehicle was searched by deputies.
"Whenever you're going to have any sort of a protest or situation that there's very emotionally charged feelings on both sides, our job as law enforcement is peace keepers, and to make sure everyone is safe. And that's the situation we found ourselves in," said Hinshaw.
Newell lost both of his legs in a roadside bomb explosion in Afghanistan. He was profiled on KAKE News in April when the group "Homes For Our Troops" designed and built a home for him.
"I don't condone what happened, but I try to understand what this soldier was feeling," said veteran advocate Cregg Hansen. "This boy yesterday, he probably just had reached his limit."
"This is called mob rule and we're watching it play our all over the country," said Westboro Baptist Church Leader Shirley Phelps.
Some who know Newell say they know what he did was wrong, but they say he needs help, and not jail time.
"As long as these soldiers get support, and feel like they have support, that's the best we can do. We as Americans," said Hansen.
Records show Newell's bond is set at $500,000. Charges in the case are expected Thursday.