INDEPENDENCE — Jason Brown, the former Independence Community College football coach of “Last Chance U” fame charged with eight felonies, made his first appearance in Montgomery County District Court last Thursday.
The first appearance by Brown resulted in a hearing set for Aug. 22. At that August hearing, a preliminary hearing date could be set.
A Montgomery County judge will determine at the preliminary hearing whether or not there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. If the judge rules that a trial can proceed, an arraignment date will be set. Brown would enter his plea at arraignment, with a trial set.
Brown is facing eight felony counts for allegedly stealing the identity of a lawyer in an attempt to silence local newspapers.
Brown, who gained notoriety for being featured on the Netflix documentary series “Last Chance U,” is charged with four counts of blackmail, four counts of identity theft, all felonies, as well as two counts of criminal false communication, both misdemeanors. The Montgomery County Attorney’s Office filed charges on June 28.
According to a story published by the Montgomery County Chronicle, one of the two newspapers allegedly victimized by Brown, the case against Brown results from an investigation into emails sent to the Chronicle as well as the Independence Daily Reporter.
In October 2018, Brown allegedly sent a cease-and-desist email to the Chronicle shortly after the paper published an editorial regarding a fight between the Independence and Garden City football teams. Brown allegedly posed as an attorney in the Cochran Law Firm in California, which was founded by Johnnie Cochran.
In February, the Chronicle received another set of communications purportedly from the attorney regarding the paper’s investigation into Brown’s treatment of a German football player.
The Chronicle reported that Brown texted the German player, “I am your new Hitler,” which eventually led to Brown’s resignation from the college.
Similar correspondence purportedly from the Cochran firm was sent to the Reporter as well as a former Independence assistant coach.
The Chronicle questioned the authenticity of those emails in February. The weekly newspaper turned the emails over the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department for investigation.
“Whenever citizens suspect a crime has been undertaken against them, they have the right and responsibility to alert law enforcement to the situation,” said Montgomery County Chronicle publisher Andy Taylor in a statement to the Sun. “That is exactly what the Montgomery County Chronicle did. After a series of threatening emails from a person claiming to an attorney representing Jason Brown were sent to the Chronicle, we turned over the communications to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department for further investigation. Now that the investigation has concluded and the charges have been filed, we believe dishonest practices will be exposed . . . and truth and integrity will prevail.”
The criminal complaint lists the victims of the alleged crimes committed by Brown. Attorney Richard Barnwell of the Cochran Law Firm in California is listed as the victim of all four felony identity theft charges. Montgomery County Chronicle editor Andy Taylor is listed twice as a victim of felony blackmail. Independence Daily Reporter publisher Josh Umholtz as well as Steve McBride of the Reporter are also listed as blackmail victims.
As for the two misdemeanor counts of criminal false communication, former Independence assistant coach Jake Bugg is listed as the victim.
On the four counts of identity theft, Brown could face a minimum of seven months and a maximum of 23 months in prison plus a fine of up to $100,000 if convicted. The four counts of blackmail carry a potential sentence of 11-34 months in prison plus a fine up to $100,000. The two misdemeanor counts carry a penalty of one year in county jail plus a fine up to $2,500.
Kansas Sentencing Guidelines determine if a defendant qualifies for probation or prison, based on his or her criminal record. Generally, the lower level felonies of which Brown is charged would result in a suspended prison term and probation.
Brown has hired Colorado-based attorney Mark L. Bryant to represent him in the case. At Thursday’s first appearance, Brown was represented by Brian Duncan of Wichita.
Bugg, the former assistant at Independence, spoke to the Sun and said he received similar cease-and-desist letters allegedly sent by Brown purporting to be Barnwell.
“Whatever he sent to the newspapers is exactly what I got,” Bugg said. “A cease-and-desist letter to anything that involved him. I just kind of let it go. It didn’t sound real, but what can you do? I knew I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Larry Markle, the county attorney for Montgomery County, is serving as the prosecutor on the case against Brown.