INDEPENDENCE — Former Independence Community College football coach Jason Brown, who is facing eight felonies and two misdemeanors in Montgomery County, had his first preliminary hearing on Tuesday afternoon in Independence.
Brown is alleged to have impersonated a lawyer in an attempt to silence local newspapers, among others, via email and Twitter.
The “Last Chance U” star was present in the courtroom on Tuesday, donning a gray suit jacket, blue shirt and tie as well as his Kansas Jayhawk Conference title ring. He was represented by Brian Duncan, while the state was represented by Montgomery County prosecutor Larry Markle.
Duncan made a motion at the start of Tuesday’s proceeding to have the charges dismissed because a chief witness in the case, Richard Barnwell, was not present. The judge on the case, Jeff Gossard, denied the motion. Duncan’s motion was in response to a continuance motioned by Markle, which was granted.
Barnwell, who previously worked for the Cochran Law Firm in California, is the lawyer Brown allegedly impersonated. Markle told the court that the state will make every attempt to subpoena Barnwell and force him to testify.
Two witnesses were able to provide testimony on Tuesday — Montgomery County Detective Chad Dunham and Independence Community College chief information officer Eric Montgomery.
Dunham testified that he was alerted to the case when he was called by the sheriff’s department and asked to visit with Montgomery County Chronicle editor Andy Taylor, who is one of the alleged victims.
Dunham then said that Taylor provided multiple emails purportedly from Barnwell that included cease-and-desist notifications in response to critical coverage in the weekly newspaper. The language in the email was what stood out to Dunham.
“I spend a lot of time around lawyers,” Dunham testified. “That didn’t look like language that would come from a lawyer.”
He also noticed that the email address associated with the emails, firstname.lastname@example.org, did not match the email address listed on the Cochran Law Firm’s profile of Barnwell.
Dunham also testified that he conducted search warrants with Yahoo and Cable One. Those warrants came back and showed that the IP addresses from which the emails were sent belonged to two physical addresses — Jason Brown’s residence and Independence Community College.
Montgomery’s testimony mostly revolved around who had access to various computers at the school and how the school’s access to the internet worked.
Duhnam was later recalled and asked to testify about a phone call he received from Brown on May 31, 2019. As Duhnam began to answer questions about that phone call, Brown’s attorney, Duncan, objected as the call involved hearsay regarding Barnwell.
Markle argued that the call was between Brown and Dunham and that Dunham could speak to what was said in that call, but the judge sustained Duncan’s objection.
Markle then indicated to the judge that the rest of the witnesses scheduled to testify — including Taylor, Independence Reporter publisher Josh Umholtz and cartoonist Steve McBridge as well as former Independence assistant coach Jake Bugg — would have similar issues with their testimony and asked that the hearing be adjourned.
The judge set the next preliminary hearing for 9 a.m. April 24. Markle and the prosecution are expected to file a subpoena for Barnwell, who is no longer listed as an employee of the Cochran Law Firm, and force his testimony. Markle indicated to the judge that the process to do so would take between 45 to 60 days as a hearing in California would have to be held.
The charges were filed two months after Brown resigned his coaching position at Independence in response to a text he had sent to a German football player in the Independence program. In that text, Brown told the player “I am your new Hitler.”