Judge Orders Benton Co. Sheriff’s Office To Turn Over Phone Records

FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) — A Washington County Circuit Judge has ordered the Benton County Sheriff’s Office to turn over phone records from a detective who said he shared inappropriate text messages with a confidential informant.

At a hearing Aug. 7, detective Miguel Cordova told defense attorneys for Cody Wise that he resigned in 2015 after an internal investigation revealed he requested nude photos from a female informant and sent her photos of a man’s penis, according to court records.

The informant is a witness in Wise’s case. He faces a capital murder charge for the 2015 killing of 53-year-old Ronnie Kultgen. Wise, 28, is free on a $250,000 bond.

Cordova at first denied sending the messages but later admitted to them when evidence was presented to him. Capt. Kenny Paul, who handled the internal investigation into Cordova, said he closed his investigation when Cordova resigned.

Paul said Cordova’s phone was examined, but Wise’s defense attorney, Drew Ledbetter, said his team didn’t have those records.

The sheriff’s office declined to release Cordova’s personnel file, citing a provision of the state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which allows law enforcement agencies to withhold an officer’s information when they work undercover.

Cordova was rehired July 2 as an undercover detective. However, the sheriff’s office didn’t report his employment to state Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training (CLEST)  until Aug. 6.

Cordova’s CLEST documents also revealed that the sheriff’s office didn’t submit a personnel separation notice after Cordova resigned until April 2015.

CLEST requires police agencies to submit the employment and personnel separation notices within 10 days of an officer’s separation. Police are also required to contact CLEST about the reasons behind an officer’s separation before they’re hired elsewhere.

Cordova was hired in March by the Bethel Heights Police Department before rejoining the sheriff’s office.

Responding to questions regarding Cordova’s rehiring, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman said Cordova was in good standing with CLEST and passed a background check.

She said external training classes and staff vacations contributed to a “minimal gap” submitting Cordova’s documents to CLEST in 2015.

However, she said some questions weren’t answered because the incident occurred during a past administration.

CLEST can fine the sheriff’s office up to $350 per day for violating for failing to timely submit required appointment or separation documents.

A CLEST attorney said its “regulations regarding administrative penalties are intended as a last resort to correct repeated violations of our rules.”