08 May 2020


In a recently filed federal civil rights lawsuit, relatives of a Kansas woman who died in jail are blaming the Barber County Sheriff’s Department for her death.

Attorneys representing the estate of 29-year-old Olivia Rennaker accuse Barber County Sheriff Lonnie Small and Undersheriff “Dusty” Brewer of violating Ms. Rennaker’s civil rights and negligently causing her death. Process servers are expected to present Sheriff Small, Undersheriff Brewer and others involved with official notice of the federal lawsuit today.

On April 4, 2018 Ms. Rennaker was taken into custody for a minor drug offense. Five days later, she died by suicide in her jail cell, while being monitored and recorded on video and audio. Her body wasn’t discovered for more than an hour.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, describes a poorly run sheriff’s office operating an unaccredited jail without established written policies or procedures, untrained employees working without oversight, failure to provide required mental health screening for inmates, limited monitoring, and a general lack of competence in operating the jail.

The lawsuit faults the department, led by Sheriff Small and Undersheriff Brewer, for a list of failures, including:

-failure to screen Ms. Rennaker for suicide risk
-failure to adequately monitor her while in custody
-failure to rapidly provide emergency treatment to Ms. Rennaker.

Attorneys Michael Kuckelman and Michael Crabb from Overland Park, KS firm Kuckelman Torline Kirkland represent Ms. Rennaker’s estate.

“It is common knowledge that citizens detained in jails are at a much higher risk for suicide,” Mr. Kuckelman explained. “But Sheriff Small and Undersheriff Brewer are incompetent in jail operations. How many more people need to die in Barber County before taxpayers and voters will have had enough? They ignored Olivia Rennaker when she was in distress.”

This is the second federal civil rights wrongful death lawsuit filed against Small and Brewer. The first came after Undersheriff Brewer’s shooting death of Steven Myers with a homemade beanbag round in 2017. Undersheriff Brewer is currently on bond, awaiting his criminal trial in Kansas City, Kansas for Mr. Myers’ death.

Mr. Kuckelman filed both the lawsuits and says he warned Barber County officials that, unless changes were made, other people were at risk of injury or death. “The Barber County Sheriff’s Office is poorly operated, and until Sheriff Small resigns or is removed from office, Barber County is at risk of lawsuits that will cause significant financial harm to the County and will eventually force the County to remove Sheriff Small. Sheriff Small is not competent to serve as a sheriff.”

Media contact:  Lisa Hoffman

FS Complaint – Rennaker v. Brewer

FS Amended Complaint – Rennaker v. Barber County

Click here for New York Times – Associated Press coverage of the lawsuit

Click here for Wichita Eagle news coverage