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Judge orders release of Kansas Senate leader after arrest

March 16, 2021 GMT
This photo provided by the Shawnee County Jail in Topeka, Kan., shows Kansas Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, after being booked for an arrest, Tuesday, March 16, 2021, in Topeka, Kan. Suellentrop was arrested early Tuesday morning on suspicion of driving under the influence and attempting to flee a law enforcement officer. (Shawnee County Jail via AP).
This photo provided by the Shawnee County Jail in Topeka, Kan., shows Kansas Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, after being booked for an arrest, Tuesday, March 16, 2021, in Topeka, Kan. Suellentrop was arrested early Tuesday morning on suspicion of driving under the influence and attempting to flee a law enforcement officer. (Shawnee County Jail via AP).

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A judge on Tuesday ordered the release of a Kansas Senate leader from jail in Topeka, finding there was not enough evidence to support his arrest hours earlier on suspicion of driving under the influence and attempting to flee from a law enforcement officer.

Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop was booked into the Shawnee County jail just before 4 a.m., following his arrest by the Capitol Police, a division of the Kansas Highway Patrol. Online booking records show that the Wichita Republican also was arrested on suspicion of speeding and crossing a divided highway.

The Kansas Highway Patrol said Suellentrop’s vehicle was traveling the wrong way in the westbound lanes of Interstate 70 before it was stopped near downtown Topeka.

But Shawnee County District Judge Penny Moylan said during a 40-second first court appearance for Suellentrop that a police report did not contain “pertinent information,” but she was not more specific. Suellentrop appeared by video conference from jail, and it was not clear whether he had hired an attorney.

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“At this time, I do not find probable cause to support your arrest,” Moylan told Suellentrop.

Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, and Vice President Rick Wilborn, a McPherson Republican, issued a joint statement Tuesday evening calling the incident “serious and very unfortunate.” The statement came as senators debated budget legislation.

“We will continue to pray for Gene and his family as we gather more information,” they said. “The Senate continues to do our work on behalf of the people of Kansas.”

Suellentrop did not respond to cellphone and email messages seeking comment. Messages left for the judge and the local district attorney also weren’t immediately returned.

Suellentrop, a 69-year-old business owner, has served in the Legislature since 2009. After eight years in the House, he won a Senate seat in 2016 and was reelected in 2020. Fellow GOP senators elected them as the chamber’s majority leader in December.

The Capitol Police said Suellentrop’s arrest occurred on Interstate 70 near an exit near downtown.

Highway Patrol Lt. Candice Breshears said in an email to The Associated Press that Suellentrop’s SUV was traveling eastbound in I-70′s westbound lanes when a Capitol Police officer intially tried but failed to stop it.

“A short pursuit followed,” Breshears said but added that later that the SUV “came to a stop.”

Suellentrop’s vehicle traveled on I-70 for at least eight minutes before law enforcement was aware of it, The Wichita Eagle reported, citing police radio traffic. The Eagle reported that Suellentrop’s vehicle stopped moving just before 1 a.m. Tuesday.

Authorities blocked the westbound lanes of I-70 to block the vehicle, and part of the highway was shut down while law enforcement removed the SUV, KSNT-TV reported.

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Editors: This story has been corrected to show that Suellentrop’s age is 69, not 68.

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Associated Press writer Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas, also contributed to this story.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna