A Wichita man has been arrested on suspicion of threatening to kidnap and kill Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple over frustrations with the city’s mask ordinance, the mayor and police said Friday afternoon.
Meredith Dowty, 59, was booked into Sedgwick County Jail at 6:05 p.m., Friday, booking reports show. Police confirmed he is the suspect and said he could face a charge of criminal threat.
Whipple said he had been read a series of text messages received by another city official that asked about Whipple’s address and contained a detailed threat against his life.
The apparent motive was the suspect’s opposition to “masks and tyranny,” Whipple said.
“He said he was going to kidnap me and slash my throat and he needed my address because I needed to see the hangman — me and everyone who, something about tyranny,” Whipple said.
“It sounded like the person was very upset about pretty much mask mandates and he said something about not being able to see his mother because of COVID restrictions on elderly homes.”
Wichita police spokesman Charley Davidson confirmed that the department is investigating the threats and that so far, no other local officials are believed to have been targeted.
The suspect is a well-known local musician who performs under the name “Cathead” and has played numerous gigs in the Wichita bar and nightclub scene, said Joe Stumpe, a musician and former Eagle reporter.
He plays guitar and harmonica, Stumpe said.
Dowty is a retired Wichita city firefighter who was honored by the Wichita City Council in 2008 for his role in saving the life of a Wichita police officer who was shot in the line of duty.
He was also one of the first rescuers on the scene at the 1998 explosion of the DeBruce Grain Elevator south of Wichita, which killed seven and injured 10 employees. Dowty was lifted to the top of the damaged elevator and helped remove four people who had suffered serious burns.
In July, Whipple proposed and shepherded a city ordinance that requires protective face coverings to be worn in most public settings in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that has caused the COVID-19 pandemic.
That ordinance is extremely unpopular with a segment of Wichita society who showed up in force Sept. 8. At that council meeting, 120 people spoke for about seven hours in opposition to the mask mandate.
Many of the speakers said their resistance is rooted in their belief that the mask mandate violates their constitutional rights or religious beliefs.
Whipple has been an online target of local anti-mask activists after he pushed for the city to implement a citywide mask requirement as COVID-19 cases surged ahead of the Fourth of July weekend. He said he believes the man’s threat was credible and that he will have an increased security presence around his home to protect him and his family.
“This wasn’t just some guy popping off on social media,” Whipple said. “He contacted someone that knows where I live that apparently he thought would give him my address.”
The threat has similarities to a recently foiled plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who was targeted by at least eight individuals for her support of COVID-19 restrictions. Twenty felon charges have been filed against persons involved in that plot who were affiliated with a right-wing militia group, Wolverine Watchmen.
Those suspects are accused of conspiring to kidnap Whitmer and possibly put her on trial for “treason” in a show-court.