Families of two men killed this year believe justice failing in Shawnee County

Homicide ruled justifiable in one case, charges declined in another

The families of two men killed this year in separate incidents believe justice isn’t being served in Shawnee County.

 

Brian Wahweotten, 45, a man remembered for his love of animals and in particular dogs, motorcycles and his family, died after being shot multiple times on Jan. 17.

Reginald Moten, 39, died on May 9 following a fight. His family remembers him as a man who loved dogs and cars and faced several adversities during his lifetime.

Though the assailant in both cases is known, charges are unlikely. Wahweotten’s death is considered justified and charges were declined in Moten’s death, Topeka police Lt. Colleen Stuart said.

Wahweotten case

According to Topeka police, Brian and his son Logan Wahweotten threatened Matthew Adams with a handgun in an attempted aggravated robbery in the city’s Eastgate neighborhood. Gunfire was exchanged. Brian Wahweotten was shot multiple times and died. Adams also was struck. His injuries weren’t life-threatening.

Angela Wahweotten, Brian’s sister, disputes the narrative. According to her, Brian and Adams were friends and at one point, Brian bonded Adams out of jail. The day of the shooting, they exchanged words about the debt. Adams shot Brian and Logan returned fire. Angela contends that Brian was unarmed.

The Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office charged Logan with attempted aggravated robbery and aggravated battery. A jury trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 26.

“I’m having a hard time understanding why (Adams) never got charged,” Angela said.

She said the loss of her brother, a graduate of Topeka High School and father of five, has been devastating.

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Moten case

When Topeka police responded to a disturbance in southeast Topeka, they found Reginald Moten suffering from a head trauma. He was transported to a local hospital where authorities said he died from his injuries.

Michael S. Murphy was arrested in connection with second-degree murder and a weapons violation. A week later, Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay said that based on the results of the investigation, a single charge of felon in possession of a firearm would be filed.

It was a “slap in the face,” Gayland Moten, Reginald’s uncle, said of finding out the murder charge wasn’t going to be filed on the same day as his nephew’s funeral.

According to an affidavit, the coroner preliminarily determined that Reginald Moten died as a result of severe and long-term medical conditions including heart failure.

It wasn’t a medical condition, Gayland Moten said, Reggie’s head was caved in. Temeka Moten, Reginald’s cousin, said he wore a hat in his casket because of the blows he took to his head.

“We just feel like they’re trying to say it’s health, but there’s more to it,” Temeka Moten said. “He didn’t fight himself. We only get one side of the story.”

According to the affidavit, Moten and Murphy were involved in an altercation and Murphy believed Moten was going to set him on fire. Murphy stated, “‘I was trying to punch him as hard as I could.’”

Both Gayland and Temeka Moten want to see at least a manslaughter charge brought.

“I think it should have been investigated a lot more than it was,” Gayland Moten said. “It still doesn’t sit right with me. That’s something I wake up with every morning.”

Temeka Moten said Reginald, a Topeka West High School graduate, had his own demons. After his father died, he spiraled, battling addiction.

“But all in all, he was a good guy,” she said. “He still deserves justice.”

“If you want to get away with murder, move to Topeka, Kansas,” Gayland Moten added.

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Charging process

Kagay, Shawnee County’s DA, said his office reviews the entire case file when reviewing potential charges. That typically contains dispatch recordings, police narratives and affidavits, search warrants, crime scene photographs and videos, recorded interviews, medical records and the coroner’s report when applicable. Prosecutors also meet with witnesses, victims or victims’ families and law enforcement officers.

Angela Wahweotten said no one in her family was contacted by Kagay’s office.

Gayland Moten said he found out about the charging decision from news reports.

The DA’s office may also review recent court decisions and trends in the appellate courts when determining criminal charges. Kagay said he can’t comment on specific cases where litigation is still in progress.

Homicides are evaluated in terms of intent, malice, recklessness and negligence, said David Carter, a professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University and member of the Crime and Justice Research Alliance.

Victims’ families are always going to feel that loss and may struggle with finding closure, Carter said. But circumstances have to be looked at impartially. It’s a common, human emotion not to want to see how a victim contributes to their own victimization, he said, and a death doesn’t mean there’s always a crime. Families also have the option of pursuing a civil lawsuit. That’s an uphill but not impossible battle, Carter said.

Justifiable

homicides

While the Kansas Bureau of Investigation collects crime information including justifiable homicides, it is incomplete.

“It is not regularly reported to us by the local law enforcement agencies,” KBI spokeswoman Melissa Underwood said in an email.

Only 23 self-defense homicide cases and 51 involuntary manslaughter cases have been reported to the KBI since 2011.

Many agencies like the Topeka Police Department send only summary information which provides a count of serious offenses like murder, rape and burglary. Other agencies submit incident based reports to the KBI which includes specific information such as the location of a crime and suspect and victim information, Underwood said.

According to a database maintained by The Capital-Journal, there were 15 deaths — amounting to 13 percent of all homicides — that were ruled justified or where charges were declined since 2011 in Shawnee County. Seven of those incidents were fatal shootings by police officers.

Underwood said the KBI is revamping its reporting system to more fully capture data. Many states also face similar data collection challenges. Information compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on justifiable homicides is also incomplete.

Carter said there’s not a reason to maintain data on justifiable homicides in terms of policy making, but that it would be interesting to have on a national level for research purposes.

Contact reporter Katie Moore at (785) 295-5612 or @katertott on Twitter.

Heroes
 

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