On Sept. 28, Dominique Tyrell White was shot and killed by two police officers in East Topeka. According to the Topeka Police Department, officers were responding to a report of gunshots in Ripley Park when they encountered White. The department says he resisted, fled and reached for a gun in his pocket, prompting officers to shoot. TPD initially reported that White was struck at least once in the chest, but his death certificate says he died from “gunshot wounds in the back.”
The Lawrence Police Department is responsible for conducting an investigation of the shooting, but neither agency generated a Kansas Standard Offense Report (something state law requires within 72 hours of an offense taking place) until last week. Both agencies released their reports on Nov. 9 – a day after The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that they had failed to do so.
TPD and LPD have produced a morass of conflicting information on the incident report. First, TPD’s legal adviser (Luther Ganieany) said the report couldn’t be released “due to concerns for the safety of the officers involved in the incident.” When Ganieany was asked if the report could be released with the officers’ names redacted, he said TPD hadn’t even created one: “It’s LPD’s case so if there is an offense report, they would be the ones generating it.”
Meanwhile, LPD had already refused to release the report because (the department claims) doing so would have interfered with an ongoing investigation. Then LPD said it needed to complete its investigation before determining if an “offense” had even been committed. Then it released the report anyway, citing “confusion as to which agency should complete a KSOR for the incident or if more than one KSOR should be completed.”
Why is there so much “confusion” about this process? Don’t law enforcement agencies have robust procedures in place to investigate officer-involved shootings? Hasn’t LPD investigated TPD before?
Then there’s the body camera footage. According to the White family’s attorney, Gillian Cassell-Stiga, the city agreed to let Dominique’s parents view the footage last week. But city officials abruptly changed their minds, citing a 2016 law that only requires them to reveal the footage to White’s children (aged 3-13) with no other family members present. This is an absurd technicality. Is there anyone who really thinks the city is being transparent by offering to traumatize four children with images of the death of their father?
Cassell-Stiga was right when she accused the city of failing to “adhere to the purpose of the law: allowing the family members of those slain to understand the circumstances of their loved one’s death.” According to city spokeswoman Molly Hadfield, “We are working with the White family to allow viewing under these parameters in compliance with state law.” But nothing in the state law prevents the city from showing White’s parents the footage, and officials shouldn’t pretend like they have no other choice. In fact, the city could also make the footage public – a move that would demonstrate a real commitment to transparency.
From the stubborn reluctance to release the Kansas Standard Offense Report to the contradictory excuses and evasions to the ludicrous policy on the body camera footage, our local law enforcement agencies have done nothing to quell the tension and suspicion surrounding Dominique White’s death. Instead, they’ve made it worse at every turn.
Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.