WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — There is currently an investigation regarding the conduct of some Wichita Police Department (WPD) officers.
This comes after Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple and WPD Interim Police Chief Lem Moore confirmed with KSN that some of them participated in inappropriate and racist text messages.
“Disappointing, to say the least, but definitely appalled that this was what was going on,” said council member Brandon Johnson.
Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter says there were eight Wichita police officers and three of his sheriff’s deputies that took part in the texting and group texts.
“This type of stuff was not tolerated in 1989 when I came on. It’s still not tolerated,” said Easter.
Easter says all three sheriff’s office employees involved are no longer employed at his office.
“Immediately suspended. One individual was already suspended because of a case he was arrested on,” said Easter. “The other two were immediately suspended, and then we went into the process of starting the investigation.”
Easter said it was his opinion the messaging in the texts rose to the serious level of termination. He says all three either quit or retired after the start of the investigation.
Mayor Whipple confirmed that the city council instructed the City Manager Robert Laytonvto expedite the disciplinary process for the officers allegedly involved. Whipple said they’re also instructing Layton to develop a plan to bring in an outside resource to help the city determine if there are “organizational culture issues with WPD.”
Layton on Tuesday said they need to take a top-down look at culture in the Wichita Police Department.
“From my perspective, that’s a serious concern, especially since I think we had done a pretty good job over the past five, six, seven years in building up trust in what we do in public safety,” said Layton. “This is a serious step backward, and one that we are going to address.”
KSN found out 11 WPD officers, some former, were involved in this text-messaging group, along with three former Sedgwick County deputies. The text messages allegedly contained racist comments and sexually explicit memes surrounding the death of George Floyd. Chief Moore told KSN the FBI did not find any criminal or civil rights violations from WPD officers. However, he said one officer admitted to sending one inappropriate meme about George Floyd.
“It would be hard to discipline me for receiving something, and I don’t respond back, or I can’t help what someone sends me, so those are things that people have to take into consideration of do you deplete an entire team of individuals because one person made a choice to send something that was inappropriate,” said Moore.
Moore said it’s ultimately up to Layton to determine any disciplinary action to the eight remaining WPD officers still employed by the city. KSN reached out to Layton for more comments.
Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter released a video statement on YouTube early Tuesday night saying he found out about these text messages in May 2021, and on the very same day, he suspended all three deputies involved. Easter said one of them was already suspended for a domestic violence charge and later quit. The other two deputies retired before the investigation concluded, but Easter said both of them were found guilty of violating policy and would’ve been fired.
KSN also reached out to former Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay about the allegations, who said, “I notified Manager Layton about the texting incident shortly after we discovered it. I don’t know what to say beyond that.”
Jay Fowler, with the Wichita Citizen’s Review Board, said they brought the issue to light with the Wichita City Manager’s Office as early as late February.
While the Citizen’s Review Board does not offer regulations on hiring and firing, they are tasked with looking into things like questionable behavior.
“We came out of the meeting and announced the issue was a concern to us,” said Jay Fowler. “It was disturbing. It was woefully inappropriate. It demonstrated certainly, I think, insensitivity of a cultural perspective that, well, we shouldn’t have.”
Fowler said the board will have a meeting Thursday to finish looking at the controversial text messaging.
Meanwhile, Layton says the next steps will include looking at the Wichita Police Department and the culture that exists. He says they will seek outside help in looking into practices and policies in the department.
Layton says he has confidence in the department but says there have been some disciplinary steps, and more could be on the way.