WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The Wichita Police Department has taken more action against some of the officers involved in a texting and electronic messaging scandal. The messages allegedly included discriminatory images and made light of the use of force.
On Thursday morning, Interim Police Chief Lem Moore detailed his personal review of the incidents that happened before he took over the department. And after Moore listed each officers’ discipline, City Manager Robert Layton announced he was increasing the discipline for three of those officers.
The text messaging and electronic image sharing took place between December 2015 and February 2021. The majority of messaging occurred between May 2018 and February 2021. It was discovered during an investigation involving a now former Sedgwick County Sheriff sergeant who was formerly a member of the WPD Special Weapons and Tactics unit. The WPD investigation of the text messages and images commenced in June 2021.
In April, a committee that investigated how the WPD handled the officers’ misconduct said the original discipline “was not appropriate given the seriousness of the offenses” and the impact on the community, the WPD and the City of Wichita.
During a news conference Thursday morning, Moore went through each case. He did not release the officers’ names, only referring to them by the first 13 letters of the alphabet. Also, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office sergeant referred to in these cases is no longer with the sheriff’s office.
Case 1: “Ultimate de-escalators” and Officers A, B, and C
Moore said Officers A, B, and C got a message from a Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office sergeant on Feb. 13, 2021. The sergeant said he was proud of the three because they permanently de-escalated people who needed permanent de-escalation.
Officers A, B, and C responded favorably to the comment and sent messages back.
They originally were not disciplined. However, Moore said, “Bragging about taking a person’s life, whether justified or not, does not coincide with WPD’s mission or training.”
Officer B quite the WPD during the investigation. Moore found that Officers A and C failed to use good judgment. They will receive a written reprimand and must attend approved sensitivity training within 45 days.
Case 2: Homophobic epithet and Officers E, F, G, AND H
On Christmas Day of 2019, the sheriff’s sergeant sent Officer E a message in which the sergeant used a homophobic slur. Officer E did not respond.
Officer E was not disciplined. However, Moore said the officer will get coached on reporting violations to a supervisor.
Moore said the other officers in the conversation mentioned their dislike of former Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay. While he was still chief, Ramsay said that the negative comments about himself were not a discipline matter. Moore agreed and is not disciplining Officers F, G and H.
Case 3: Racially inflammatory, insensitive words and Officer J
A sheriff’s sergeant and Officer J exchanged or responded to a number of messages that included comments deemed racially inflammatory. The messages also had some homophobic and other insensitive words. Officer J also supported the “three percenters.”
Officer J originally was not disciplined. But Moore said the officer “participated in a conversation which glorified violence against people of Hispanic descent.”
Moore said that during the investigative interview, Officer J demonstrated that at the time of the texts, it was the officer’s understanding that being a “three percenter” meant being loyal to America. After learning about Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the officer stopped claiming to be a “three percenter.”
Moore said Officer J will be issued a sustained violation of conduct unbecoming of an officer and will receive eight days off without pay.
After Moore spoke, City Manager Layton said he is taking stronger action against Officer J for the support of the three percenters.
“The group is an extremist anti-government militia organization whose members have also expressed malicious racial and ethnic sentiments towards Muslims and immigrants,” Layton said. “Officer J has since expressed a fundamental ignorance of the movement’s extremism and some of its members’ propensity towards violence and has expressed remorse. However, I cannot, cannot condone Wichita police officers espousing such views.”
Layton said he will require Officer J to be on desk duty until the officer completes a fitness-for-duty evaluation performed by a licensed clinical psychologist. His future with the WPD will be determined after the evaluation.
Case 4: “Save some targets for me” and Officer K
In January of 2019, Officer K sent a message to a sheriff’s office sergeant saying, “How about saving some bad guys for us … you keep putting holes in all the good targets.”
Officer K ended his employment with the WPD. The original investigation found no wrongdoing on his part.
But Moore said Officer K glorified shooting people in the community. He said that if Officer K was still employed, he would have been found to have violated conduct unbecoming of an officer and would have been given eight days off without pay.
Case 5: Jamaican goony hook and Officer L
In December of 2015, a Sedgwick County sergeant sent Officer L a YouTube video.
The video was no longer available at the time of the 2021 investigation, but the investigators were able to look at the comments that followed the video, including one that referred to a Jamaican goony hook.
Moore said Officer L and the sergeant boxed at the same gym and used the nickname “goony hooks” for a specific punch.
Moore agreed with the original finding that there were no violations of policy. The officer was not disciplined and will not be disciplined.
Case 6: Snitches and Officer D
In June of 2020, Officer D and a sheriff’s office sergeant exchanged multiple texts insulting former Chief Ramsay. Officer D quit the WPD.
Case 7: Inappropriate image and Officers I and M
On May 30, 2020, Officer I sent a sheriff’s office sergeant a meme of a naked Black man sitting on the neck of George Floyd. Floyd died while at the hands of Minnesota officers on May 25.
During the initial investigation, was found to have “failed to use good judgment.” He was given a written reprimand.
Moore said that while the intent of the meme was not meant to be discriminatory, “it was created and distributed in extremely bad taste which brought the Wichita Police Department into a bad light and diminished public trust.”
Moore said the officer’s action goes beyond failing to use good judgment. He says the officer demonstrated conduct unbecoming of an officer.
Officer I’s discipline is eight days without pay.
After Moore spoke, City Manager Layton said he is taking stronger action against Officer I. He said the officer distributed the image widely in disregard for its racist content.
Layton said he will require Officer I to be suspended without pay for the maximum allowed time which is 15 days. After that, Officer I will be on desk duty and prohibited from serving in any special assignments until the officer has completed a cultural assessment, training and coaching program. The teacher of the program will be a professional selected in partnership with the NAACP and the Wichita Ministerial League.
Case 8: Inappropriate image and Officer M
Moore said the initial police investigation did not know that Officer I got the image from Officer M.
That is why the initial police investigation was 12 officers, but the later investigation involved 13 officers.
Moore says Officer M displayed conduct unbecoming of an officer and disciplined him to eight days without pay.
However, Layton took stronger action against Officer M.
“Because of the offensive nature of the meme’s message and the officer’s lack of concern about the injustice that occurred, I am modifying his discipline,” Layton said.
He is requiring Officer M to also be suspended without pay for 15 days. The officer will be prohibited from serving in any special assignments until the officer has completed a cultural assessment, training and coaching program. The program will be conducted by a community psychologist and leadership coach who is being selected in partnership with the local NAACP and the Wichita ministerial League.
City Manager Layton
In addition to adding the extra discipline for Officers J, I and M, Layton promised he is taking these issues very seriously.
“I’m taking these additional steps to send a strong and clear message that those with these types of beliefs are not welcome in our police department or in any position with the City of Wichita,” he said.
The City of Wichita is seeking an outside professional firm to evaluate the WPD. Layton said they should have a firm selected in the next few weeks and he is eager for the evaluation to begin.
“I am hopeful that this evaluation will let us know whether we have a systemic problem in the department that goes beyond those that we are aware of and highlighted here today. If so, I can assure you that steps will be taken to fix it. I will do whatever is necessary to ensure that our citizens have a department they can trust and be proud of.”
Other actions taken
In March, Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter told KSN that the three deputies involved were let go. On April 22, a Wichita firefighter was also put on administrative leave for his possible role in the scandal.
In May, Former Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said he disagreed with how the City of Wichita handled the controversy, but his concern was not just over that case. Ramsay sent a letter to the mayor and Wichita City Council members saying that they should look into what is going on at the top levels of City Hall.