It’s too bad the Kansas City Star chose to cast shade on the Brownback administration instead of shining an unfiltered light on some of the state’s actual transparency issues. The Star’s series on transparency in state government is full of mischaracterizations, but the writers get a few things right. Unfortunately, the bias casts deep shadows and some of the reasonable points about transparency could be lost.
Here’s hoping the Star’s story about police body cameras finds place beyond the shadows.
Police body camera videos aren’t made available to the public, and that is unacceptable. The Kansas City Star writes of a grieving family seeking answers after their loved one was shot and killed by a police officer while sitting in front of his Leavenworth home. The man’s sister, Gina Mays, says she doesn’t know the name of the officer who shot her brother and she hasn’t been allowed to see the video of the shooting.
“Footage is classified as an investigative record and not subject to mandatory disclosure under the Kansas Open Records Act,” the story reads. “While family members may eventually see what was captured on camera, the public may never have that opportunity.”
In another case covered by the Wichita Eagle, a Barber County undersheriff shot Steven Myers with a bean bag round, killing him. According to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Myers didn’t follow the the orders given by deputies on Oct. 7 in Sun City.
His widow, Kristina Myers, contends that Myers complied to inconsistent commands right up until the moment Undersheriff Virgil “Dusty” Brewer shot Myers. The court filing seeking access to the body cam recording says it features Barber County Sheriff Lonnie Small telling his deputy, “A little luck and he’ll just pass out and die.”
Myers’ attorney, Mike Kuckelman, viewed the video, but the Barber County Sheriff’s Office has denied Kristina’s Kansas Open Records Act Request to see it as well. KBI say the video is protected as criminal investigation records.
“Sheriff Small can’t have it both ways: he cannot make his own public statement blaming the deceased for the shooting and then use the criminal investigation exception to hide the truth from the public,” the court motion reads.
It’s a great point, and one the Star would have more credibility making if the reporters kept their politics out of the series on governmental transparency.