Summary of Journal-World investigation into police conduct
• All law enforcement entities in the county — Lawrence, Eudora and Baldwin City police, as well as the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and KU Public Safety — were asked for the investigative files of complaints against officers since 2008.
• The full reports of cases were denied, but summaries of complaints were provided.
• A search of federal civil cases show that the Lawrence Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office have been defendants in several lawsuits alleging violations of civil rights over the years, but all of those cases were dismissed by judges.
• Only two officers in the departments examined have ever been decertified by the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training — which is the state agency that certifies police officers. The two cases involved Lawrence Police officers involved in high-profile criminal cases — former officer Robert Sayler, who was convicted on 14 counts of federal wire fraud in 2009, and former officer Richard Jump, convicted of rape in 1999.
The Journal-World recently filed open records requests with several local law enforcement agencies asking for documents detailing citizen complaints against officers.
For the past two years, a similar request to the Lawrence Police Department has been denied, though case summaries were provided.
Here’s how the other local agencies responded to our request:
• Douglas County Sheriff’s Office: Denied request, but provided — at no cost — brief case summaries of the 19 complaints it has received since 2008. Only three of the complaints have been “sustained.”
• Kansas University Department of Public Safety: Denied request, but provided — at a cost of $132.14 — brief case summaries of the three complaints it has received since 2008. Two of those were not sustained, while a third was referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office because of alleged misconduct during a federal case. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said he had no information about the complaint, and KU did not respond to questions about further details.
• Eudora Police Department: Provided summaries of nine complaints since 2008, at no cost, but did not provide the full investigative files. Two of the nine complaints were "founded."
• Baldwin City Police Department: Had received one complaint, and provided — at no cost — a document detailing the allegation and disciplinary action taken against the officer.
The agencies denied the Journal-World’s full request on grounds that such records fall under an exemption in Kansas Open Records law for “personnel” records. However, the exemption is listed under the statute’s discretionary section. That is, it’s up to each agency to determine whether to release the information.
Peter Curran, the attorney who handled the records request for the sheriff’s office, said releasing the entire investigatory files on the cases “would substantially adversely affect investigations.”
Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib made similar statements about his department’s decision not to release the full investigative reports.
“I think the focus within the organization would turn to ‘not getting caught,’ or ‘don’t make any mistakes,’ rather than recognition that mistakes will happen, be honest and upfront with what one did, and the situation will be handled appropriately,” Khatib said.
Whether such records, which are sometimes referred to as internal affairs documents, should be public has been contested in several states across the country.
For instance, in New Mexico, the legal battle filtered up to the state’s Supreme Court. In a 2011 case, the New Mexico State Supreme Court ruled that the records are public, ordering the New Mexico Department of Public Safety to release such records.
Citizens can make formal complaints against law enforcement officers or departments in a variety of ways, such as in person or on the department’s website.
—Reporter Shaun Hittle can be reached at 832-7173. Follow him at Twitter.com/shaunhittle.