DA won’t file charges against Topeka police officers in fatal shooting of black man; video released
TOPEKA — The Shawnee County district attorney announced Wednesday that he does not plan to file criminal charges against two Topeka police officers in the fatal shooting of a black man earlier this year, saying the man struggled with the officers and reached for a gun he had attempted to hide.
District Attorney Mike Kagay released a seven-page legal analysis that was in line with the initial account Topeka police gave of the Sept. 28 shooting of 30-year-old Dominique White near a park. Kagay’s report described White, who had spent seven months in prison on a felony gun charge, as acting suspiciously after the officers responded to a call about shots being fired.
The district attorney’s analysis said police found a firearm loaded with eight rounds of ammunition on White, along with two loaded magazines and a knife. The report described White as “uncooperative and combative throughout the incident.”
“It was Mr. White’s actions that escalated these events,” Kagay said in his report, adding later that “no reasonable judge or jury would find the actions of either officer involved in this matter to be unlawful.”
The city has faced criticism over the handling of the shooting, which was investigated by Lawrence police. Topeka officials have not released the names of the officers involved, and police body camera footage wasn’t made public until Kagay showed it to news reporters Wednesday.
In the footage, which some media including The Topeka Capital-Journal posted online, the officers try to search White. He struggles briefly with the officers when one of them grabs his hands and wrists. They repeatedly urge him to stop, and he breaks away to flee from them. Moments later, multiple shots are fired at him.
White’s death certificate shows he died from gunshot wounds to his back. Kagay’s report confirms he was shot in the back.
White’s family members said in a statement that they are “incredibly disappointed” by the district attorney’s decision.
“My son was shot in the back while attempting to run away from officers,” White’s mother, Mary Theresa Wynne, said in the statement. “The video shows that they did not need to shoot and kill him.”
The family’s attorney is Gillian Cassell-Stiga of Beldock Levine & Hoffman, the same law firm that represented the family of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who was stopped by police on Staten Island in 2014 for selling untaxed cigarettes and died after a white officer placed him in a chokehold. While no one was prosecuted over Garner’s death, the city paid $6 million to settle a civil court lawsuit.
Topeka city spokeswoman Molly Hadfield said the police department will complete its own follow-up internal investigation before deciding whether to release the officers’ names.
Kagay’s report noted that the area on Topeka’s east side where White was shot has had nearly weekly reports of gunshots, 32 reported robberies and two homicides in the past five years. The report described the two officers as police veterans familiar with the area.
White had been out of prison less than five months. He was ordered to serve probation after pleading guilty to a burglary charge in 2015, went to prison in October 2016 after pleading no contest to illegally possessing a firearm, and was not supposed to have a gun.
According to Kagay’s report, White tried to walk away from officers when they arrived at the scene and ignored multiple requests to stop before they caught up with him. The report said his blood later tested positive for the presence of marijuana and methamphetamine.
White had gloves in his possession that tested positive for gunshot residue, the report said. That and other evidence suggested White fired the shots that brought officers to the area, according to the report.
“There is also little doubt that Mr. White was attempting to avoid being detained or searched by the officers,” Kagay said in the report. He added that the officers remained “calm and professional.”
White’s stepmother, Molly White, said the situation still shouldn’t have ended with his death.
“Had Topeka police exercised restraint, Dominique would be alive with us today,” she said in a statement.