Slain black man was shot in back by Topeka police, death certificate says; police won’t release body camera footage
TOPEKA — The death certificate for a black man killed by police in Kansas’ capital city in September says he died from gunshot wounds to his back.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that it obtained a copy of Dominique White’s death certificate Saturday. The document isn’t a public record.
Topeka police said initially that White was shot after a struggle and that at least one shot struck his chest.
The death certificate lists “gunshot wounds of back” as the immediate cause of death for White, who was 30 and just months out of prison after being prosecuted for burglary and illegal gun possession.
Kelly White, his father, said he believes his son was running away from Topeka police when he was killed.
Dominque White’s mother, Theresa Wynne, said his death and unanswered questions have been “all-consuming” for her. Police haven’t disclosed the race of the officers or their names. The family also wants to know what led to the shooting.
Topeka police said in a statement released after the shooting that White was shot after officers responded to a disturbance involving gunshots in a park and encountered a suspicious person with a handgun. As officers attempted to secure the firearm, White attempted to flee and reached for the pocket containing the weapon. That’s when officers fired, the statement said.
The police department in Lawrence is investigating the shooting. Both departments declined Monday to release body camera footage from the officers involved in the shooting and other officers at the scene.
In rejecting a request from The Associated Press, each department cited provisions of the Kansas Open Records Act that allow law enforcement agencies to keep criminal investigation records closed. The Topeka department’s legal adviser specifically noted provisions saying such records can remain closed if disclosing them would interfere with a criminal investigation or prosecution, or if it would endanger someone’s life or safety.
Bill Cochran, who was named Topeka’s interim police chief Friday, said he understood why White’s family wants answers as soon as possible.
“I empathize with them on the timeline, but one thing I can tell you is that the investigation is being conducted very professionally — it’s going to be thorough. It’s going to be very complete,” he said.
Topeka police spokeswoman Colleen Stuart declined to discuss the death certificate further in an email Monday, referring questions to Lawrence police.
Lawrence police Sgt. Amy Rhoads described the investigation as “ongoing” in an email Monday.
Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay told the AP on Monday that his office will review the investigative report once it is completed and decide whether to charge any of the officers.
The family has hired attorneys to help them obtain information.
“We’re waiting on the evidence so we can weigh out our options,” Kelly White said.
A group demanding to know more about what happened has been camping since Thursday in front of law enforcement headquarters in Topeka. The group calls the encampment “Camp Justice.”