Mother of Rontarus Washington Jr. calls for police to be held accountable for dismissed murder case

photo by: Screenshot/Lawrence City Commission

Kenisha Clark, mother of Rontarus Washington Jr., speaks during a Lawrence City Commission meeting on Jan. 11, 2022. During her comments, Clark demanded that the city hold the Lawrence Police Department accountable for "inhumane actions" against her son in a recent murder case that was dismissed.

The mother of Rontarus Washington Jr., who recently saw a murder charge against him dropped in Douglas County District Court, called on the City of Lawrence to hold the local police accountable for what she called “inhumane actions.”

Kenisha Clark made the demand during the Lawrence City Commission meeting on Tuesday. She said her son, who faced a murder charge for several years until the case was dismissed last month, was wrongfully accused of the murder and the Lawrence Police Department was to blame.

While awaiting resolution in the case, Washington, now 25, spent more than five years in the Douglas County Jail.

“He was incarcerated for so many years, only (for the case) to be dismissed and discarded like a piece of trash like nothing was done,” Clark told the City Commission.

Along with her demand related to police accountability, she also called for some sort of compensation, saying that her family needs education and housing.

“Give us what we deserve, so we can leave your hateful state,” she told the commissioners.

Clark, who is originally from Mississippi, did not immediately respond to the Journal-World’s request for more information.

photo by: Journal-World

Rontarus Washington Jr., center, walks out of the Douglas County Jail with his mother, Kenisha Clark, at left, and a bondsman on July 1, 2020. In the background is Lawrence activist Caleb Stephens.

Washington was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated burglary in connection with the November 2014 death of Justina Altamirano Mosso, who was his 19-year-old neighbor. Throughout the case, his former attorneys Adam Hall and Angela Keck had suggested Altamirano Mosso’s estranged husband, Felipe Cantu Ruiz, as a possible alternative suspect.

According to an affidavit in the case, Washington told police he had entered Altamirano Mosso’s apartment looking for change to steal, which he said he had done before. During the trial, Washington had admitted to entering Altamirano Mosso’s apartment and seeing her body, but he maintained that he did not kill her.

The jury hung after Washington’s four-week trial in September 2019. He had waived his right to a speedy trial. A number of community protests in support of Washington have occurred over the years. After the largest one, in the summer of 2020, his bond was significantly reduced, and community members raised the funds necessary to free him from jail pending trial.

Then, last month, Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez announced she moved to have the case dismissed. In her statement about the decision, Valdez said her office could re-try Washington, but she felt that continuing with the prosecution could have an adverse effect on witnesses called to testify and the Douglas County community.

“A particular legal maxim holds true here: Justice delayed is justice denied,” she said in the statement.

However, in her statement, Valdez specifically said her decision was not “an indictment” of the actions of the police who investigated the murder. Valdez declined to comment further on Wednesday.

The Lawrence Police Department also declined to comment.

Contact Dylan Lysen

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