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After Whistleblower Letter, Kansas City Police Department Needs a Top-Down Review

JP Law

A former KCPD lawyer says ex-Interim Chief Joe Mabin created a hostile work environment — not to mention the allegations of withheld evidence. Emily Curiel ecuriel@kcstar.com When allegations surfaced that Kansas City Police Department officials routinely withheld evidence in criminal cases and willfully violated Missouri’s open records law, it was hardly the first time the department’s policing came under criticism. Even so, these claims of maleficence from a department insider raise serious and fundamental questions about the Kansas City police, from their approach to justice and fairness to the way they engage with the public.

On Tuesday, the Board of Police Commissioners gave the go-ahead to hiring a law firm to investigate the whistleblower’s allegations against former interim Chief Joseph Mabin and General Counsel Holly Dodge. We welcome the outside investigation into claims made by the police department’s former assistant general counsel Ryan McCarty, whose scathing eight-page open letter and accompanying attachment of emails and other correspondence among police officials should be taken seriously. McCarty emailed his whistleblower letter to several law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal level, including the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice. McCarty alleged that Dodge illegally withheld evidence from defense attorneys in criminal cases. He also claimed that Dodge’s office “consistently, systematically and unlawfully” violated Missouri’s open records law by closing records that should have been freely available to the public. McCarty also accused Mabin of creating a hostile work environment before the ex-interim chief terminated McCarty last week, according to McCarty’s letter.

The police board’s decision to open an investigation into the allegations came the same week that the board named former Acting Deputy Chief Stacey Graves as the department’s first permanent woman chief in nearly 150 years. With Graves now at the helm, McCarty’s desire to have Mabin fired as interim chief is moot. But multiple allegations of retaliation, records violations and corruption are not. “It will take all of us — we the people, working together — to resuscitate the dying police department of Kansas City,” McCarty wrote.

The primary mission of police is justice — and that means providing defense attorneys with exculpatory evidence as it’s found. Police should not get so fixated on a conviction that they hide evidence that could absolve a criminal suspect. That goes against the fundamental principles of justice and a fair trial. The stakes are high, as Mayor Quinton Lucas said recently. Hundreds of criminal cases could be reopened if claims prove to be true that Dodge purposely suppressed evidence in criminal cases, the mayor said. Lucas was among the five police board commissioners who unanimously approved Graves’ hiring and retained counsel to investigate McCarty’s allegations. To his credit, Lucas also wants the Justice Department to look into the claims. We would also support a federal inquiry.

The feds are already investigating the department’s employment practices, which many say are discriminatory against African Americans and other minorities. Graves faces difficult challenges ahead. A 25-year veteran of the department, she is certainly qualified for the top job. While we have misgivings about another internal candidate helming the agency, Graves could — and should — help lead the KCPD through desperately needed reforms. During her introductory news conference Thursday, Graves talked of using a collaborative, community-focused leadership approach to reduce violent crime and restore the public’s trust in the department. She spoke of increased transparency and accountability while providing equitable and fair service to all. Sounds great, right? Better get to work, Chief Graves. Your much-maligned police force needs a top-down audit of its current policies, procedures and modus operandi.

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