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Kcpd Officer Who Killed Malcolm Johnson Was Named in Earlier Police Brutality Case

Katie Moore, Glenn E. Rice

The Kansas City police officer who killed a Black man inside a gas station in a controversial shooting two years ago had previously been accused of injuring a disabled man during a traffic stop in 2015, according to internal police documents. Officer Jeremy Gragg shot Malcolm Johnson on the East Side in 2021. The killing, captured on multiple videos, sparked community outrage and was criticized by policing experts. Gragg’s name was not voluntarily released by the police department. It appeared on a report produced by the department’s high command during a review process years later. The Star obtained the report this week through a public records request. Last year, Gragg was named in a legal settlement after a man sued the police department alleging the officer forced him to exit his vehicle at gunpoint and denied him access to his walker. The man fell, leaving him reliant on a wheelchair or scooter to get around. The man received a $250,000 settlement.

Gragg started with the Kansas City Police Department in August 2012 and is assigned to the investigations bureau, said Capt. Corey Carlisle, a spokesman for the department. Several Kansas City police officers have been identified as being involved in multiple shootings or use of force cases. In another case reviewed by police leaders in the same period as Gragg’s incident, a police officer who fired shots at a driver was also involved in a car chase that resulted in a settlement of more than $1 million.

Earlier this month, after Officer Blayne Newton killed two people and injured a third in a shooting, The Star learned Newton’s identity as the shooting officer and reported that he had previously killed an unarmed man in 2020 and was accused of excessive force in two other cases. It is not known how many Kansas City police officers on the job today have shot and killed more than one person. But a 2015 Star investigation of police shootings showed that seven officers had been involved in two shootings each over the previous decade.

“There is nothing more corrosive internally than protecting bad officers,” said Brent Turvey, a policing expert with the Forensic Criminology Institute based in Alaska, who reviewed videos of Johnson’s killing. Johnson’s shooting was one of 10 incidents recently reviewed by the police department’s Notable Event Review Panel, or NERP. Serious use-of-force incidents are analyzed by the NERP, a group composed of high-ranking police officials including Police Chief Stacey Graves. The panel can issue training or policy recommendations. It is separate from internal reviews and criminal investigations. But no recommendations were made in the review of Johnson’s shooting or the other nine cases in that period, which some community members found problematic.

Reviews of incidents dating back to 2014 have resulted in zero policy changes and seven training recommendations. “They are unwilling to assess their performance and practices objectively and critically,” said Gwen Grant, president/CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City. “Consequently, they will remain trapped in a cycle of low performance and mediocrity.” Since 2021, Kansas City police officers have fatally shot nine people. Criticism of the Malcolm Johnson shooting On March 25, 2021, two police officers approached Johnson in a convenience store at 63rd Street and Prospect Avenue. A video recorded by a store employee captured the confrontation and the struggle that followed. According to prosecutors, Johnson fired a gun at one of the officers, who shot back twice, striking Johnson in the head. Community leaders were critical of the police department’s version of how the shooting unfolded. They came forward with multiple videos from the scene and pointed to discrepancies between the department’s initial account and the videos obtained days after the killing.

Faith leaders with Getting to the Heart of the Matter, including, from left, Revs. Ron Lindsay, Darron Edwards and Emanuel Cleaver III, leave the Missouri State Highway Patrol station in Lee’s Summit June 2, 2021, after presenting them with a video of the fatal police shooting of Malcolm Johnson. The pastors have called the shooting “an execution.”

The Kansas City Star Authorities never publicly identified the officer. The case was investigated by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Citing a conflict of interest, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker asked the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office to review the highway patrol’s investigation and decide whether criminal charges would be filed. On March 13, prosecutors said criminal charges were not warranted. Kansas City Chiefs A week later, the NERP panel convened to review Johnson’s shooting. Six officers including four deputy chiefs participated. Graves was not in attendance, according to the panel’s report. The group made no policy or training recommendations. Several community and faith leaders said the lack of any recommendations points to the police department’s lack of transparency and accountability. Grant said healthy organizations critically assess what they are doing well and where they need to make improvements. “It is unfathomable to me that this police department, with an abysmal violent crime solve rate, numerous officer indictments for excessive or deadly force, and poor community relations, can’t find anything they need to do better,” she said.

Five police officers have been charged with violent crimes against Black people. In one case, a former detective was convicted and sentenced to prison for manslaughter. Three officers pleaded guilty and one case was dismissed. Darron Edwards, lead pastor of United Believers Community Church, said the NERP panels could be used to make culture changes needed within the police department. “To say there’s no need for training recommendations is ludicrous,” Edwards said. “Is the goal to hide under the legal phrase ‘legally justified’ or to attempt to bridge the widening gap of community relationships by offering, at least, ways to do things better.”

Disabled man hurt in traffic stop In October 2015, Gragg pulled over Mark Wynn, a man with a preexisting spinal cord injury and back surgeries that made walking difficult. Wynn alleged in a lawsuit that he was forced to exit his vehicle at gunpoint. Gragg commanded him to show his hands and exit the vehicle, all directives Wynn followed. He exited his vehicle himself, while telling Gragg he was unable to walk. But Wynn complied, slowly walking backward while using the car to maintain his balance. When Wynn was patted down, no firearm was found. His arms were handcuffed behind his back as he advised Gragg multiple times that he could not stand without a walker. During the arrest, Wynn fell to the ground while handcuffed and stayed there between 30 and 45 minutes before being picked up by police officers and put in a patrol car — a claim a federal judge later found was affirmed by KCPD dashcam video.

Another KCPD officer named in two incidents Another officer, David Rhodenbaugh, was the subject of a NERP review after he fired shots at a suspect who began driving towards a patrol vehicle on Nov. 15, 2021. Rhodenbaugh fired and the driver fled the wrong way down an Interstate 435 exit. The suspect was not caught or identified. The previous year, Rhodenbaugh chased a Chevy Impala as it sped south on Cleveland Avenue, which is a one-way street that runs northbound. His emergency lights and sirens were activated. As the police car approached an intersection, it slammed into the driver’s side of a Honda Accord. Three people were injured including a child. The department paid out more than $1 million to settle three legal claims following the collision. Rhodenbaugh has been with the department since February 2019 and is assigned to the patrol bureau.

Ten shootings The police department’s NERP panel did not convene for two years, from March 2021 to March of this year, which the police department attributed to the pandemic and changes to the panel’s policies. It restarted after Graves took the helm. Carlisle, the department spokesman, said the panel reviews whether an officer should be allowed to return to duty, but it does not decide whether a shooting was justified. “The actions are reviewed to see if any immediate changes need to be made organizationally to policy, tactics or training,” he said in an email. But some community and faith leaders said even under a new police chief, the panel lacks accountability. The panel did not issue any recommendations in its review of 10 incidents dating from March 2021 to May 2023, which included four fatal shootings. “This is what happens when police police themselves,” said Emanuel Cleaver III, senior pastor of St. James United Methodist Church. “If they are unable to recognize any case where a different action could’ve been taken, then that in and of itself means they need more training. It is also perhaps a way of KCPD simply trying to justify the (Johnson’s) shooting.”

‘You think that you’re above the law’ Johnson’s shooting has been criticized not only by community members, but also by a forensic scientist, former law enforcement officers and a police accountability advocate who reviewed videos of the encounter at The Star’s request. They said the incident illustrated irresponsible tactics and an excessive use of force. Turvey, of the Forensic Criminology Institute, said the decision to confront Johnson inside the store was one of the tactical decisions that he found questionable. He also said some situations can be as simple as approaching a suspect and talking to them. Going in with guns drawn may be necessary, but it immediately raises the stakes. Turvey said Wednesday that the department and the officers had an opportunity to learn and improve. “That’s not what this is,” he said of the NERP report.

Khadijah Hardaway, lead organizer with Justice for Wyandotte, talks to the media Tuesday, June 1, 2021, after the family of Malcolm Johnson provided a video of the fatal shooting by police of Johnson at the BP gas station at E. 63rd and Prospect Avenue in March. Turvey said he would have recommended re-training on tactical decisions that would not put the public in danger and that emphasized steps for de-escalation. Khadijah Hardaway, who served as a spokesperson for the Johnson family, said the panel’s results speak to the police department’s arrogance. “To have 10 of them, that speaks to no improvement just shows that you think that you’re above the law, and that there is no need to interact with the community in a manner that the community sees fit. There’s something absolutely wrong with that picture.” This story was originally published June 29, 2023, 6:00 AM.

Read more at: https://www.kansascity.com/news/local/crime/article276843301.html#storylink=cpy