We’re naming the Kansas City police officer who brutalized Mack Nelson. Here’s why.
Public safety officials are held to a higher standard than your ordinary citizen. And taxpayers are on the hook for the $500,000 settlement. Kansas City police officer David Frazier threw 44-year-old Mack C. Nelson onto the ground last summer and forced his face into the pavement. He has been on the force less than three years, and is assigned to the patrol bureau, police said. And that was about all police would tell us about an officer that cost taxpayers $500,000 to settle a civil lawsuit Nelson filed against the department. Until now, The Star had only identified the lawman as he was listed in a fellow officer’s report: P.O. Frazier. Today we are naming him. Why is naming officers accused of committing egregious acts while on duty so important? Public safety officials are held to a higher standard than your ordinary citizen. They must be held accountable for their actions.
In the past, we’ve called on the Kansas City Police Department to let us know basic facts about police officers involved in fatal encounters or where excessive force is used with a member of the public. Citing privacy laws, police here very rarely — if at all — tell us which officer injures or kills someone while on duty. We see no other option but to do so ourselves. Only if criminal charges or litigation are involved do we ever find out. In this case, we learned Frazier’s name from municipal citations he issued to Nelson after he was a possible witness to a fatal police shooting last summer. Missouri law doesn’t forbid disclosing identity We wanted to know Frazier’s age, job status, which bureau he works in and whether he was disciplined for his actions during Nelson’s arrest. So, we asked Kansas City Police Department officials. In an email, a spokesperson for the department said personal information such as an officer’s age or disciplinary record cannot be shared. Under Missouri law, “discipline is not an open individually identifiable personnel record,” the spokesperson wrote. State law restricts police officials from providing certain information about an officer’s personnel record. But the law does not prevent releasing “the names, positions, salaries and lengths of service of officers and employees of public agencies” involved in serious use-of-force incidents, according to statutes.
Police Chief Stacey Graves and the Kansas City Police Department must change the way they inform the public about cases involving excessive force or officer-involved shootings. Hiding behind a law that doesn’t stop them from identifying police officers isn’t the way. In Omaha and many other peer cities, officers involved in deadly on-duty shootings or other use-of-force incidents are identified within days. Transparency helps restore trust between the community and its police department, according to civil rights advocates we spoke with. We believe in due process. Frazier is the subject of a criminal investigation into possible assault on Nelson, according to a spokesperson for the Jackson County prosecutor’s office. He has not been charged with a crime. But his actions led to a six-figure payout. How do we know if Frazier or any other officer is a repeat offender if the police won’t tell us? Maybe that’s the point. To question whether Frazier has the temperament to be a police officer is fair based on what we watched on video provided to The Star by local activist Steve Young, of the Kansas City Law Enforcement Accountability Project, a volunteer group that investigates wrongdoing commited by Kansas City cops.
Nelson was at the scene of a fatal police shooting at a convenience store in the 5400 block of Prospect Avenue last summer. Officers fatally shot a man who had rammed a police van with a stolen SUV. Afterward, Nelson was among a group of customers inside the store police asked to remain on the premises. Once he was free to go, officers alleged he began shooting video of them, became belligerent and obstructed justice, according to court documents. Officers attempted to arrest Nelson but he resisted by refusing to put his arms behind his back, police said. Then, Frazier grabbed Nelson from behind and drove him into the pavement, according to Nelson’s lawsuit.
Video footage of Nelson lying motionless after being slammed left us with this: He could have been seriously injured or worse. Still photos of the ghastly injuries above his left eye are difficult to view. On that August night, tensions were already high. But to take down Nelson, a possible witness to that incident and who posed no threat, though? Policing doesn’t work that way. At least it shouldn’t.
Body-worn cameras not activated At least three Kansas City police officers involved in Nelson’s arrest violated department policy by not activating their body-worn cameras during the incident. Two others named in legal documents weren’t directly involved in the incident, according to police. We read through the department’s operating guidelines for body cameras. It states: “Members will activate the BWC (body-worn camera) at the outset of each contact.” Neither Frazier, Kansas City police officer Alyssa Surges nor a third officer — identified in Surges’ incident report as P.O. Powell — turned on their cameras upon contact with Nelson, according to his lawsuit. We asked department officials what disciplinary action was taken against these officers. Personnel records are private, we were told again. But, “additional training is always an option in any violation of policy,” police officials wrote in an email. Our hope is the department better trains its officers on how to follow policy, as all good law enforcement officials must do. For years, activists in Kansas City implored the department to equip its officers with body camera technology. But if officers refuse to turn on the camera during their interactions with the public, why bother?
In addition to these violations, Jackson County prosecutors are investigating whether Surges lied about what occurred in the police report related to Nelson’s arrest. If Surges falsified any part of her report, as John Picerno, a Kansas City attorney representing Nelson alleges, then her job status should be under review as well.
Could Mayor Quinton Lucas deliver justice? Last summer, Nelson was arrested and charged with one count each of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, according to municipal court records. On video, evidence suggests Nelson did not commit a crime, Picerno alleges. KC LEAP’s Young captured the police takedown on video. Nelson didn’t do anything to provoke being attacked, Young told The Star. Later, at a hospital, a trespassing charge for Nelson was tacked on. After being treated for a head wound, he refused police orders to leave Research Medical Center, according to the citation he was given. In a desperate attempt to get out of custody on other charges, Nelson pleaded guilty to all three counts and was placed on probation for two years, according to Picerno. He spent 30 days of shock time in jail, court records indicate. Nelson, we believe, would have never been hospitalized if not for Frazier’s unconscionable act. We don’t know whether Kansas City Municipal Judge Michael Heffernon will grant a motion to vacate Nelson’s guilty plea. There’s a court date scheduled for August. If Heffernon refuses to set aside Nelson’s plea — made under duress, his attorney contends — Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas should consider a pardon for Nelson. Here’s why: Nelson is a victim of police brutality. Why should he be criminalized for that?