The Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) was enacted to ensure transparency in state and local government offices. For a fee, private citizens can request official documents which the Kansas Bureau of Investigations (KBI) is then charged with locating and mailing.
Unfortunately, the people of Kansas can no longer trust KORA to provide accurate documents to the public.
On February 12, 2012, Wichita police Officer Atlee Vogt was responding to a burglary call in Downtown Wichita. Vogt was speeding north along Broadway, just south of Harry, going as fast as 51 mph in a 30 mph zone. At approximately 6:55 pm, Vogt’s police vehicle struck and killed twelve-year old Suhani Bhakta, as she was crossing the street in front of her parents’ home.
Vogt did not use his flashing lights or sirens as he sped through a block known for a high rate of pedestrian traffic, due to the grocery store being on one side of the street, with several motels on the other. Suhani’s parents, who are suing the Wichita Police Department for the wrongful death of their daughter, own and live within the Frontier Motel, which is situated directly across the street from the door to the Dillions store.
Probably because there was snow on the ground, Suhani and her cousin crossed the street mid-block, to buy some groceries for the family. If the children saw the police car approaching, they likely assumed it was going around 30 mph, as it should have been.
The Kansas Highway Patrol (KHP) investigates vehicle-related accidents that involve Kansas police officers. The KHP released a report in January 2013, finding Officer Vogt negligent in Suhani’s death. This report, which is available to the public, was altered from its original form.
The real report is “for law enforcement purposes only” and “may not be reproduced”.
There are three glaring differences in the report that was released to the public and the report we were not meant to see.
Section IV of the police-eyes-only report, called a CHART, discusses the human factors that contributed to the accident. In the CHART report, it states:
“Driver # 1 [Vogt] was interviewed by Trooper Robinson at City Hall, the evening of the crash; Officer Vogt declined to make a statement concerning the events of that evening.”
This was completely omitted from the report that was released to the public. Not blacked-out, simply omitted.
Just below that, in the CHART report, listed under human factors, under the subheading “Alcohol and Drug Testing”, the Kansas Highway Patrol states:
“There were no evaluations made of Driver # 1 [Vogt]. The toxicology results of the Pedestrian [Suhani] were negative of any controlled substances or alcohol.”
In other words, the police drug tested the 12 year old girl they ran over, but did not drug test the police officer who hit her with his car, while speeding without his lights or sirens on. And this too, was omitted from the report that was made available to the public.
Section VI is entitled “Analysis, Inferences and Conclusions”. In this section, on page 6 of the CHART report, a trooper with the Kansas Highway Patrol states:
“I was also hindered in my investigation due to a lack of a statement from the driver of the Ford [Vogt], due to this lack of information; an assumption must be made as to why he was decelerating. The question is why was the vehicle decelerating, was it for the perceived hazard of a pedestrian in the roadway, or the approaching intersection.”
This too, was omitted from the report that was released to the public, the report that one would receive if they filed a KORA request on this case.
Officer Atlee Vogt, despite his refusal to cooperate with investigators, despite his being found negligent, by the Kansas Highway Patrol, is still a Wichita Police Officer.
Looking at the information that was concealed from the public, it becomes immediately clear that the point of the investigation was to protect the officer. This can most clearly be seen in the fact that they drug tested the child who was crossing the street in front of her home, but not the 24 year old police officer who killed her.
The Kansas Highway Patrol and/or the KBI concealed this information, and the fact that Vogt refused to answer any questions, from the public, with the obvious purpose of protecting an officer who is, in fact, negligent in the death of a child.
A shadow of doubt is now cast over the entire KORA process and the public’s right to be informed of matters of great concern.
And all of this happens as the Wichita Police Department quietly fires Officer Randy Williamson, for the falsification of documents. Williamson shot and killed Troy Lanning II, an unarmed man who was running away. Lanning was shot multiple times in the back.
Williamson was on the SCAT team, which makes drug-related arrests. There are probably a lot of people sitting in prison right now, based on Williamson’s testimony.
The people of Kansas have a right to information regarding officer misconduct. Police officers are not above the law. On the contrary, a police officer should be held to a higher standard than the rest of us, not a lower one.
No justice, no peace.