A lawsuit filed on the victim’s behalf, detailed below, lays out a frightening “pattern and practice of concealing misconduct” by the Wichita Police Department.
By all accounts, 45-year-old Stacy Richard was a troubled man, suffering from severe clinical depression. Despite his mental health issues, Richard maintained gainful employment throughout his adult life, most recently at Spirit AeroSystems, and led a normal, middle class life in Wichita, Kansas.
On February 25th, 2014, Richard’s depression became too much for his wife, Michlle, to handle, so she called Richard’s therapist, to report that he was armed with a gun and threatening suicide. The therapist immediately called 911, and officers were dispatched to Richard’s home, in south Wichita.
The officers arrived, and instructed Michlle to leave the home, which she did. She informed the officers that their children were not at home, and that Richard was alone in the house, locked in the bedroom with a shotgun pointed to his head.
At this point, standard police procedure dictates that the officers should have secured the perimeter, and then waited for SWAT forces, and a police negotiator to arrive on the scene.
Instead, within five minutes of arriving upon the scene, the officers stormed into the home, and shot Richard 16 times, including twice in his penis. Richard survived his wounds, but, 8 months later did ultimately take his own life.
In a video, Wichita police officers Bruce Mackey, Brian Arterburn, William Stevens, and Matthew Phillips are seen firing forty 9mm hollow point rounds at Richard, who never fired a shot. Several of those bullets, fired by the officers, struck a neighbor’s house. The video also shows an officer accidentally discharging his firearm, and another officer who is clearly angry, and being told to “breathe” by another officer.
WPD Policy 602, which governs how officers should respond to a suicidal person barricade, alone, in their home, states:
- First responding officers are supposed to cordon off the area and call SWAT, and a negotiator.
- The goal of the first responder is to de-escalate the situation by creating time and space for the incoming SWAT team and negotiator.
- First responding officers should not attempt to breach the home when a suicidal person is home alone, unless there is imminent danger to the officers or others.
- Time is the most important asset when dealing with people in crisis and allows for better intelligence, a better response and the passage of time calms people down.
- The first few minutes of a crisis event are the most critical and set the stage for future actions in a mental health crisis incident.
- The passage of time tends to calm a person down and make it easier to convince them that they are doing something wrong and should stop.
- If within an officer’s control, it is best to allow time to pass and let a person calm down before making initial contact.
- Many times a suicide call is a cry for help by the person threatening to commit suicide.
- When responding to a suicide call, safety is of the utmost concern.
- Unnecessarily placing officers or the suicidal person at risk of harm should be avoided
The dispatch code for a suicidal person is “SIGNAL 4” and that code was used in Richard’s case, so the officers arriving on the scene knew he was suicidal. The officers made contact with Richard’s wife, and knew that Richard was alone in the home, and a threat to no one other than himself.
In a lawsuit filed on behalf of Richard’s wife, local civil rights attorney James Thompson details what he refers to as a “pattern and practice of concealing misconduct” by the Wichita Police Department.
“Information on the officer-involved-shootings is difficult to obtain, particularly in regards to the identity of the officers involved because of [Wichita’s] policy of refusing to release the information. Despite the City’s position in Fettke v. City of Wichita, that Wichita Police Officers as public officials do not have a right to privacy, the City refuses to release the names of the officers involved citing privacy rights of the officers.”
“The City’s policy of not releasing information on the officers involved in a shooting creates a veil of secrecy surround the shooting that casts doubt on the investigation into the shooting because there is no means of verifying or refuting the findings that a use of force was reasonable.”
“Prior to questioning, WPD officers involved in shootings are allowed to meet privately with Critical Stress Incident Team members in a room without any recording devices. These Critical Stress Incident Team members are familiar with the process, procedures and standards for police shootings and are given unfettered access to the officer prior to questioning and have the opportunity to coach the officer on what to say and what not to say.”
“The City of Wichita does not have a civilian review board or police oversight committee regarding officer involved shootings or claims of excessive force, leaving the police department free from independent oversight.”
“Officer involved shootings by the City of Wichita remain cloaked in secrecy with the shooting files made part of the WPD secret confidential records file recently disclosed in the media.”
“Current and past leadership at the City implemented a pattern and practice of concealing and covering up misconduct by its officers and leadership.”
“This pattern and practice of concealing misconduct is evident in numerous incidents of misconduct by leadership itself that was never disclosed and which was actively concealed from the public including but not limited to:
- Incidents of domestic violence committed by senior leadership that went unreported or were swept under the rug.
- Destruction of internal affair records of senior members of the police department by order of senior leadership.
- Implementation of training systems designed to prevent the discovery of information about officers’ use of force by classifying certain documents as “training aides”.
- Refusal to provide information on the identities of officers to the victims and families of the victims of deadly force used by officers in an effort to stall or delay the filing of lawsuits against the Wichita Police Department and its officers.
- The lack of any meaningful internal review regarding of lethal force by officers.
- The lack of any meaningful civilian oversight regarding claims of excessive force.
- The lack of any meaningful criminal investigation into officer involved shootings.”
The lawsuit goes on to state that the WPD has been involved in at least 24 separate shootings since 2010, shooting 29 people in those incidents, and that 13 of those people died as a result of their wounds, and lists those persons:
- Cody Huggins, an African-American, was shot and wounded on February 16, 2010.
- Kenneth Junious, an African-American, was shot and wounded on September 12, 2010.
- Jerome Dixon, an African-American, was shot and killed on November 5, 2010.
- Robert Scharoun, a Caucasian, was shot and killed on November 12, 2010.
- Shelan Peters, an African-American, was shot and wounded on December 1, 2010.
- Dejuan Colbert, an African-American, was shot and killed on October 31, 2011.
- Shirley Smith, an African-American, was shot and wounded on January 1, 2012.
- Clifford Gestus, a Caucasian, was shot and wounded on February 3, 2012.
- Marquez Smart, an African-American, was shot and killed on March 10, 2012.
- An unidentified 19-year-old African-American woman was shot and wounded while officers tried to shoot Smart.
- An unidentified 18-year-old African-American woman was shot and wounded while officers tried to shoot Smart.
- An unidentified 17-year-old African-American woman was shot and wounded while officers tried to shoot Smart.
- An unidentified 29-year-old African-American woman was shot and wounded while officers tried to shoot Smart.
- Troy Lanning II, a Caucasian, was shot and killed on April 1, 2012.
- Timothy Collins Jr., an African-American, was shot and killed on April 13, 2012.
- Ronald Vaughn, an African-American, was shot and wounded on April 13, 2012.
- Michael Westendorf, a Caucasian, was shot and wounded on June 11, 2012.
- Robert McNosh, a Caucasian, was shot and wounded on June 11, 2012.
- Karen Jackson, a Native American, was shot and killed on July 10, 2012.
- Aaron Belcher, a Caucasian, was shot and wounded on January 13, 2013.
- Michael Martinez, Hispanic, was shot and wounded [date unknown].
- Jason Woosypiti, a Native American, was shot and killed on July 11, 2013.
- Stacy Richard, a Caucasian, was shot and wounded on February 25, 2014.
- David Zehring, a Caucasian, was shot and killed on April 10, 2014.
- Icarus Randolph, an African-American, was shot and killed on July 4, 2014.
- Jeffrey Holden, a Caucasian, was shot and killed on October 26, 2014.
- John Paul Quintero, Hispanic, was shot and killed on January 3, 2015.
- an unidentified 45-year-old male, race unknown, was shot and wounded on May 4, 2015.
- Nicholas Garner, a Caucasian, was shot and killed on August 22, 2015.
Ten of those shootings involved mental health issues, 8 of which resulted in death.
The lawsuit goes on to examine the investigative process that takes place after an officer-involved-shooting:
“Despite being a criminal investigation, the City of Wichita immediately designates all officer-involved-shootings involving death as a “justifiable homicide”, despite no such finding having been made by the Sedgwick County District Attorney”
“Once the shooting is arbitrarily classified as a “justifiable homicide”, the City’s investigation is conducted in such a manner as to provide facts to support its predetermined conclusion that the shooting was justified.”
“Facts and leads that would suggest the shooting was not justified are ignored and disregarded.”
“The Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s involvement in these investigations is limited at best and non-existent at worst, leaving the City and its police department to conduct the investigation of its own officers.”
“Rather than being forced to sit in a recorded interrogation room, WPD officers involved in shootings are allowed to sit in accessible offices that are open to anyone passing by who wants to stop and speak with the officer.”
“Despite being the suspect in a homicide, WPD officers are allowed to make phone calls prior to questioning.”
“Prior to questioning and pursuant to the contractual arrangements between the City and the police officers’ union, WPD officers are allowed to meet privately with their union representative in a room without any recording devices. These union representatives are familiar with the process, procedures and standards for police shootings and are given unfettered access to the officer prior to questioning and have the opportunity to coach officer on what to say and what not to say.”
“The interviews of officers involved in a shooting are conducted by Wichita Police Department Homicide Detectives, with a KBI agent sitting in on the interview, but rarely participating in the interview.”
“Investigators ask inappropriate leading questions of the officers thereby suggesting the legally correct answer to find a shooting justified, such as ‘At that point, you thought he was going to shoot you, correct?’ or ‘At that point you were in fear for you life, correct?'”
“Investigators often ignore evidence contrary to the shooting officer’s version of the events, such as the presence of of stippling on a victim’s body even though the officer said he was too far away for stippling to be present.”
“Investigators fail to conduct bullet angle analysis or other testing to confirm or contest the physical position of the officer and victim at the time of the shooting.”
“Investigators fail to probe important details when questioning witnesses and the shooter.”
“Investigators fail to determine whether less-lethal options were available, or whether the officer attempted de-escalation techniques.”
“The City of Wichita has never found that an officer-involved-shooting that resulted in serious harm or death was excessive or violated policy.”
“The City of Wichita refuses to make administrative findings on the reasonableness of an officer-involved-shooting if litigation is pending.”
Richard’s wife is suing the City of Wichita for $5 million.
On the day that Richard ultimately hung himself in his garage, responding officers followed procedure, calling the SWAT team and a negotiator, in stark contrast to the response on the day they shot Richard 16 times, eight months earlier.