Post last updated at 8:54 p.m. Saturday, March 11:
Members of Lawrence’s Community Police Review Board have asked to review a complaint alleging that police targeted a man experiencing homelessness with a jaywalking ticket.
The Lawrence Police Department reviewed the complaint, which was filed by a third party who did not witness the interaction, and closed it with the determination that there were “no grounds to demonstrate that there was bias,” Chief Rich Lockhart told board members during their Thursday meeting.
The current ordinance that lays out the CPRB’s duties only allows CPRB members to review appeals of the Lawrence Police Department’s decisions in complaints about bias-based policing. It’s a narrow scope, and board members have not reviewed any actual appeals since the CPRB was formed in 2018.
The report provided to CPRB members includes this recap of the incident:
“Officers were on foot patrol downtown when they witnessed a subject walk through the crosswalk against the steady red no walk signal causing two vehicles to stop and wait for the subject. Officers contacted the subject and explained the ordinance to the subject who continued to walk away from officers, but officers walked with the subject speaking slowly and trying to calm the subject down. The subject had no form of identification on their person and was ultimately cited and released from the scene. A third party not involved alleged bias in the manner the citation was issued.”
The man, whose name is James, spoke to the Lawrence City Commission about the ticket during a November meeting. He said he thought it was unfair to be given a jaywalking ticket with no warning, and that he didn’t have the money to pay for it — $143.
Subsequently, local activist Michael Eravi, who runs the YouTube page Lawrence Accountability, filed an open record request with the police department to find out how many jaywalking tickets had been issued. From January through November 2022, the ticket for James was the only one, the results of the request showed; however, there were six citations for pedestrians unlawfully in the roadway, and 12 for pedestrians under the influence in the roadway.
“The ONE jaywalking ticket issued to a homeless man was obvious bias and I expect it to be properly investigated,” Eravi wrote in a complaint he emailed after speaking to the Lawrence City Commission about the incident in December.
Lockhart told the CPRB members that there wasn’t anything provided in the complaint that alleged what the bias was, “and we weren’t able to contact the person who was the subject of the police action to determine whether or not that person felt there was bias involved in the police action. So at this point, there’s really no basis for bias other than somebody said it was.”
The police department’s Office of Professional Accountability, OPA, investigates complaints the department receives. Under city ordinance, when racial or other bias-based policing complaints are submitted to LPD or to the CPRB, and the complainant is “unsatisfied” with the police department’s findings, the complainant can appeal to the CPRB in writing within 14 days of receiving notification of the department’s findings.
However, Eravi told the CPRB he only learned of the complaint being closed because it was noted in Lockhart’s monthly report to the board — he was never notified of the disposition.
Lockhart said LPD notifies complainants of the resolutions of their complaints if they are the subject of the police action. But he said the department does not typically notify third-party complainants of the disposition of the complaint because they weren’t the subject of the police action. He said it’s “not that often that we get third-party complaints.”
More from the meeting:
• Lawrence’s Community Police Review Board didn’t review an ‘actual appeal,’ chief says, March 9, 2023
“The person who’s the subject of the police action would be the person that would be part of the investigation that we would interview and create the case file,” Lockhart said.
He said he wasn’t opposed to letting the board review the complaint, but “I’m just telling you, there’s not anything to review. There’s not a case file because we weren’t able to interview the person that was the subject of the police action,” Lockhart said.
Board Vice Chair Jordan Bickford asked if that was a requirement of processing a complaint.
“You’d have to talk to the person to find out if they felt like they were treated differently because of a protected class,” Lockhart said.
“Do you not reach out to the complainant?” Bickford asked.
“The complainant wasn’t present when the police action happened, so they don’t have anything to add to the investigation,” Lockhart said.
Greg Tempel, who was appointed last month and joined the CPRB for his first meeting Thursday, voiced some concerns about that.
“In my mind, you would need to talk to the complainant,” he said. “Now, it may turn out to be nothing. They may not have any information. It may all be thirdhand information, hearsay, but they may lead you to other witnesses who may have first and knowledge of what took place.”
Lockhart said LPD wasn’t trying to avoid an investigation, but they knew the person who made the complaint — Eravi — was not present when James got ticketed, because Eravi had said so during a December Lawrence City Commission meeting.
“It may be that the investigation you do is the interview of the complainant who gives you that information that may give you, or they may not give you, names and locations and contact information on people who did see what happened, including the person who was directly involved in it,” Tempel said. “You try to interview them, you make a good faith effort to interview them, and report back as to what what you found.”
Brenda Clary, the other newly appointed board member, raised concerns about standing, and whether a third-party complainant had standing to file an appeal of a disposition.
The board debated for a while, but the current ordinance simply states the “complainant” may appeal the department’s finding, and it does not specify that it can’t be a third-party complainant. Tempel said he was concerned that this could “open the floodgates,” but Bickford said “that’s the gate we’ve got now.”
Eravi said during public comment, “If you’re going to talk about limiting the people that can make a complaint. You’re going to eliminate the mother wanting to make a complaint about her child. You’re gonna eliminate the spouse wanting to make the complaint about how his wife was treated.”
Eravi had already emailed CPRB members to appeal the disposition of the complaint — “closed,” which is not defined like other dispositions are in the complaint reports.
Bickford moved to request the police department formally notify Eravi of the findings, and for the board to receive Eravi’s appeal, which she anticipated would be received within 14 days under the guidelines of the ordinance; and to ask the city attorney’s office to work with Lockhart and bring forward a review of the appeal for an executive session during the board’s April 13 meeting.
The board voted 4-1, with Bickford, board chair James Minor, Tempel and Clary in favor and Amilee Turner opposed.
A community crowdfunding effort helped James pay the jaywalking ticket.
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Use of force policy
Lockhart also presented the department’s report on use of force in 2022.
There were 26 uses of force noted in the report, including 14 taser deployments, four uses of pepper spray, and three discharges of a firearm, which were all connected to one fatal police shooting in October. Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez determined in December that the Lawrence police shooting of Michael Blanck was “legally justified.” Officers were injured in connection with three of the incidents comprising four of the use of force reports, according to the data.
“The Use of Force Review Board reviewed all twenty-six (26) reports and found in each case, officers’ responses to resistance were reasonable and within department policy,” Lt. Shannon Riggs wrote in the report. “It should be noted that none of the reviewed incidents were related to complaints made by involved persons. Each incident was triggered by internal safeguards dictated by department policy.”
Current policy does not list membership for the Use of Force Review Board, but under policy in effect in 2019, the board included “one Captain, two Sergeants with expertise in use of force, two Officers/Detectives with expertise in use of force, and one additional Officer/Detective,” assigned by the chief of police.
The 26 incidents involved 15 boys and men ranging in age from 17 to 63, according to the report. Racial demographics included in the report say that nine white men, three Hispanic men, one Black man, one Native American boy and a man of unknown age and race were involved in the uses of force.
Lockhart said the department doesn’t use force that often.
“There’s no disparate treatment of people of color in our use of force. And typically, you see, they’re very minor uses of force, with one exception this year — we had an officer-involved shooting,” he said. “So that’s obviously very serious, but most of our uses of force did not result in serious physical injury to anyone.”
During public comment, Eravi showed blown-up photos of injuries to a man’s neck as the result of the officer’s use of pressure points on his neck while the man was restrained in a full-body restraint. That incident was not included in the use of force report.
In response to a question from Bickford, Lockhart said that incident had not been included because “it’s not a substantial physical injury. And so only a substantial physical injury is something where somebody is taken to a hospital and treated by a physician.”
Bickford asked if that was the line for making it onto the report.
Lockhart read from department policy: “Reportable use of force is the discharge of a firearm; deadly force other than a firearm; kinetic energy projectile; taser deployment; baton strike; OC or gas deployment; OC spray deployment; improvised impact device, any technique or physical force resulting in a visible or apparent substantial injury (that does not include minor scrapes, contusions or handcuff indentations); intentional closed fist punches, kicks or elbow/knee strikes to the head; and an intentional patrol service dog deployment resulting in a bite.”
The line for what constitutes a reportable use of force has been somewhat fuzzy over the years. For instance, an arrest in which an ex-officer fractured a skateboarder’s elbow in 2019 was not listed as a use of force in the department’s annual report because the skateboarder did not request medical assistance immediately after it happened, but rather was taken to the hospital the next morning.
Lockhart said that the person in the photo had filed a complaint with the department.
“We completely investigated the complaint and exonerated the officer’s actions,” Lockhart said. “We also, while it was not required, sent the complaint to our use of force committee who reviewed it and also concluded that the use of force was appropriate.”
He said the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training (KSCPOST) had also reviewed a complaint from the man and took no action against the officer.
The man asked the KSCPOST investigator in an email whether that meant the officer was exonerated. The investigator responded, “No it means they took no action in the case.”
During public comment, Steven Watts, of Lawrence, said he thinks officers will use force in the form of pressure points more and more, because it did not have to be reported under LPD’s policy.
The CPRB is set to meet next at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 13 at City Hall. The meeting agenda is typically posted a couple of days before the meetings, and should become available at this link. Meetings are livestreamed on the city’s YouTube page and open to the public.
Read another story from Thursday’s meeting at this link.
Note: A quote in this article was corrected to reflect the punctuation in police policy.
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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.
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