TOPEKA, Kan. — Several Topeka residents, including grieving mothers, criticized city officials and the police department over their relationship with the minority community, particularly young black men, during a forum held months after officers fatally shot a black man.
About 160 people attended the Wednesday evening forum to express outrage that has built since police shot and killed 30-year-old Dominque White in September. No charges have been filed and authorities have resisted calls to release footage from body cameras worn by the officers involved, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported .
Two Topeka police officers who were responding to a disturbance report on Sept. 28 at a Topeka park fired as White, who was fleeing, reached toward his pocket containing a handgun. His death certificate said he was shot in the back.
White’s shooting was investigated by the Lawrence police department, which turned over its findings to Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay in late November. Kagay said Thursday the reports included no recommendations about whether to file criminal charges. He doesn’t have a time line for deciding on charges but said he would do so “without undue delay.”
White’s stepfather, Brock Wynne, said he had never experienced so many negative online comments as he has since White’s death.
“I mean, even as far as telling the family, wanting the family, ‘I just wish this family would go away.’ Why should we go away? As a family, why should we have to go away — because we are seeking some justice and want some transparency for our son?” Wynne said.
Wynne said the family is challenging Topeka to make White’s death a catalyst for change that will encourage transparency from law enforcement and city officials.
Mothers of slain sons urged audience members not to judge victims of violence.
Leslie Vetaw, who founded Mothers of Murdered Sons, said her son was killed last this summer. She said she hadn’t been able to get information from the police detective who is investigating her son’s death.
“You will get tired of seeing (me) because I’m never going to get tired of getting up in your faces,” Vetaw said.
A Topeka police spokeswoman did not immediately return a phone call Friday asking for response to the forum.
Kansas’ open records law does not require law enforcement to release police body camera footage.
Kansas state Rep. John Alcala, of Topeka, said just because it is legal to withhold the footage “doesn’t mean it’s right,” Alcala said.
City and police officials didn’t speak at the forum but Mayor-elect Michelle De La Isla said in an interview she hoped city leaders would discuss how to improve its community policing strategies.
“How do we reach out rather than just having the Coffee With a Cop?” she said. “What other programs can we be doing so that we can start bridging that gap of communication.”
Topeka officials say the U.S. Department of Justice is planning to moderate a public forum about the shooting and its aftermath sometime in the near future.
Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com