Groups Demand Probe Of Police Department
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City manager: All officer-related shootings are reported to FBI

Tim Hrenchir

Topeka Capital-Journal USA TODAY NETWORK

YWCA Northeast Kansas is among 10 organizations demanding the federal Department of Justice investigate the Topeka Police Department in the wake of incidents in which Black men were killed and numerous gunshots fired.

The groups suggested Topeka police have recently been quicker to use deadly force against Black people with kitchen knives than against white people with swords or machetes.

“We see this call for an investigation by the Department of Justice as a moral imperative to ensure that women of color are supported and protected, not unfairly criminalized, profiled, or harmed by systems, laws and policies,” YWCA Northeast Kansas CEO Kathleen Marker told The Topeka Capital-Journal.

See also:
The City should initiate an impartial, external audit by the Dept. of Justice into the Topeka Police Dept.



Stephen Wade, Topeka’s city manager, provided a two-sentence, written response to The Capital-Journal.

“It is standard procedure that the Department of Justice is notified through the local FBI office when officer- involved shootings occur,” Wade said. “That procedure was followed in all recent officer-involved shootings,

From mthe Topeka Capitol Journal Newspaper.

and occurs within the first few hours after the incident.”

Police killings of two Black men is a ‘public safety emergency,’ groups say

The 10 groups seeking the Department of Justice probe made that demand Saturday.

“The escalation of police shootings and the killing of two Black men is a public safety emergency that requires immediate action by the city of Topeka,” they said via news release.

It identified the groups requesting the probe as being YWCA Northeast Kansas, Topeka Independent Living Resource Center, NAACP Topeka Unit, Kansas Poor People’s Campaign, Stay Kansas True, African American Democratic Caucus of Kansas, African American Democratic Caucus of Shawnee County, Kansas People of Color Legislative Action Coalition, Lassiter Saunders Law and Justice Center, and My Better America Inc.

“It is imperative to identify the systemic issues that have improperly prepared police officers to equitably and confidently respond to crisis situations involving Black and brown citizens in distress without killing them,” the release said.

Topeka faces ‘public health crisis with deadly results,’ groups say

The 10 groups called upon Wade, Topeka Mayor Mike Padilla, the Topeka City Council and the police department to request the Department of Justice audit.

“We are standing as a united community voice to demand immediate actions be taken by the city to request a review and inquiry from the Department of Justice on the Topeka Police Department policing and practices,” it said. Topeka faces a “public health crisis with deadly results for Black and brown people in our community,” the release added. “A review of this nature would be standard in any workplace where an unhealthy situation has been created for both the employees and the employer. “This is of critical importance as it involves the entity that is beholden to a code of ensuring public safety and is dependent on the public’s trust to function effectively.”

Wade talked at Tuesday’s council meeting about the city’s response to the questions.

“We’ve had a couple media inquiries in regards to a couple incidents we’ve had in the community over the last month and the potential of referring those incidents to the Department of Justice,” he said. “Our comments to the media, to the governing body, are that in both of the incidents that involved individuals where we had fatalities, they have been referred to the Department of Justice as part of standard practice.

“So we refer any incidents to this effect by standard procedure to the FBI, and the FBI at this point in time has referred both to the DOJ.”

‘Many officers shooting many bullets’ into areas containing bystanders

Saturday’s release contended Topeka’s mayor and city council fell short of achieving meaningful police reform July 12 when they approved eight recommendations aimed at accomplishing that purpose.

Padilla, who served on the committee that put forth those recommendations after having met since late 2020 to discuss police reform, described their approval as having been a positive “first step.”

But the release stressed that Topeka police subsequently shot and wounded a fleeing homicide suspect in a Sept. 29 gun battle near S. 6th and Kansas Avenue, then fatally shot a man they said charged them with a large kitchen knife Oct. 13 after attempting a carjacking outside the Kwik Shop at 4500 S.W. Topeka Blvd.

Both situations involved “many officers shooting many bullets into areas where bystanders were in direct proximity, though not involved in the incident,” the release said. “These actions put citizens at risk.”

Nine Topeka police officers and one Shawnee County Sheriff’s deputy were put on paid administrative leave after firing shots during the Sept. 29 gun battle, and five Topeka police officers were put on paid administrative leave after firing shots during the Oct. 13 incident, authorities said.

Both situations remain under investigation by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

“The city requires an independent review of all officer- involved shootings in Topeka,” city communications specialist Taylor Schley said Monday. “Due to the KBI’s ongoing and independent review of Thursday’s officer-involved shooting, the city is choosing not to comment further at this time.”

Complaint: Black men with knives were killed; white men with machetes weren’t

Saturday’s release said that twice in recent months, Topeka police shot and killed Black men wielding “only kitchen knives.”

One was Taylor Lowery, whom police fatally shot Oct. 13 outside the Kwik Shop, where five officers fired their guns. The KBI is investigating.

The other was Christopher Kelley, fatally shot June 24 after allegedly charging police near S.E. 4th and Holliday.

Three Topeka police officers fired at Kelley, according to Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay, who ruled that they acted justifiably.

The Topeka Police Department in late September denied a request by The Capital-Journal seeking body camera video of the incident.

The groups’ complaint contrasted the fates of Lowery and Kelley with those of three white men involved in similar situations.

“In the last three months, officers have detained without discharging their firearms, at least three white men who were threatening officers, and others, with lethal weapons such as swords and machetes,” it said.

Arrested in those cases were a man accused of chasing people with a machete Aug. 24 at a motel at 3846 S.W. Topeka Blvd., a man police tased after allegedly disturbing people with machetes Sept. 11 at 4501 S.W. Topeka Blvd., and a man who allegedly threatened an officer with a sword-like weapon Sept. 16 near S.E. 24th and Minnesota Avenue.

Racial inequity in terms of police shootings has taken place for years, USA Today reported last year.

It quoted Mapping Police Violence, a research collaborative, as reporting that Black people represented 27% of all police deaths in 2020, though they make up 13% of the population, and that Latinos comprised 21% of police deaths that year, though they are 17% of the population.

YWCA Northeast Kansas CEO explains why her group took part

YWCA Northeast Kansas stands with local organizations “to call for justice, as our community has faced an influx of police-related shootings over the last two years,” CEO Marker told The Capital-Journal.

That organization pursues a mission of eliminating racism, empowering women and standing for social justice for all.

“The recent deaths of Black community members at the hands of police are deeply intertwined with our nation’s long history of racial injustice and with our founding origins as a nation that prospered through the enslavement of Black people,” Marker said. “As our community’s oldest women’s organization with a longstanding mission to eliminate racism and empower women, we are devastated by the police violence and systemic racism that continue to exist locally and throughout our country.”

Unless critical steps are taken, the trauma of racial violence will continue to reverberate across the next generations of children and families for whom YWCA Kansas provides child care, job training, housing, and safety from domestic and sexual violence, she said.

YWCA values relationship with law enforcement but sees call for investigation as a ‘moral imperative’

YWCA Northeast Kansas values its relationships with the Topeka Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies, Marker said.

“We don’t pretend to understand the decisions made by law enforcement officers when they are protecting our community,” she said, “but we believe all organizations should operate with transparency and that the Black and brown community deserve to feel safe in Topeka and Shawnee County.”

YWCA Northeast Kansas recognizes the critical role law enforcement plays in protecting women and children from domestic and sexual violence, and proudly partners with other local agencies on the Mayor’s Taskforce on Domestic Violence to ensure this community’s systems and policies support and protect survivors, and hold perpetrators accountable, Marker added.

“It is from this perspective that YWCA Northeast Kansas will continue to advocate for specific, concrete, and long-overdue reforms to ensure that not another Black life is taken by police violence and unequivocally affirm our long-standing and valued partnership with law enforcement and government institutions,” she said.

Contact Tim Hrenchir at or 785-213-5934.

Local law enforcement officers control a crime scene after a Topeka police officer shot a man near the Amtrak Station on Aug. 24. EVERT NELSON/TOPEKA CAPITAL-JOURNAL

A Topeka Police officer marks off a crime scene under the I-70 Polk-Quincy Viaduct on Sept. 30. EVERT NELSON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL

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