Attorneys: Topeka seeks to limit access to shooting video

By The Canadian Press
November 13, 2017 - 7:00pm

TOPEKA, Kan. — The city of Topeka is trying to prevent the parents of a black man fatally shot by police from reviewing officers' body camera footage by arguing that state law permits only his young children to see it, lawyers for the family said Monday.

Attorney Gillian Cassell-Stiga said the city agreed last week to allow Dominque White's parents to view the footage from his Sept. 28 shooting by two officers near an east Topeka park. But Cassell-Stiga said the city later said that a 2016 state law limits a review of the footage to White's four children, aged 3 to 13.

Cassell-Stiga said White's family does not intend to have the children view the footage "anytime soon." Family members have said they've been told little about the 30-year-old's shooting, and no information about the officers has been released.

"It is so entirely ridiculous," Cassell-Stiga said. "The position the city has decided to take is absurd and practically untenable."

City spokeswoman Molly Hadfield said talks are ongoing between attorneys for both the family and the city of Topeka. She said the city's position is based on the text of the law.

"Certain persons may request to view a body worn camera video prior to it being released to the public," Hadfield said in an emailed statement.

The law enacted last year says the subjects of such footage or their attorneys can review it, as can the parents of a minor in such footage. When a person in the footage his died, that person's heirs, or the administrators of his or her estate, can review the footage.

The law also treats body camera footage as a criminal investigation record, meaning law enforcement agencies don't have to make it public without a court order.

Both the police departments in Topeka and Lawrence, about 20 miles (32 kilometres) to the east, declined to release the footage last week in response to an open-records request from The Associated Press. The Lawrence department has been investigating the shooting for Topeka police.

When state lawmakers discussed access to body camera footage last year, state Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, pushed for a less restrictive law, though his proposal would not have made the recordings public. His version would have allowed White's parents and their attorneys to view the footage; groups representing sheriffs, police chiefs and law enforcement officers supported the law that passed.

Haley said he intends to push for changes in the law next year. As for the situation facing White's family, he said, "that's another example of where the law doesn't make sense or where it perverts the intent."

White's death occurred after police were called to the park area by a report of gunshots. White was just months out of prison; he had pleaded guilty to a burglary charge in 2015 and no contest to an illegal gun possession charge in 2016. Topeka police initially said he struggled with officers, reached for a gun in a pocket and was shot at least once in the chest.

But a death certificate listed "gunshot wounds of back" as the immediate cause of White's death. And neither the Topeka nor Lawrence department compiled an incident report — with a front page that's usually available within 72 hours — until last week, after The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that none existed.

"I cannot express the anguish we feel each day knowing that the officers who did this to our son continue to roam the street, and that we might come across them on any given day and simply not know," White's mother, Mary Theresa Wynne, said in a statement.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

John Hanna, The Associated Press

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