WICHITA, Kan. — A Kansas police chief testified in a newly released deposition that he was so concerned about the fairness of internal department probes of police shootings in Wichita that he removed the high-ranking officers overseeing them and detectives conducting them.
Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay acknowledged investigators asked leading questions that could have prompted police officers to claim the shootings were in self-defence. He also testified that detectives working on the internal probes got involved in the related criminal investigations and were “potentially contaminating” those investigations.
Excerpts of the chief’s May 24 deposition were included in a court filing this week in the civil case brought by the family of Andrew Finch, the unarmed Wichita man killed by police when a dispute between two gamers over an online video game sparked a hoax emergency call in December 2017 that led officers to swarm his home.
Finch, who lived at a gamer’s old address, was shot by Officer Justin Rapp with a rifle 50 yards (45 metres) away when the 28-year-old Finch opened the door to his home to see what was happening outside. During a separate criminal proceeding against the prank caller, Rapp testified that he believed at the time that Finch was reaching for a gun.
Finch’s family sued the city last year contending the policies and practices of its Police Department were the driving force behind Finch’s death. The lawsuit alleges the department conducts “faulty investigations” of its own officers that lack transparency and officer accountability in cases involving lethal force.
“As a result, officers come to believe that they can violate the rights of civilians, including through the unlawful use of lethal force, with impunity and without fear of discipline or consequence,” the lawsuit says.
The family’s attorney, Andrew M. Stroth, declined to comment on the deposition. A police spokesman said the deposition is part of ongoing litigation and the department cannot comment on it. The city’s attorney, J. Steven Pigg, did not return a message seeking comment.
The deposition excerpts filed Tuesday as part of an otherwise-routine discovery motion in the civil case offered a glimpse into how the department has handled Professional Standards Bureau investigations into police use of deadly force. These department probes are separate from criminal investigations, and typically examine whether policies were followed and whether an officer should be disciplined.
Ramsay testified that he had concerns after he took the chief’s job in 2016 about the integrity of Professional Standards Bureau investigations into deadly force.
One of the investigations that concerned him involved the 2015 shooting of John Paul Quintero after two officers responded to a family member’s home to handle a report over a disturbance with a knife. Quintero, 23, was hit with stun gun shocks and was unarmed when police officer Jamie Thompson shot him twice from behind with an M4 assault rifle. Police have said Quintero failed to follow orders and appeared to be reaching for his waistband when she fired.
In his deposition, Ramsay acknowledged he had concerns about the Quintero investigation in part because of the way the Professional Standards Bureau detective framed a leading question when interviewing her partner about that shooting. The detective asked the officer if he perceived the statement “I’ve got one for you, I’ll get you” from Quintero to Thompson as a threat, to which the officer responded that he did. The detective never asked whether the officers heard Quintero’s father tell them his son was unarmed before the shooting.
When Ramsay was questioned during his deposition about whether that interview between the detective and the officer raised concerns about the integrity of the Professional Standards Bureau investigation, the chief replied he had concerns about that probe and leading questions. Ramsay added: “I’ve made changes so that that is not happening anymore.”
Ramsay said he moved the captain, lieutenant and some detectives in 2016 and 2017 because of concerns about “a wide range of issues.” When pressed about what the other issues were, he replied they included his “philosophy of use of force, how we treat staff, how we handle these cases.”
The police chief also told lawyers of his concern about the rifle being out in the first place in the Quintero shooting. Since then the department has talked to officers about when to deploy rifles. Ramsay, however, conceded that the department made no written changes to its policy.
The deposition excerpts came to light amid a legal clash in the Finch civil case over whether the Police Department turned over all its internal investigative materials involving at least 14 officer-involved shootings in time for a police procedures expert to review them in preparing his report. The motion seeks the court’s permission to add to the expert’s report.
Roxana Hegeman, The Associated Press