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The John's Belts Series: A deadly force target.

Updated: Jan 31

As you may recall, John Anderton was heading home after responding to one of his friends who was overdosing on drugs. On his way home, he had a brief interaction with police that led to him being fatally shot 9 times in the back by a Kansas City Kansas police officer. After navigating a number of obstacles, Justice for Wyandotte was able to help the Anderton family view the body cam footage of John’s last moments. During their private viewing of the redacted body came footage, the family learned that the reason John ultimately lost his life was that his pants had fallen down. While running, he simply reached to pull up his pants when the officer began shooting him in the back. In his final moments, John’s was only attempting to preserve his dignity. It was clear to the family's attorney for the body cam viewing, Lauren Bond from the National Police Accountability Project, that John was not reaching for a gun at this time and the police have yet to show any evidence to her or the family that a weapon was present on John's body. The following is my personal overview of John’s unfortunate death as it pertains to Kansas City Kansas Police Department’s current use of force policy.


How could shooting an unarmed man in the back 9 times be legal?


This was my very first question when we heard that our district attorney, Mark Dupree decided not to press any charges on the law enforcement officer who shot John. I started my research by searching for our current use of force policy. But to no surprise, it was not readily available to me, even as an active member on the Law Enforcement Advisory Board. So, I submitted an open records request to obtain a copy of KCK’s current Use of Force policy and requested that this policy be made available to the public on the police department’s website. Our request was granted in May 2023.


After this information was made public in May I began to review KCKPD’S lethal force policies.

I learned that in the Kansas City Kansas Police Department’s use of force policy, it outlines how the roles of opiates and running away play apart in an officer’s lethal force decisions.


John Anderton case notes:


1.        John was assumed to be leaving a scene of a crime where a felony may have been committed. His friend had overdosed on opiates and per our current state law, any possession of opiates is a felony in the State of Kansas. John leaving meant there was probable cause he committed a felony that led to serious bodily harm.

 

2.        John was attempting to evade the police, after the assumed felony had been committed.

These two combined components made it absolutely legal for a police officer to shoot someone 9 times in the back for running away even though he was completely unarmed.


Under Section 3 Part B (2) of this use of force policy, John simply running away from police after admitting being at the house where a drug overdose occurred made it absolute legal to shoot him.


But in the back? Why?


After further reading KCKPD’s Use of Force policy, I learned that under Section 10 (X) Resistance/Control Levels of Controls, Part G(b), once the decision is made to make lethal force that police officer will aim at what’s called “deadly force targets.” It reads, “deadly force targets for impact weapon strikes include the head, neck, throat, and clavicle.” These areas are considered striking points because they have high implications of creating severe injury, great bodily harm, or death.


There is also a breakdown of all the determinants of lethal force. Although it may read like the list of side effects at the end of pharmaceutical commercial, it is important to understand all the variables that a law enforcement officer is allowed to consider when determining whether to use lethal force.


“When officers determine that they must use physical force, the level of force to be used is dependent upon the officer’s perception of the resistance encountered, or whether the resistance is placing the officer or others in jeopardy of serious injury or death. It is important to note that each officer’s perception of danger and level of resistance will be based upon the officer’s training, experience, skill, and knowledge of physical control techniques authorized and taught by the Department.”


“There are several variables that will affect an officer’s force response. Examples include: the type of crime committed or attempted; relative size/stature of the officer and subject; exigent conditions; number of officers; number of subjects involved, availability of backup; relative strength; subjects access to weapons; subject under influence of alcohol or drugs; exceptional abilities/skills (e.g. martial arts); injury to, or exhaustion of, the officer; weather or terrain conditions; immediacy of danger; distance from the subject; and special knowledge.”

Some would say this is an impossible number of variables to evaluate in a matter of seconds before deciding to take someone’s life.


My conclusion is that…


There are so many reforms that could have made this a safer interaction for John and the police officer. Reforms ranging from changes to drug laws and response protocols to creating a use of force policy that encourages using necessary responses over subjective reasons labeled as “reasonable.” Law enforcement could also increase its training requirement for the number of hours an officer has to complete in de-escalation training to bring it more in line with the number of hours they receive in gun training.


Our current use of force policy leaves so many gaps for people experiencing homelessness, substance abuse, and general poverty and it puts their lives further at risk.


Moving forward….


This tragic awakening led to a philanthropic effort to raise money for belts for those in need. The John’s Belt fund has become a growing project in Justice for Wyandotte, raising over $2300 and distributing belts to organizations like the Village Initiative and Wyandotte High School. To learn more about the John’s Belts project visit www.justiceforwyandotte.org/johnsbelts.


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