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The John's Belts Series: Family, not recognized.

Updated: Mar 26

God forbid you or your loved one is killed or brutalized by the police. In the unfortunate event that you or your loved one is harmed by the police in Kansas City, KS, there are a few key things you should know and be prepared for.


Firstly, in Kansas, you have the right to view and listen to body camera footage of the incident. Our state's current open records request allows any subject of a police officer's body camera recording the right to view or listen to that recorded footage. If the subject is no longer living, their parent (if under 18) or child can request to view and listen to body camera footage of an officer-involved shooting or police brutality incident and can view it within 20 days of making the request.


However, even though you have a legal right to this footage, you should still expect resistance. You will hear "we cannot release the footage right now because the case is still being investigated." Even with resistance, it is still your right to continue to pursue all recordings. When you finally get them, expect redactions. All footage that Justice for Wyandotte has advocated for was redacted and altered by law enforcement for unknown reasons. In the case of John Anderton's family, who had additional and unique barriers they couldn't get through.

In John's case, he was a 50-year-old man whose parents were deceased, and his only child was 4 years old without the capacity to make any request of this nature. He is survived by five siblings who live out of state This sadly left no recourse for John's five siblings who just wanted to know what happened to him under our current state law. What we learned is that under our current Kansas Open Records Act, the only family recognized under this statute is a parent or a child. This meant under our state law, his five siblings were not considered his family.


I started my efforts by sending multiple open records requests to the Unified Government’s Legal Department and Police department. I was repeatedly denied. After multiple rejections, I emailed the Unified Government’s legal department directly, explaining the unique case that is causing the Anderton family to fall through the cracks of our current open records request policy. Within two weeks, the KCKPD Chief Karl Oakman made a discretionary decision to allow John’s brothers and sisters to view the body camera footage as a special request. A small victory that revealed a larger issue.


Modern times have expanded the definition of family, thus making the Kansas Open Records Act outdated and failing to meet the diverse family structures that exist in our country. A very small change to expand the definition of family under Kansas's current open records act would give access to many more loved ones looking for answers.

 

A larger solution would be to make all body camera footage of officer-involved shootings accessible to the public within 30 days of the incident. Recently, the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (MAARPR) successfully pushed their city’s Fire and Police Commission to pass an ordinance that will release body camera footage to the public after 15 days and to families within 48 hours. I met with the MAARPR last May in Milwaukee to learn how they were able to conquer such an impossible task. It was an enlightening conversation, and I learned a lot from their team. There are similar pathways that our city could take to bring this level of reform to Kansas City, KS, with collective support from elected officials to change our current law.


If your incident occurred in Wyandotte County, you can request this footage at the following link –Request a Record – Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City (wycokck.org)

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