Anger has erupted across Kansas City after faith leader — not the police — released video footage last week of a man who was shot and killed by Kansas City Police Department officers on March 25.
The video is not official video from police body cameras, but surveillance footage from the store and cellphone video recorded by two different bystanders. None of the officers had on body cameras because their unit was not scheduled to be fully equipped with them until the next month.
Those gathered at the press conference say the video does not appear to corroborate initial police statements about the incident and also expressed concerned that the Missouri Highway Patrol, the outside entity investigating the incident, is not conducting their investigation in a transparent manner.
Malcolm Johnson, 31, was wanted in connection with an aggravated assault case, when two officers found him in a BP gas station on 63rd and Prospect Avenue. According to the Missouri Highway Patrol’s recount of the police report, the officers tried to take Johnson into custody when a fight broke out. During the struggle, police say Johnson shot one officer in the leg and another officer returned fire, killing Johnson. The officer who was shot survived.
In one of the videos, Johnson is at the counter scratching a lottery ticket when KCPD officers appear with guns drawn to Johnson’s back. Johnson turns around and attempts to flee, but is tackled to the ground by officers, which is partially shown in the lower corner of the video.
In all the videos, only Johnson’s feet are visible, while four officers are on top, restraining him.
“The moment we saw the two officers walk through the door with guns drawn (in the video), that was a violation of policy,” said Darron Edwards, pastor at United Believers Community Church. “So, it went from the highest level of escalation at the very moment of interaction with this young man.”
Activists and faith leaders including Edwards do not think Johnson could have grabbed a gun while he was face-down on the ground and think it was friendly fire that hit the officer in the leg.
“The way this young man was treated was execution,” Edwards said. “The assessment is that this really was a murder that we saw take place in front of our eyes.”
The Missouri Highway Patrol said they stand firm that Johnson did have a handgun.
“Any investigation we conduct will be done in a thorough manner with integrity to the investigation,” said Sergeant Bill Lowe with the Missouri Highway Patrol at a press conference. “This is not a speedy process. We are being as transparent as we possibly can be.”
The Missouri Highway Patrol concluded their investigation June 10 and is sending the case file to the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office to make a ruling. It’s not clear how long before a ruling is announced.
“A part of our review will be an evaluation of any discrepancies between the original accounting of this event and the actual evidence, including any video evidence. Our job requires us to gather as many facts as we can and to use those facts to determine if charges are appropriate under Missouri law. In order to do that, a full and neutral investigation is necessary. Our duty requires we hold all accountable, no matter their position or power. We are also evaluating our processes to determine how we might further engage with community to gain these necessary facts,” said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker in a statement.
Faith leaders are demanding on behalf of Johnson’s family that the four officers involved in the incident be fired and indicted.
“If that does not happen with the Missouri Highway Patrol, we are prepared to go to the Department of Justice, because we want to ensure that justice takes place as best that can happen with the loss of a life,” said Emanuel Cleaver III, pastor at St. James United Methodist Church.
Local activists are also ready to take action if justice is not received.
“Just as we made George Floyd that catalyst and said no more for this country, Malcolm Johnson needs to be that catalyst saying no more for Kansas City,” said Sheryl Ferguson with It’s Time 4 Justice.
Organizers with the KCMO Revolutionary Black Panter Party, It’s Time 4 Justice and Black Rainbow held a vigil at the BP gas station on 63rd and Prospect where Johnson was shot and killed.
“We are not going to allow tax-paid employees to execute members of our communities,” said activist Stacy Shaw at the vigil. “We are mourning yet another Black man that was executed by city employees. We are going to start another summer of resistance.”