Interim Police Chief Lem Moore

Wichita City Manager Robert Layton on Thursday announced that he was taking the “unusual” step of increasing Interim Police Chief Lem Moore’s disciplinary action against three officers for their roles in racist and inappropriate text messages.

Moore and Layton spoke at a news conference about the outcome of the department’s investigation into the text messages. Moore had recommended eight-day suspensions for the three officers. Layton upped the suspensions to 15 days, which he said was the maximum for conduct unbecoming an officer. 

“The text messages were racist. They were demeaning,” Layton said. “They were insightful, and they should not be tolerated. 

“I believe these three incidents warrant more serious consequences than those imposed. I intend no disrespect to Chief Moore in doing this.”

Two of the officers suspended were involved in distributing a meme of a naked African-American man sitting on the neck of George Floyd, who was murdered by a Minneapolis, Minn., police officer. One of those officers sent the meme to the other, who then sent it to a Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office sergeant.

The third officer who was suspended for racially inflammatory and homophobic texts as well as texts about Three Percenters from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol after former President Donald Trump lost the election. That officer, Layton said, “has expressed fundamental ignorance of the movement’s extremism and some of its members’ propensity for violence and has expressed remorse.” Layton said that officer will be on desk duty until an evaluation by a licensed clinical psychiatrist. His future employment “will be determined by the outcome of that evaluation,” Layton said. 

The other two officers will be prohibited from serving in any special assignments until they undergo a cultural assessment, training and coaching program led by a community psychologist and leadership coach selected in partnership with the Wichita branch of the NAACP and the Wichita Ministerial League, Layton said. 

The text messages took place from 2018 to 2021. Moore became interim chief in March of this year.

“It was important to me to be as transparent and forthcoming on these issues as legally possible,” Moore said. “I recognize that many of our community are angry about this incident. I am one of them.”

The text messages were discovered during an investigation into a now-former sheriff’s sergeant who had been a member of the special weapons and tactics team (SWAT). 

Two other officers will receive written reprimands for texts about being “the ultimate de-escalators” and will undergo sensitivity training. 

Their original discipline was not sustained.

“After expanding the scope from a law enforcement lens and looking at the actions of the officers from the public’s view, it is evident that bragging about taking a person’s life, whether justified or not, does not coincide with WPD’s mission or training,” Moore said. 

Moore opted to not discipline three officers who exchanged text messages with a sheriff’s sergeant about former police chief Gordan Ramsay. The sergeant had started a text conversation with one of the officers in which he used the homophobic language “what a faggot.” The officer did not respond. Moore said he will be coached and mentored about reporting violations when they occur. 

Moore has been with the police department for 31 years and is “proud of the vast majority” of colleagues with whom he works, he said. 

He sought “extensive legal opinion” about the text messages, he said.

“What we must do together now is move forward,” Moore said. “Residents deserve a high level of accountability from our department.”

The city is reviewing proposals from vendors for an independent evaluation of the culture of the police department.

“We should have a firm selected in the next few weeks,” Layton said.

Moore said he “underestimated” the time his own investigation would take. 

He noted that “each and every one of us, we’re humans. We grow.”

The police department has grown from the experience, he said. He urged the community to “please continue to keep the faith.”

 Deb Gruver | The Community Voice