Two of the officers involved in a racist texting scandal that came to light in early 2021 have left the Wichita Police Dept, according to reporting by The Wichita Eagle on Feb. 10.
The Voice has confirmed both Officer Donielle Watson and Sgt. Jamie Crouch, both of whom eventually received 15-day suspicions for their involvement with the incident, are no longer employed by the city.
Because it took more than a year, and the outing of the texts by the Eagle for the city to give the dozen-plus officers involved any kind of punitive punishment, we seriously doubt their exits had anything to do with the texts.
From our sources, Crouch, a 27-year veteran of the force, retired this month, and Watson, an 18-year veteran, resigned Dec. 30.
Watson, who is African American, was subsequently identified as introducing the offensive texts into the message chain that Crouch forwarded to others. He may have done something stupid, that he more than likely regrets, but we doubt he would have been pushed out for this lapse when the other officers remain on the job.
Still, their exits don’t erase the stain this incident has had on the city and our community. The city’s failure to take the officers’ offensive action seriously until they were outed by the press, and then their attempt to cover up and pass the blame on their lack of action, still demands public redress.
Watson joins retired Deputy Chief Wanda Givens to make two apparent African-American casualties of recent WPD drama, but for very different roles.
The Back Story
For those who may have forgotten or who didn’t pay close attention, the texts were outed more than a year after they happened, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
The texts received a lot of attention because they included an inappropriate racist and sexist photoshopped text of a porn star sitting on a pinned-down Floyd. While that text got a lot of attention, our review of the entire text chain found them even more offensive in the way some of the officers on the text thread congratulated other officers, many of whom were members of the city’s SWAT Team, as being the “the ultimate de-escalators” or killers of those who deserved it.
In a rebuff to the city’s de-escalation training, they wrote, “for the record, you three are the ‘Ultimate De-Escalators’ on the team … each of you not only deescalated a SWAT call or soon-to-be a SWAT call but permanently de-escalated people who needed permanent de-escalation … and I’m proud of you guys. I know that isn’t PC to say and would be complained about on the WhatsApp, but that doesn’t make it less true,” wrote a Sedgwick County sergeant, possibly Crouch.
The Fall Guys
A majority of their texts spewed hatred on then-Chief Gordon Ramsay, whose efforts to clean up the department they obviously didn’t appreciate or support.
Months after the texts were made public, Ramsay, who had left the city months earlier, broke his silence. He said he pushed for action against the officers but received resistance from the City of Wichita Human Resources Director Chris Bezruki and City Manager Robert Layton.
When knowledge of the texts first broke, Layton stood in front of the press and claimed he had only heard about the texts a few weeks earlier. A quick but inconclusive internal review caused the public to doubt the city’s action to give the officers involved anything other than non-disciplinary “coaching and mentoring.”
The city’s report placed the blame squarely in the lap of Ramsay and his leadership team: Deputy Chiefs Chester Pinkston and Jose Salcido, who were still employed by the city, and retired Deputy Chief Wanda Givens.
The three deputy chiefs claimed they were retaliated against and defamed. They’ve called for Layton to resign and through their attorney, James Thompson, have asked for $2.5 million in damages.
More than just knowing about the texts, the three say Layton purposely covered up the texts because he was concerned news would break that one of the officers involved in the text chain was involved in the March 10, 2012, police shooting that killed Marquez Smart, a 23-year-old Black man in downtown Wichita. That officer was the one who sent the “ultimate de-escalators” text.
The timing wasn’t good. Layton was in the process of settling a case with Smart’s family and if the texts got out, it could have negatively impacted the settlement process.
Two months after the inappropriate texts were discovered but kept under wraps, but nine years after Smart was shot dead by WPD, the city decided to reach a settlement with the Smart family for $900,000.
The chiefs also claim Bezruki often put himself in the middle of discipline efforts in the department, even before the level required to bring him in by the Fraternal Order of Police union contract and often in disagreement with the discipline WPD management was recommending.
When Bezruki overturned the WPD leadership’s recommendation to demote a sergeant who was accused of slapping a female officer on the butt, Givens filed a complaint with the Kansas Human Rights Commission and “retired and left her employment with WPD rather than continue subjecting herself to continued discrimination and a hostile work environment,” according to the complaint.
A lot doesn’t smell good at Wichita City Hall.