Wichita 1st District City Councilman Brandon Johnson says it’s clear to him that it’s time to make some changes to Kansas law, particularly the state’s Stand Your Ground Law.
His comments came after District Attorney Marc Bennett concluded an off-duty Wichita police officer, who punched, threw down on the floor and punched, and pepper sprayed a 16-year-old at a skating rink, was immune from prosecution because of the state’s Stand Your Ground Law.
The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office investigated the incident that occurred at the Roller City skating rink this past New Year’s Eve. Bennet said the evidence proves the officer acted after being punched in the back of the head by the boy, who was upset that police were forcefully restraining his 15-year-old girlfriend.
Under Kansas law it is illegal for anyone to interfere with an officer who is making an arrest, even if he believes the arrest is unjust or likely to result in grave bodily harm to the suspect.
No video of scuffle beginning
A cell phone video of the struggle between the boy and a male officer, who was working security for the rink, was widely shared on social media in the days following the incident, But there was no video of an earlier scuffle between a female officer and the girl. Management at the rink said the security video in the lobby of the rink was not working.
The boy had left the rink and gone to the parking lot after being told the rink was out of skates in his size and he couldn’t stay.
The girl involved confronted management, demanding her money back since her boyfriend couldn’t stay. As her behavior escalated, the manager told her she would have to leave. As she continued to demand a refund, the female security officer intervened and a scuffle ensued.
The male officer got involved and took the girl down to the floor and held her down as the female officer attempted to handcuff her.
Witnesses to the episode told investigators that the boy had been outside and came back into the rink to find his girlfriend being held down on the floor by a male police officer while a female officer struggled with her. He punched the male officer in the back of the head with his fist, which resulted in the officer tackling him, punching him in the side of the head then throwing him against a wall and pepper spraying him.
This is the second time Bennett cited Stand Your Ground law as a source of immunity from prosecution of officers involved in violent interactions with citizens. He also cited the law in the ruling involving the death of Cedrick Loften at the hands of officers at the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center. Lofton, who was having a mental health crisis and was in restraints, was held down for more than 40 minutes.
“It is clear to me that if we want different results, then we need to change the law. Those currently in power in the legislature have yet to truly do any of this kind of work and I fear it tends to be partisan when it should just be about improving laws to serve our constituents, Johnson said.
State Sen. Oletha Faust Goudeau said she agrees with Johnson that amendments need to be made to state law.
Not the intent of ‘Stand Your Ground’
“Back when we first passed the Stand Your Ground law, it was intended to protect citizens from prosecution if they used force to defend themselves, their family or their property from someone breaking in or threatening to harm them,” she said. “It wasn’t intended to shield police officers from liability for hurting, or even killing, someone during an incident or an arrest.”
Goudeau said she believes the law should be amended to make it clear that it does not protect police from being held accountable if they injure or kill someone who is already in custody.
Goudeau said she is relieved that charges will not be pursued against the juveniles involved.
“It would have a very negative impact on their future to acquire a record at this stage of their lives,” she said. “From the beginning, I said what I wanted most was to see the charges against them dropped.”
They were initially booked into juvenile detention.
Disciplinary Action now Falls to Wichita Chief
The case now comes back to the Wichita Police Department for Chief Joseph Sullivan to determine if disciplinary action is warranted.
Johnson said he found the cell phone video of the altercation, widely shared on social media, to be troubling.
“It was hard to watch an adult physically fighting a teenager and especially in a setting like a skating rink,” he said. “I personally feel that there were several moments where the officer could have and should have practiced greater restraint.”
Johnson said the case is now being reviewed within the police department and he would be “out of place” to comment before that is complete.
“My hope is that our law enforcement trainers take note and use this as an example to use greater restraint when separation between an officer and citizen is achieved,” he said.