Wichita police leaders back former chief, echo concerns about internal review
WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - “There is more going on here than meets the eye.” Those words from Wichita’s former police chief Gordon Ramsay in a letter sent to Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple and the city council. In that letter, Ramsay, now a candidate for sheriff in St. Louis County, Minnesota, warns about an internal text messages review committee and Wichita’s human resources director. The letter talks about the recent case regarding the Wichita Police officers and Sedgwick County Sheriff’s deputies that sent racist, homophobic and sexist text messages throughout the summer of 2021.
Ramsay’s letter includes comments about the recent request for proposal (RFP) by the City of Wichita surrounding the texting investigation. The purpose of the RFP is to have an outside firm look into whether the Wichita Police Department handled the text message investigation into its officers correctly. Ramsay is concerned about the recent internal review done by City Manager Robert Layton.
In the letter, he says, “the RFP will likely cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and the stated purpose differs from the real purpose.” Ramsay goes on to say, “The real purpose is to distract attention from the inappropriate interference of the Human Resources Director in the disciplinary system of the WPD and to deflect it onto the very people who brought forward significant ethical and operational concerns.”
On Wednesday, Eyewitness News broke the story about Ramsay’s letter and sat down with two of the highest ranking officers with the Wichita Police Department, Deputy Chief Chet Pinkston and Deputy Chief José Salcido. They are second in command at the police department where former Deputy Chief Lemuel (Lem) Moore is leading the department, serving as WPD Chief on an interim basis.
Salcido and Pinkston said Layton and the city’s human resources department were told multiple times by Former Police Gordon Ramsay about this investigation. Salcido and Pinkston back Ramsay, saying early on, the police department made Layton aware of the potentially explosive text message investigation between WPD officers and Sedgwick County Sheriff’s deputies.
Salcido said he knew the severity of the situation as soon as he saw a few of the text messages.
“Oh yes, undoubtedly,” he said. “You know, I knew that this eventually, and I even said, ‘Chief, this is going to make national news when it comes out.’ Because it’s dishonoring the profession, the whole gamut. Not a question in my mind that this was serious,” Salcido said.
But Layton stated numerous times, he didn’t initially know about the text messages nor the investigation into them and neither did the city’s HR department. That’s why Layton created an internal review committee to look over WPD’s handling of this case. Eight people sat on that committee, including City of Wichita Human Resources Director Chris Bezruki.
“Well, it wasn’t a fair and partial review,” Pinkston said. “If you look at several of the people involved in this process, I believe that they knew about this investigation. How in the world are they going to pass judgment on you as a fair-minded, objective arbiter of the facts? And what actually transpired if they were involved in this? Why would they not be subject to the same review the two of us were?”
Salcido said what was promised to the public concerning the issue is not what was delivered.
“You know, in my view, what was promised to the public was a third-party review,” he said. “There was no third-party element here. The ponderance of the members, including Mr. Bezruki, they not only should have been there but they also should have been a focus of a third-party review because of their role in this investigation.”
In his letter to the Wichita City Council and Mayor Whipple, Ramsay said the HR director had inappropriately and unethically gotten involved in police discipline cases. Deputy chiefs Salcido and Pinkston said instead of now hiring an outside firm to once again look at the text investigation, the focus should be on the HR director and the city manager.
“Simply going to be a waste of taxpayer money. It is not going to resolve this issue if they keep it so narrowly focused to simply look at the police department and the leadership of the police department,” Pinkston said. “It needs to include a full review. It should report to the mayor, it should report to the council, and it should include the city manager’s office, the law department and HR so that we can get to the bottom of who knew what, and when they were in fact aware.”
Salcido and Pinkston said they’ll welcome and accept whatever a true, independent firm finds.
“Let’s get us a fair, independent, third-party investigation that comes to town, and it’s controlled out of the council and not the city manager’s office,” Salcido said.
“And if they find fault with what we did, you won’t hear us complain at all. I accept full responsibility,” Pinkston said.
“Ditto,” Salcido added.
Another WPD connection speaking out in support of Ramsay is recently retired Deputy Chief Wanda Givens. In a statement, Givens said as the WPD’s former Deputy Chief of Support Service, she “followed all policies and procedures pertaining to all potential (Equal Employment Opportunity) requirements of notification to Human Resources.”
“Former Chief Ramsay initially requested terminating all of the officers involved but received immediate pushback from HR. Language used was that Ramsay was heavy handed, overreaching, overzealous and suggested that the officers were within their First Amendment’s rights,” Givens said. “I respectfully request an independent, external investigation to include the City Manager’s Office, The Human Resources Department, The Law Department and The Wichita Police Department. I look forward to cooperating and testifying under oath. I stand with the deputy chiefs.”
Layton and Bezruki issued statements Wednesday in response to Ramsay’s letter.
“I categorically reject the accusations made by former Chief Ramsay in his letter to the Mayor and Council,” Bezruki said. “I look forward to the City’s independent, third-party review to comprehensively complete its work and residents can fully understand what happened so that the City can move forward from this painful incident.”
Layton said he’s not opposed to expanding the consultant’s report into relationships between departments and understands that Ramsay is concerned about the objectivity of the work.
“I am not opposed to this at all. I understand that he also has concerns about the objectivity of the consultant’s work,” Layton said. “This is only a concern if his allegations about information and consultant report manipulation are correct. They are not. We are all anxious to move on from individual claims to a thorough and fair report by the consultant team.”
Looking into what’s next with the overall issue concerning the text messages and the review that’s followed, the mayor and city council will go over Ramsay’s letter and the response from the WPD deputy chiefs. Wednesday evening, Wichita City Council member Jeff Blubaugh also issued a statement.
“In my experience in serving the city council for almost a decade I have had multiple transparency issues between the city manager and city council as to issues at City Hall,” Blubaugh said. “I plan to dig deeper into these allegations upon my return and would support investigations and audits into several Internal Departments within the City so both the City Council and most importantly the public have a better understanding into how City Operations are facilitated.”
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