Update: State board shuts down racial-bias investigation involving Tonganoxie PD
A state police board shuts down a racial-bias investigation involving the Tonganoxie Police Department after an officer put a man in handcuffs while he was moving into his own home.
Police suspected Karle Robinson was burglarizing the home when it happened, not realizing he lived there. Even though Robinson's request for an investigation was shut down, he still wants the Tonganoxie Police Department held accountable.
"A, I want those cops to be fired. B, I want a full-page, public apology from the police department in this local newspaper up here," Robinson tells Kansas City, Mo. station
. "I want an investigation into the city hall, the city council and the mayor's office up here."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also called for an investigation by the state attorney general. Tonganoxie's police chief says he believes the accusations against the officer and his department are inaccurate, but his department has been full cooperative.
The ACLU wants the Kansas Attorney General's Office to investigate the Tonganoxie Police Department after officers put handcuffs on a black man moving into his new home.
It happened in August of 2018 when 61-year-old Karle Robinson was moving his belongings into a home he recently purchased during overnight hours. The ACLU said Tonganoxie officers held Robinson at gunpoint and body camera video shows an officer handcuffing Robinson.
"Police department," the Tonganoxie officer says as body camera video shows him walking onto Robinson's property. Robinson is taking a TV into the home. "Go ahead and set the TV down, man. Set that TV down."
Robinson responds by saying "I just bought this house."
The officer says, "You just bought this house and you're moving in at four in the morning?"
Robinson responds saying, "I'm moving in."
The officer answers saying, "Alright, go and set that TV down."
Robinson follows the officer's orders and the officer tells Robinson he'll talk to him when he gets backup.
The officer then asks Robinson if he's armed or has any weapons on him. Robinson says he doesn't and the officer tells Robinson he's going to check him for weapons asking once more if Robinson is in possession of any. He instructs Robinson to face the wall of the home and put his hands on the wall. Robinson obeys and responds saying he has his wallet and keys but no weapons.
After checking for weapons, the officer puts handcuffs on Robinson which can be seen in the body camera video. He says, "These are just going on until I get it figure out, okay? Do you have anything with your name saying this is your place?"
Robinson answers saying, "I sure do."
"You do?" the officer clarifies.
"Yes, sir," Robinson answers.
The officer says, "Alright, once the other officers get here, we're going to start looking at it, okay?"
"Alright," Robinson says on the video.
When officers arrive, Robinson tells them the proof is under the counter in his home. The officer who handcuffed Robinson enters the home announcing his presence and asking for anyone inside to call out. Robinson says nobody is inside but the officer tells him he has to check anyway. As he goes through the home, he says to the other officer inside it does appear someone is moving in. When they find the proof, they return outside to take the handcuffs off of Robinson.
The officer says to Robinson, "Do you understand why I did that? I understand it's not comfortable but given that we had all those break ins and what not recently, when you see somebody..."
Robinson cuts him off asking, "Out here?" as several officers respond saying "yeah."
"Yep, here in Tonganoxie," the first officer says. "Here just last weekend we had a whole bunch."
In the letter to the Kansas AG's Office, the ACLU writes “Each of these incidents would be concerning had they been alleged independently. Together, they suggest a pervasive culture of racial bias and systemic process failure within the Tonganoxie Police Department."
The ACLU also says Robinson reported harassment from the police department. The organization says Robinson said officers would routinely follow him and parked in front of his home or drove by daily after the incident captured on body camera video occurred.
The ACLU complains there's more.
“Mr. Robinson believes his detention was motivated by his race rather than a reasonable suspicion that he was committing a burglary,” ACLU of Kansas Interim Executive Director and Legal Director Lauren Bonds said in a news release. “It also appears that the Chief of Police prevented Mr. Robinson from filing a credible, legitimate complaint and that is not in compliance with reporting and intake standards. He must not interfere with citizens registering complaints.”
The ACLU says Robinson believes the officers detained him because he is black instead of a concern he was committing a burglary. The ACLU says public records showed there was no recent burglaries in the area and the neighbors hadn't heard of anything either.
The ACLU says when Robinson went to the Tonganoxie Police Department to file a complaint about the incident plus a continued police presence at his home, he said Tonganoxie Police Chief Greg Lawson wanted to talk to him instead.
In it's letter, the ACLU said, "At no point did Chief Lawson permit Mr. Robinson to submit a written complaint for further review or investigation by TPD’s internal affairs unit. Chief Lawson ended the meeting by telling Mr. Robinson that Officer Adams did not act with racial bias or inappropriately in anyway."
FactFinder 12 contacted Chief Lawson about the incident and he responded by email.
His statement says, "Thank you for the opportunity to respond to this matter:
The safety of our citizens and visitors continues to be of the highest importance to the Tonganoxie Police Department. The members of this agency have pledged to serve the community with honor, and the highest degree of professionalism. All officers are State Certified and trained to respond to criminal and emergency incidents.
We have fully cooperated with Mr. Robinson and the ACLU regarding inquiries into this matter. We believe that the ACLU’s correspondence to the Attorney General’s Office contains multiple accusations that are inaccurate. If an investigation is deemed warranted, we intend to fully cooperate with the Attorney General’s Office or the Commission on Police Officers’ Standards and Training (CPOST)."
The Kansas Attorney General's Office hasn't responded to the call for investigation.