Police chief and city manager suspend Wichita police officers involved in racist messages

After reopening a file concerning Racist and violent SMS Sent by officers from the Wichita Police Department, Acting Police Chief Lemuel Moore announced Thursday that three officers had been suspended without pay.

Moore suspended all three officers for eight days for improper conduct. Two of the officers shared a racist meme about George Floyd, who was killed by a Minnesota police officer. The third officer said he supports the Three Percenters, an extremist anti-government militia.

In a statement following Moore’s comments, City Manager Robert Layton added an additional seven days of unpaid suspension for the two officers who sent the racist meme. He also banned the three suspended officers from serving on special missions and required their participation in a cultural training program led by a licensed psychologist.

“I’m taking these extra steps to send a loud and clear message that those who hold these types of beliefs are not welcome in our police department or any station in the city of Wichita,” Layton said.

Two other officers have received written reprimands and are to undergo sensitivity training. These agents participated in a text conversation about people being “permanently defused”.

The disciplinary action against the five officers follows a March survey by The Wichita Eagle which uncovered racist and violent text messages among police and other law enforcement personnel. The discipline announced Thursday is the toughest sentence the officers involved in the text messages have received so far.

A previous investigation by the police department into the text messages resulted in little to no disciplinary action for the officers involved:

  • An officer who shared the racist meme received a written reprimand.
  • Another officer who shared the racist meme has not been investigated.
  • An officer who professed support for the three percent received no disciplinary action.
  • Two officers who participated in a conversation about “permanently defused” individuals received no disciplinary action.

A city ​​internal review board found that the management of the police department did not administer sufficient discipline for the text messages. The decision to reopen the case and initiate further disciplinary action came at the recommendation of the citizen review committee and follows the departure of former police chief Gordon Ramsay, who voluntarily left the department in March.

In May, Ramsay alleged inappropriate interference by the city’s human resources department regarding officer discipline.

When asked if the initial handling of the case was inappropriate, Moore said every executive was different.

“When you have leadership that comes into play, everyone has a different vision, everyone has a different goal,” Moore said.

The city will hire a firm to undertake an independent investigation into the text messages in the coming weeks. The survey will focus primarily on cultural issues within the police department, but will also investigate the relationships between the police department, the human resources department, the legal department and the city manager’s office.

“Hopefully this assessment will let us know if we have a systemic issue in the department that goes beyond those we are aware of and highlighted here today,” Layton said.

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Celia Hack is a generalist journalist for KMUW 89.1 in Wichita. This story was shared by the Kansas News Servicea newsgathering collaboration made up of reporters and editors from Kansas Public Radio, KCUR, KMUW, and High Plains Public Radio.