A charge of sexual battery filed this week against a police officer in Wyandotte County sent a strong message. No one is above the law, not even the law.
The Kansas City, Kan., police officer, Steven Rios, has been charged with sexual battery for allegedly touching a civilian employee during work without her consent.
It’s dismaying. And it only chips away at the public image of local law enforcement.
Rios was once entrusted with the duty of being the bodyguard for former mayor Mark Holland. He’s been on the police force for more than a decade.
But the fact that the office of Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark A. Dupree, Sr. brought charges is noteworthy. In the past, many would not have expected that result in Wyandotte County.
Especially among African-American and Latino populations, there was once a strong sense that local law enforcement was untouchable, that misconduct might be overlooked.
The charge against Rios came in the same week that the Jackson County sheriff was replaced by former Kansas City police chief Darryl Forté on an interim basis. Mike Sharp resigned as sheriff after news broke that he had been involved sexually and financially with a former employee who was suing the department for harassment.
Add that headline to the news that the police chief in Independence now faces allegations of sexual harassment and assault. The claims against Brad Halsey were made by a former employee in a civil suit filed on Wednesday.
Citizens need to believe that the judicial system is accountable, particularly when the behavior of police officers, the sheriff, judges or prosecutors is called into question. Wyandotte County is seeking to stand out in that regard.
In January, Dupree charged Sgt. Brandon Holloway of the Kansas City, Kan., Police Department with aggravated battery for allegedly using either his gun or a flashlight to beat a suspect during an arrest. Other police officers are witnesses in the case, a fact that makes a statement about behavior among their own that will not be tolerated.
Dupree wants to ensure consistent accountability in Wyandotte County by creating a conviction integrity unit in his office. Such units are increasingly being used to investigate questionable cases, allegations of misconduct with either the police investigation, the prosecution or at trial.
Dupree envisions a three-person staff of a deputy district attorney, a full-time investigator and an assistant to help with paralegal work.
Community input also would be sought and law professors who specialize in such work could be potential collaborators as well.
The anticipated cost is $350,000, and the Unified Government Board of Commissioners must approve the proposal. Dupree would like to have the unit in place by the end of the year.
The funding, which would also pay for expenses such as DNA testing, is a small price for bolstering faith in the justice system.
“Where there is potentially a mistake made in a prosecution, it is my job to undo that wrongdoing,” Dupree said.
The case of Lamonte McIntyre is the most recent example of how public trust can be undercut. The case traces back nearly two decades with allegations of egregious misconduct by a now retired police detective.
McIntyre served 23 years for a double murder he didn’t commit before being exonerated. The charges were dropped in October by Dupree as a hearing got underway for a new trial.
The McIntyre case alone highlights many instances of alleged police misconduct.
Dupree grew up in Kansas City, Kan. He has personal memories and experiences to draw from as well, knowing that police often weren’t trusted during his youth, especially among his fellow African Americans.
“People are scared of the past,” he said. “But I say we need exposure on what was done.”