KCPD chief on police shootings, “We have a duty to protect the citizens of this city”
In less than an hour Thursday afternoon, Kansas City police shot and killed three people in two incidents, one of which was downtown in a busy area.
First, in a Northland neighborhood, police shot and killed a woman who had reportedly been carrying a sword. The second shooting occurred in the middle of a public square in downtown Kansas City, leaving two men dead.
Even as the investigation into the first shooting began, a police spokesman deemed the use of lethal force justified and "unavoidable," while acknowledging he didn't witness it and wasn't sure if the woman killed was armed.
Some "action" took place that "met the criteria for lethal force," said Capt. Lionel Colón of Kansas City police, though he provided no details of the action.
"I wasn't there, but if officers are going to use their weapons, it’s only in a situation when their lives or the lives of the public are in danger."
The two shootings left some questioning police tactics and whether Kansas City police, which internally investigates its officer-involved shootings, would be objective in doing so.
But Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith, who spoke with the media at the downtown scene, said the officers "did what they thought was necessary."
He said it was unusual to have two deadly force incidents in such a short time span. Kansas City police typically count between two and five fatal officer-involved shootings over the course of a year.
"I just wanted people in this city to know our officers are dedicated to go out here and protect the citizens of this city. Both incidents unfolded protecting other citizens," Smith said.
The first incident, about 4 p.m. in the 3800 block of North Jackson Avenue, began when police responded to a 911 call reporting a female carrying what appeared to be a sword. Upon officers' arrival, she barricaded herself in a shed at an unoccupied residence and remained there for hours, police said.
Colón said he did not know if the woman in Northland was armed with the sword when she was killed.
"At this point I’m not sure," he said. "I wasn’t there on the scene … but I’m very confident it was a last-resort situation to ensure the safety of the public."
More than a dozen police had responded around 1:30 p.m. to the area.
"She had been seen earlier … walking around with the sword, which is obviously a threat to the community," Colón said.
Negotiators were called to the scene.
A nearby day care or school was placed on lockdown.
Colón said he did not know if the woman had exited the shed or was shot while still inside.
About eight shots could be heard. An officer said over his radio: "Shots fired … party is down … Two officers discharged."
Earlier, police spoke to each other over the radio about ensuring the woman did not escape.
"Make sure we've got personnel there. She's not going to escape out of the hole we create," an officer said as they discussed battering into the structure.
"We've got 15 guys there so she's not going to," another officer responded.
A man who lives near the scene of the first shooting asked why police didn't turn to nonlethal force to subdue the woman.
"They shot a woman with a sword?" said Robert King. "We don't have tear gas to make her drop? … I don't care if she had a spear — think about it."
Colón did not respond by press time to a question asking if he was sure the Northland shooting was justified, despite the fact that the investigation continues.
About 10 miles away in downtown Kansas City, police shot and killed two men shortly before 5 p.m. in the middle of Barney Allis Plaza at 12th and Wyandotte streets. Police said the men were reportedly fighting over a golf cart and a gun.
Nearby, inside the Kansas City Convention Center, hundreds of professors and teachers in town for an event were warned over the PA system of an active shooter. They were placed on lockdown.
"We just heard sirens and we heard people on the walkie-talkie and they were all telling us to move down," said Samantha Spiegel, of Owings Mills, Md.
The educators were directed by security to seek shelter in the basement, where they remained for about 30 minutes until the all-clear was given. When they came outside, the shooting was over and police were everywhere.
Julie Alert, who was with a mother at a computer convention, said the woman was traumatized by the incident. The mother's children were inside the Marriott hotel across the street when it happened, Alert added.
Both shootings will be investigated internally by Kansas City police personnel.
"We have protocols in place to have — our department does the investigation. Of course that's reviewed by other parties, independent parties, prosecutors, the United States attorneys, other individuals," Chief Smith said.
That's not enough for some police shooting critics, including the Rev. Vernon Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City.
Howard said he had many questions about the shootings and whether they were necessary. He said he was not confident that his questions would be answered by the Police Department's investigation.
"It is clear to us that the accountability is not coming from within," Howard said. "There has absolutely got to be an independent review board."
Howard said he had just finished meeting with the families of four people killed as a result of an Independence police chase and crash on June 1 when he heard about the three people killed Thursday afternoon.
"Jesus," he said. "It's just fatality on top of fatality."
The Star's Cortlynn Stark contributed to this report.