Editorials

As tensions simmer between Wyandotte County DA and police, where is the mayor?

KCK police officer committed sexual battery against a co-worker, prosecutor says

Steven Rios, a Kansas City, Kan., police officer has been charged with sexual battery against a co-worker. He allegedly committed the crime while on duty, said Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree during a press conference Tuesday.
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Steven Rios, a Kansas City, Kan., police officer has been charged with sexual battery against a co-worker. He allegedly committed the crime while on duty, said Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree during a press conference Tuesday.

The friction between Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree and the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department and Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Office continues to bubble to the surface amid a series of ongoing disagreements and general unhappiness with the DA’s firm stance against police misconduct.

The feud has simmered since Dupree took office in 2017. The origins of the tension can be traced back to the district attorney’s insistence on creating a conviction integrity unit — a proposal that was met with skepticism and outright opposition from police and the sheriff’s office.

Ultimately, the Unified Government’s Board of County Commissioners made the right decision and approved funding for the unit.

Now, a federal lawsuit filed this week highlights another flash point in what has become an uncomfortable relationship.

Last year, the district attorney’s office charged Officer Steven Rios with sexual battery. Rios, accused of assaulting a teenaged cadet, eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and was given 12 months of probation. He was not required to register as a sex offender but did retire from the force.

The victim in the case sued the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas for sexual harassment and retaliation. She has also sued Rios for violating her right to bodily integrity.

The cadet accuses Police Chief Terry Zeigler of retaliation for firing her after she came forward with her claims.

The episode is just one in a series of officer-involved cases that have caused discord among the county’s top law enforcement officials. The ongoing hostility is counterproductive. And leadership is required to work through differences and forge a more productive relationship.

That’s where Unified Government Mayor and CEO David Alvey could help. Unfortunately, he’s not inclined to do so.

The mayor’s recent comments about the possibility of brokering peace between Dupree and law enforcement officials suggest that a truce is not imminent.

“I really don’t want to go into it, because it’s really very personal,” Alvey told The Star Editorial Board. “And I think that’s what it comes down to. I’ve had meetings Chief Zeigler and District Attorney Dupree. There are disagreements about how things should go and things have been said.

“I can try to mediate that, but … the worst thing I could do is fan that and make it worse,” Alvey said. “That is not going to help.”

Despite his claimed reticence to get involved, Alvey has taken sides in the past.

After Dupree drew the ire of rank-and-file officers and the family of Kansas City, Kansas Police Captain Robert Melton, the mayor made clear that the police — and not the district attorney — had his support.

Melton, 46, was fatally shot in 2016 while searching for suspects in a drive-by shooting. His accused killer, 22-year-old Jamaal Lewis, pleaded guilty to first-degree felony murder. The admission of guilt was lawful and was not the result of an agreement between Lewis and Dupree.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, Melton’s family and Alvey wanted a capital murder conviction that carries a life sentence. And they unfairly blamed Dupree for going light on Lewis.

Lewis’ plea took the death penalty off the table. He will be eligible for parole after serving 25 years.

The Fraternal Order of Police pledged to work to ensure that Dupree only serves one term as district attorney, and Alvey called the agreement a de facto devaluation of victims’ rights.

Alvey’s lack of neutrality during that episode is telling. And his unwillingness to show leadership now is concerning.

The mayor has a vested interest in ensuring that law enforcement officials and the district attorney are not working at cross-purposes or wasting time and energy undercutting one another.

Alvey has an opportunity to help put this relationship on a better path going forward for the benefit of all of Wyandotte County. He should seize it.

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