The families of three people shot and killed this year by the Wichita Police Department went to the City Council on Tuesday with a request: Help us figure out what happened to our family members, because the police aren’t talking.
Often angry and sometimes in tears, the families of Marquez Smart, Timothy Collins and Karen Jackson demanded grand jury investigations into the deaths.
Smart was shot March 10 in Old Town after police said he opened fire into a crowd of people. Collins, Smart’s cousin, was shot April 13 by police responding to a home invasion in a neighborhood near Pawnee and Seneca. Jackson was shot July 10 as she approached police with a knife and whiskey bottle, police said.
What the families got was an immediate meeting with Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz to shed more light on the shootings. He said afterward that he wants to see if there is a way to release more information about cases even though police are limited by what they can say while independent investigations are being conducted into officer-involved shootings.
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“The Wichita Police Department must stop the killing,” said Randal Smart, father of Marquez Smart. “He was a hard-working young man who never had the chance to live his life and have a family of his own. This takes a big chunk out of our lives.”
Smart and Shakeitha Scales, mother of Collins, said police claims that their sons were in gangs weren’t true. Both claimed police have steadfastly dodged their requests for information, dating back to the hours following the shootings.
Smart said police initially denied that they had his son, then went back and forth at the hospital about allowing family to see Marquez.
“They wouldn’t let us see him for three days,” Randall Smart said.
“I feel that the judicial system is a failure,” he said. “We want the truth and the facts. Our son did not deserve to be slain down by the Wichita Police Department.”
Scales said her son was trying to surrender to police when he was shot in the forehead. She asked the council to demand that police use nonlethal methods to subdue suspects.
She said police are using her son’s picture in Wichita schools as an example to schoolchildren of “what happens when you’re in a gang,” another example of what she calls police misconduct.
“To this day, I haven’t heard from the Wichita Police Department,” she said. “He was right across the street being cut open at the autopsy place, and I didn’t know anything. I’m not knowing anything about him being dead. I don’t know what it is with the police and our black kids. Marquez wasn’t in a gang, and my son definitely wasn’t in a gang.”
Tyra Williams, the daughter of Jackson, delivered a tearful account of her mother’s death in July.
“She was murdered within 16 seconds of the police approaching her,” she said. “The police know that’s a mistake, based on the manner they handled the east-side Burlington shooting. … This is the most tragic thing that could happen to me and my family.”
Mike Shatz, representing Occupy Wichita, criticized the lack of police transparency in the shootings, calling it “indifference and in some cases outright disrespect.”
“Officer-involved shootings are on the rise, as they are in Wichita,” Shatz said. “What makes Wichita unique is the veil of secrecy around the shootings.”
Since October, five people have been killed and nine wounded in confrontations with police.
Stolz met with relatives Tuesday morning, and said afterward, “I think their testimony is very moving.
“The thing that bothers me the most … is when you have people standing there saying, ‘We don’t have any communication.’ ”
In the minutes, hours and days after an officer-involved shooting, he said, authorities can get so caught up in the details of the investigation “that sometimes we miss out on simple communication.” Police are restricted by what can be released about an active investigation, he said, and that can lead to frustration for the relatives of those involved.
Outside agencies are always brought in to conduct independent investigations of officer-involved shootings, and police officials can’t discuss the cases while the investigations are under way.
“As hard as it is to understand, we have to be patient," Stolz said.
He wants to meet with Police Chief Norman Williams to see if there is a way to release more information about cases even as the independent investigation is taking place.
“Do I think it should be looked at? Absolutely," he said.
But how police would do that legally and ethically within the confines of an active investigation is tricky, he said.
Still, “we have parents down there saying, ‘We haven’t heard anything,’ and I think there has got to be a better way to do business," he said.
Scales said after the same meeting she got no new information from police officials. She has a meeting scheduled Wednesday with City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf.
“The guy I met and talked to today was upset because no police officer had contacted us,” Scales said. “But he couldn’t answer any of the questions I need answered.”