An attorney representing the Barber County Sheriff’s Office has released video of the fatal beanbag shooting of a Sun City man by the county’s undersheriff.
Wichita attorney Jeff Jordan, who represents the sheriff’s office and Sheriff Lonnie Small, said he provided a copy of all the audio and video recordings of the shooting to The Eagle on Wednesday based on its request for the recordings under the Kansas Open Records Act. Jordan wouldn’t comment on the content of the recordings.
The recordings shed light on the Oct. 6 shooting of 42-year-old Steven Myers in the backyard of a neighbor’s home. According to audio released Wednesday, sheriff’s officers responded to a report that Myers was drunk, had been thrown out of Buster’s bar, had a “long gun” and was threatening people on Main Street.
Until now, the only description of the recordings has come from Michael Kuckelman, an attorney who represents Myers’ wife, Kristina.
As the officers searched for Myers in the town of about 50 people, Sheriff Small can be heard saying, “I want to know where the shotgun is.” As he approaches the house where Myers would be shot, the sheriff appears to say he won’t take his police dog into the backyard because of other dogs there.
Myers was unarmed and obeying a command to come out of a shed behind the house when he was shot, Kuckelman has said.
Undersheriff Virgil “Dusty” Brewer, who fired the beanbag round from a shotgun, apparently was not wearing a body camera, according to what can be seen in the video and what recordings were released. No clear view of the shooting is available, according to video The Eagle received.
Immediately after the shooting, the sheriff says Myers was “beanbagged” and that it was “non-lethal.”
Experts refer to beanbag rounds as “less lethal,” because they can be fatal when fired at short distances.
After the beanbag is fired, deputies yell for Myers to get on the ground, and he slowly falls to his stomach.
About 24 seconds after the beanbag is fired, a deputy yells for someone to call EMS. Five seconds later, one deputy grabs Myers’ left wrist and begins to handcuff him.
A minute and 42 seconds after the round is fired, a deputy says he’s going to roll Myers onto his back. The video shows Myers’ chest soaked in blood.
One deputy holds the wound with his left hand, as his right hand cradles Myers’ head.
About four minutes and 31 seconds after, a deputy asks if Myers has a pulse. About a minute later, the deputies say they can’t find a pulse.
Five minutes and 35 seconds after the beanbag is fired, a deputy is heard asking, “Can we do CPR with ...” and the video cuts off.
After the coroner arrives, he voices surprise that the beanbag round did so much damage and said it must have been fired from close range.
Small is heard telling officers not to tell the coroner everything, that KBI agents who will investigate the shooting are on their way.
A court hearing on whether the video should be released to Kristina Myers had been scheduled to be held Friday in Medicine Lodge.
Kuckelman, the attorney for Kristina Myers, said release of the video on Wednesday was “a surprise to us.” The family first knew of the release when it was posted on Eagle website, he said. A little before 6 p.m. Wednesday, the sheriff’s attorney sent an email saying that copies of the recording were being mailed to the family, Kuckelman said. “I would have just expected the sheriff to have the courtesy to notify the family before he released it to the media.”
Even though the family will now receive the video, Kuckelman still wants the court hearing Friday, partly to argue that the video should have been released earlier under the Open Records Act, he said.
“We want the court to make a finding that the Barber County sheriff violated the Kansas Open Records Act in this case.” The family also wants the rest of the counties in the state “to take notice that this ends the practice of law enforcement protecting bad officers by refusing to release body and dash cam video,” Kuckelman said.
Jordan, the sheriff’s attorney, responded later Wednesday night, saying that the Sheriff’s Office “has at all times complied with the Kansas Open Records Act and has provided Mr. Kuckelman access to the audio and video at every step. Mr. Kuckelman was told on Friday that copies would be made available, and they have. The Eagle submitted a Kansas Open Records Act request as well, and the Sheriff’s Office has complied with that request by providing the video and audio.”
Release of video in shootings by law enforcement serves a number of positive purposes, said Michael Birzer, professor of criminal justice at Wichita State University.
“Ultimately, I think it is good for the public to see that,” not only to see what happened in a particular incident. It allows police to show they are being transparent about whether they follow protocol, Birzer said.
Video also helps the public to better understand the reality of use of force, he said.
“That’s a good thing. I think in the past that hasn’t always been the case,” when such information was “kept behind closed doors. At the time, it was just another era policing.”
But as law enforcement agencies have become more community oriented, they’ve become more open, Birzer said.
Lauren Bonds, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas, shared similar comments.
“More transparency is always a good thing,” she said. “Once there’s no longer an ongoing investigation, or there are no concerns related to legitimate police work, we think it is important that the community be able to see what happened and to understand the police’s role in any loss of life or injury that occurred.”
She said if the footage isn’t released, then it undermines the purpose of body cameras.
“Accountability doesn’t happen if the footage just stays in the police department,” she said.