KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas City police detective is suing his department, alleging he was punished for reporting another officer’s illegal search.
Attorneys for Det. Arthur Willingham filed a lawsuit against members of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, who oversee the Kansas City Police Department.
Willingham has been employed with KCPD since 2000 and has worked as a narcotics detective in the investigations bureau since 2005.
But in his lawsuit he said that changed in February 2022 when he was demoted back to a patrol bureau.
The 52-year-old said in October 2021 he and another detective were working at a Greyhound bus station on Troost Avenue, conducting narcotics interdiction operations.
According to the lawsuit, a K-9 alerted officers to two suitcases in the luggage department of a bus. Willingham and the other detective completed a consensual contact with the passengers and a consensual search of the luggage, the suit says. They didn’t find any narcotics, and they returned the luggage to its original place.
But Willingham alleged when they were putting the suitcases back, he saw the other detective leaning into the baggage compartment, “manipulating a separate duffle bag in an attempt to feel its contents.”
The lawsuit said the other detective then unzipped the bag and reached in to feel what was inside.
Willingham believed this was an illegal search under the 4th Amendment and questioned his fellow detective, he said. The officer said what he saw “was not what he usually does,” according to Willingham’s suit.
Willingham said he informed his sergeant and filed a report, which was also sent to his captain.
The 52-year-old said he believes this wasn’t the first time someone had raised concerns about the other detective. But according to the lawsuit, Willingham heard secondhand the other detective received an “instructional notice,” avoiding discipline.
Willingham was also a task force officer with the Drug Enforcement Administration and handled submitting federal cases to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In January 2022, he submitted a case to federal prosecutors for review and informed the narcotics unit chief that he’d included information about that detective involved in the alleged illegal search, the lawsuit says.
Willingham said through his DEA task force role he was required to make any discoverable information available to prosecutors.
Later that month, prosecutors declined the case.
In February, Willingham said his supervisors called him in and told him he was being transferred to the Central Patrol Division for patrol duty while KCPD investigated, according to the lawsuit.
Willingham said throughout his employment, he had performed all his duties as required, exceeded expectations and received “excellent performance evaluations,” as well as several letters of commendation and awards.
But with his alleged demotion, Willingham said he was stripped of his DEA credentials, his department laptop, cell phone and vehicle and also escorted out of the building by two sergeants.
In his lawsuit, Willingham said he was “falsely accused of being unethical for reporting illegal practices and violating several sections of the personnel policy.” He is accusing the department of illegal discrimination and retaliation, and his attorneys are requesting a jury trial.
A spokesperson for the Kansas City Police Department said Willingham is still employed with the agency and is currently a detective assigned to the investigations bureau.
FOX4 reached out to the Kansas City Police Department for comment; a spokesperson issued the following statement:
“While we do not generally speak about details of pending civil litigation to ensure fairness for all sides involved and other department members who may be involved in such personnel matters, we want to assure the public that the KCPD is committed to ensuring a fair and equitable work place free from harassment or discrimination. Also, regarding investigative requirements and guidelines. We are very familiar with the requirements of the 4th Amendment and have several layers of supervisory accountability and review within our department and as part of the investigative partnership with our federal partners.”
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