New videos of deadly Kansas City police shooting renew calls for transparency

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Legal experts are weighing in on the renewed demand for police transparency after new videos of a deadly police shooting were released this week.

Disturbed by what they saw, a group of local pastors released surveillance video Tuesday from the attempted arrest and shooting of Malcolm Johnson.

The shooting happened on March 25 inside a BP gas station at 63rd Street and Prospect Avenue.

An officer shot and killed Johnson after Kansas City police say he fired first. But the local clergy believe the department’s initial report and the surveillance footage contradicted each other.

“When they entered the store, you could clearly see that they already had their minds made up, that this was going to be a somewhat violent confrontation,” Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III said.

After the first video was released, another person who had cellphone video of the shooting came forward. This time the footage is from another angle, showing five police officers in a physical struggle with Johnson.

The two new videos have led to heightened calls for transparency and justice.

Court records show Johnson had a long criminal history before this incident in March. Murder, assault and illegal gun possession charges followed Johnson for much of his adult life.

Officials said they were well aware of this. Police were attempting to take him into custody because he had been accused in a domestic violence shooting.

But local pastors said despite Johnson’s criminal history, no one deserves to be killed. Pastor Darron Edwards said he believes police could have arrested him in a different way without violence.

The clergy group, Getting to the Heart of the Matter, have since turned over the footage to the Missouri State Highway Patrol and said they feel better about the investigation after talking with the agency.

We believe from the conversation that this investigation is in the best possible hands at this time,” Edwards said.

But some other community activists are still frustrated. A protest is planned for Friday night outside Kansas City Police headquarters.

Mayor Quinton Lucas said he sees the value in being open with the public.

“I am as surprised as you to see that there are new videos that are coming out months after an incident, months after the narrative was first shared,” Lucas said. “So I think it is valuable for the public to be able to hear more, to get it if we possibly can early on.”

But local legal experts say releasing too much information early on can interfere with law enforcement’s investigation sometimes.

“People want to see all the videos right now, and I understand that,” said Greg Plumb, a criminal justice professor at Park University. “But the two major problems again are the U.S. Constitution and how it can interfere with an investigation itself.”

Plumb said police departments usually have a “no comment” policy to protect everyone involved. 

“That’s why police use that phrase of, ‘We are not going to comment on an ongoing investigation,'” Plumb said.

Phil LeVota, a former prosecutor turned trial attorney, said there are some instances when investigators withhold information for a different reason.

“However, there is the rub because sometimes we have seen across the country, they are not producing these videos because they may put the officer in a bad light or hide some bad behavior,” he said.

Levota said when they can legally release more information, they should to help rebuild public trust.

“I think it is just a culture that they don’t do it, and I think that needs to change,” he said. “Maybe on some cases someone within the police department needs to look a little bit deeper and find out what really wouldn’t jeopardize the investigation by releasing and what would.”

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