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A lawsuit filed against Kansas City police on Monday by rap icon and entrepreneur Jay-Z’s Roc Nation company alleges the department has covered up misconduct for years and that the state is now intentionally withholding information from the public.
Team Roc, the philanthropic wing of the music mogul’s entertainment company that focuses on police and criminal justice reform, filed the suit in the Wyandotte County district court against the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department, accusing its leadership of covering up police misconduct for over a decade — which includes allegations that officers committed sexual assault, stole from the homes of local residents, and various other misdeeds.
The suit alleges that KCKPD's misconduct has been an “open secret” for years and that KCKPD officers have planted evidence, fabricated witness statements and testimony, concealed exculpatory evidence, and concealed the misconduct of fellow officers, according to the Kansas City Star.
The lawsuit was ultimately filed to force the government to open files and records that would finally make several complaints the department’s investigative division has received over the years; specifically, Team Roc’s and its lawyers are hoping to expose to the government documents related to the training and supervision of KCKPD officers.
Alex Spiro, Team Roc’s attorney in the suit, explained that a Kansas Open Records Act request the organization submitted produced some departmental documents, but the full file wasn’t sufficient, as was reported by ABC News. Much like the federal freedom of information law, widely known as FOIA, any interested party is legally allowed to view various state and local government documents through the Kansas records act.
“We're allowed to see certain files and how the government handled certain issues," Spiro told the network. "The government has attempted to block our access to those files, and so we're suing to see what they don't want us to see."
Kansas City Police Public Information Officer Nancy Chartrand told ABC News that the county did receive notice of a petition for a writ of mandamus — a judicial writ ordering that a public or statutory duty be performed — regarding the previous open records request which Team Roc deemed insufficient.
“The Unified Government has previously produced hundreds of the requested records per the Kansas Open Records Act with some exceptions," Chartrand said in the department’s statement. "KORA does not require the disclosure of personnel records and criminal investigation records, for example, without specific circumstances.”
The county is currently reviewing a 28-page petition by Roc Nation stating there is a special interest in the disclosure of all records requested “so the public can seek justice,” the statement reads, adding that a response will come after the petition is reviewed.
Officer misconduct within the KSKPD has bubbled into the news for years. In 2019, after a violent incident at the county jail involving an inmate, Wyandotte County sheriff’s deputies David Toland and Marcus Johnson were slapped with charges including felony aggravated battery, misdemeanor assault and mistreatment of a confined person.
In 2011, the FBI announced that three officers — Jeffrey M. Bell, Darryl M. Forrest and Dustin Sillings — who were with the KCKPD’s Selective Crime Occurrence Reduction Enforcement Unit had been indicted on charges of stealing from homes where they had been issuing warrants; they were on duty and wearing their SCORE uniforms at the time of the thefts, in which the FBI said they absconded with a PlayStation Portable game console, an iPod Touch, video game cartridges, and hundreds of dollars in cash, the FBI said.
In 2020, it was announced that KCKPD officer Nicholas Schafer had been charged with aggravated indecent liberties with a child. The alleged indecent act took place while Schafer was off duty. The department is also reportedly facing allegations of race and gender discrimination from a Black female officer.
The lawsuit filed by Roc Nation states that the documents they are seeking “will help identify the scope of the problem, any potential evidence of a cover-up, and also the potential causes.” Records surrounding criminal investigations, criminal intelligence information and the majority of personnel records are not subject to the rules of the Kansas Open Records Act. However, language in the suit makes it clear that they are seeking records that go beyond the scope of records requests and calls into question the breadth of oversight of the KSKPD.
This is not the first instance where Jay-Z, whose birth name is Shawn Carter, has been involved in a high-profile lawsuit that highlights a social justice cause. In early 2020, he was financially tied to a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Greeneville, Mississippi on behalf of 152 prisoners in the state claiming they were subjected to “barbaric” conditions.
Jay-Z also joined forces with rapper Meek Mill to found the REFORM Alliance, a criminal justice reform organization, after Mill was released from prison in Pennsylvania for a minor parole violation; he had been sentenced to 2-4 years after a failed drug test and unapproved travel.
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