Could Strong DAs Be a Solution to Police Accountability?
Written by Steve Mencher
Editor's Note: Solutions Journalism is a way of looking at problems and issues with an eye toward uncovering and explaining ways that communities have moved toward solving those problems. Find out more here.
Driven by community input, our current work is focused on the November 3 election. A key local issue in the election is a proposition supported by some community members to strengthen police oversight in Sonoma County.
That's why we were attracted to this story of a new approach to policing the police in Kansas City, Kansas and its surrounding Wyandotte County.
On October 1, the newly formed Community Integrity Unit in Wyandotte County, Kansas will begin to oversee investigations into police misbehavior. Nobody knows if it will be effective. Its budget is limited, its purview constrained. But the story of the creation of this office within the office of District Attorney Mark Dupree is instructive and provides a possible roadmap for other communities seeking to investigate and rein in police misconduct.
As communities throughout the country seek ways to make police accountable, the story in Kansas helps illuminate common issues, including: Who will conduct investigations into police misbehavior? When will those investigations result in criminal charges or disciplinary action? What is the role of police unions in shielding police from investigation and punishment?
What’s happening in Kansas fits into a national movement, with outposts from Philadelphia to San Francisco, where progressive and activist district attorneys are challenging police unions and others who believe that police can and should continue to monitor themselves, with limited oversight.
And here in Sonoma County, it brings into relief our own evolving solution to police misconduct. On the November 3rd ballot, the community can vote on a set of changes to strengthen the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach, a civilian review board that now has limited powers and funding.
Kansas City, Kansas: A Tale of Two Cities
Before spending a year in Kansas and Missouri in 2015, I wouldn't have known that Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas (KCK) are twin cities. KCK is smaller and has fewer resources, as well as higher rates of poverty. KCK and surrounding Wyandotte County, Kan. are governed as a unitary whole. The mayor also holds the title of CEO of the unified government. The county is made up of about 60 percent people of color, similar to the city. In a phrase that is of less and less utility, the city and county are said to be "majority minority."
As elsewhere, the tidal wave of reform to the justice system in Wyandotte County emerged out of a horrific set of circumstances, which are still playing out in court. The story starts with two men: Roger Golubski, a 35-year veteran of the Kansas City, Kan. police department; and Lamonte McIntyre, charged with a double murder in 1994 at age 17, and exonerated after serving 23 years in prison.
On April 15, 1994, two men are shot as they sit in a car on a KCK street.
Undated photo of Lamonte McIntyre in prison. Credit: Cheryl Pilate/Midwest Innocence ProjectThe investigation of that double homicide, as described by the Midwest Innocence Project (MIP), was “hasty and superficial… [P]olice spent less than 20 minutes interviewing witnesses.”
Lamonte McIntyre was scooped up within hours. The four-day trial was held that fall when he was 18, an adult in the eyes of the law. McIntyre was sentenced to two life terms. Summing up the deficiencies in the case, the MIP outlined the following circumstances:
• No physical evidence ever linked McIntyre to the crime. • Lamonte McIntyre did not know the victims. • The state presented no evidence of motive. • No weapon was found linking McIntyre to the victims. • No requests were made for search warrants of Lamonte’s home, person, or clothing.
Why was McIntrye arrested at all? According to Lamonte McIntyre’s mother, Rosie, Kansas City, Kan. detective Roger Golubski had “forced her into a sexual act in his office years before the murders, threatening to arrest her boyfriend if she refused. She had rebuffed his efforts at a continuing relationship.” Her son was arrested to punish her, she claims.
Apparently, this was detective Golubski’s pattern and practice. In court filings connected with the McIntyre case, multiple women have come forward to name Golubski as a serial predator, who demanded sex from women on the street, while threatening to charge them or their loved ones with prostitution or drug offenses if they didn’t submit.
Who else knew about Golubski’s conduct? Many others, on the force and in the community.
Before he knew the extent of Golubski’s misbehavior, Kansas City, Kan. pastor Rick Behrens, of the Grandview Park Presbyterian Church, acting as a volunteer chaplain, stood by the side of the detective as the officer delivered news of the death of a loved one to a grieving mom. Rather than comforting the woman, the detective berated her as “part of the system” that led to the death of her son in police custody.
Behrens quit as chaplain soon after, affronted by Golubski's abusive approach. And he heard more about the cop in the years that followed.
Kansas City, Kan. pastor Rick Behrens. Courtesy: Rick Behrens"The corruption runs pretty deep," Behrens told me by phone. “[E]veryone in the department knew about what [Golubski] did, which is, he would extort sexual favors from young Black women. Abused and raped Black women. And subsequently put a lot of young Black men in jail as retaliation for women who wouldn't curry his favors."
As if the pileup of mistakes and malfeasance in the McIntrye trial wasn’t enough, the presiding judge had had a previous romantic relationship with the prosecutor, a fact which was never disclosed at trial. And McIntyre's representation, including at his original trial, was feeble.
The first elected Black DA in Kansas
The McIntryre case “met us at the front door,” says Mark Dupree, when he began work as district attorney of the Wyandotte/KCK unified government after his election in 2016. Dupree is the first African American to hold the position of elected district attorney in the state of Kansas.
For seven months Dupree reviewed the case, and investigated whether his office, under previous management, had violated McIntyre’s rights by withholding evidence or other essential information or threatening witnesses. In the end, Dupree dropped the charges, asserting that a “manifest injustice” had been done to McIntyre during the trial and in the more than two decades of his incarceration that followed.
McIntyre walked free on October 13, 2017. In 2020, he was awarded $1.5 million from the state of Kansas for his wrongful incarceration, based on a formula that pays those wrongfully imprisoned about $65,000 per year. Civil lawsuits filed by his family are ongoing.
This summer, 26 years after the murder and trial, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation turned over information it had uncovered about detective Golubski to the FBI, since most of his alleged crimes had taken place outside the state statute of limitations. Golubski had retired at the rank of captain (with a full pension) from the KCK force in 2010. He went on to work for a nearby police department for an additional five years.
Wyandotte County DA Mark Dupree. Credit: Jonathan Carter“When [the McIntyre] case was done,” said Mark Dupree in a phone interview, “it dawned on me — having grown up in this county my entire life in the inner city, I knew that there were concerns of corruption, and there were concerns of mishandling of cases. At the end of the day, my thought was, if there is one individual that is wrongfully incarcerated, there have to be more.
“Sadly, it is something the numbers show us with the amount of exonerations we find in our country. That is what launched the Conviction Integrity Unit,” in 2018.
In short, the DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit seeks to avoid more cases like that of Lamonte McIntyre. Its key goal is, according to Dupree, “to build trust with the community, who, many of them came out during this McIntyre time, to say: Look, the streets talk, we know he didn’t do it; the victim’s family said they know he didn’t do it; and everyone knew about some of the allegations of corruption concerning this office and the police department.
“That is what launched the Conviction Integrity Unit, to give the community and the family members of wrongfully accused individuals an outlet to be able to bring forth these claims.”
After all, the McIntyre case had been considered by courts numerous times since his conviction. Reopening the case was always avoided on procedural grounds, with the core issues never presented or discussed.
The Conviction Integrity Unit gives those seeking to reopen cases that might be tainted by misconduct, by either the police or prosecutors, the chance to “present your case, present that information to our office, so we can review it, we can investigate it, and we can come to a determination on whether or not we are in agreement with the defendant that there may have been some kind of foul play or manifest injustice,” says Dupree. The unit has examined about 60 cases as of this summer.
“And that thought process has moved us from just looking at old cases, to transparency, integrity and community trust.”
But there was more work to be done, Dupree knew, after the spring and summer of 2020. “The George Floyd situation opened up our county and country to a reality that there are some very systematic divides within our communities, particularly communities of color.”
Investigating bad convictions was one thing. But what would the community do in a case like that of George Floyd, or to bring it closer to home, how could it rein in an officer who acted with the apparent impunity of a Roger Golubski?
And as the Conviction Integrity Unit began to see some success, activists in the community, including a powerful progressive group called the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity (MORE2) sensed an opening.
According to reporter Katie Bernard of the Kansas City Star, the group presented officials with three demands:
• The firing of KCK police chief Tony Ziegler, a former partner of Roger Golubski, who many believed knew about the detective’s crimes; • The creation of a bilingual (Spanish/English) hotline to report police misconduct; and • The need for an independent office to evaluate claims of police misbehavior.
Ziegler didn’t give the county administrator, his boss, the opportunity to fire him. Retiring in 2019, he said proudly: "Serving as a police officer is one of the noblest callings a person can answer and I encourage our citizens to consider a career in law enforcement with our Department. Be the change you want to see!"
After Ziegler left office, progressive groups shifted their demand to ask for a voice in the selection of the next police chief.
And with the death of George Floyd on May 25, the Kansas City, Kan. DA knew it was time to accelerate his plan that the Conviction Integrity Unit should become an office that could also field and investigate complaints against police officers.
After all, says Mark Dupree, “the George Floyd situation opened up a reality that there is a complete distrust — I shouldn't say complete — there is a lack of trust, specifically when you're dealing with communities of color and law enforcement.
“And here's the reality — when we say law enforcement that includes police, that includes district attorneys, that includes judges and so on and so forth. And it behooves all of us to play a part in that.”
Simply put, he could no longer do his job if there was no way to improve police accountability.
Wyandotte County DA Mark Dupree. Credit: Jonathan CarterCurr Currently, in Wyandotte County, a community member’s complaint about a police officer goes to the agency that employs him or her, which makes a determination about what to do next. (In addition to KCK, several communities in Wyandotte County have their own law enforcement agencies.) There are Internal Affairs units that investigate police misconduct. And when they need outside help, nearby police agencies are called in, with the thought that they will be neutral.
Dupree’s main thought was this: How could the community feel confident that complaining to the police agency that employs a rogue law enforcement officer would result in a fair investigation?
“Going back to George Floyd – we find the main officer in that case [Derek Chauvin] had more than a dozen excessive force and community complaints, but nobody knew about these things.
“Here it is: you cannot hold officers accountable for their actions if their actions are hidden by their agency. And so these complaints, and the excessive force that these agencies bring to light, if this interoffice or internal affairs process shields the community from knowing all of what's happening on these things, we are not able to hold this officer accountable.
"And maybe, just maybe, if the community knew there in Minnesota about this officer, maybe George Floyd would not have died,” Dupree says.
His solution? A “transparent and clear process to give everyone the opportunity to know what's happening, to deal with what's happening, but also to give safeguards to our officers, because we don't want them to feel they are continuously being jumped on. We just want them to feel what everyone else feels, which is accountability for your actions.”
And so Dupree developed a plan to turn the Conviction Integrity Unit into the Community Integrity Unit, adding a mandate to investigate police misconduct.
“With that process,” he says, “we do the investigation. We have certified law enforcement we are hiring to actually do that investigation. The agency may get the complaint — we have multiple agencies here in our county. They will have the opportunity to sit in on the investigation. They will be able to look over the shoulder to see what's happening and going on, and ultimately, we will provide [a] report — based off the recordings, any video footage, any witnesses.”
The new unit will file its report, and at that point, "if there is a crime that is committed, my office will file charges, as we usually do.
“But if we don't find there is a crime, however, if we find this was some kind of misconduct, that information is given to the chief of whatever agency, for that agency to deal with them administratively.”
The focus is on the unit's independence, so the community "can hopefully trust that the outcome holds integrity rather than the 'home cooking' of someone in that same agency doing that investigation."
Is this a comprehensive solution to the problem of police misconduct in Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas? Hardly. The budget, though approved unanimously by the county Board of Commissioners, is modest. County leaders agreed to 1.5 new positions for the office, allocating $48,000 for the last quarter of 2020 so the unit can begin work on October 1, and $165,000 in 2021.
Further, once an investigation passes the threshold of misdemeanor conduct by a police officer, the Community Integrity Unit still plans to bring in help. When asked about this by email, Dupree says: “The CIU will investigate all cases that come in the door; however, when the evidence shows a possible felony crime, we will follow the protocols of the police agencies to bring an additional investigating agency alongside us to investigate the situation. Oftentimes that is agencies such as KBI (Kansas Bureau of Investigation), Topeka police department and others.”
In other words, not so different from before the new unit was created.
Another inherent weakness of the system is that, as an elected DA, Dupree needs to face the voters every four years. I spoke with him just after his success this summer in the Democratic primary, where he defeated Kristiane Bryant, a candidate backed by the local police union, with 54.5 percent of the vote. Since no Republican has filed to run against him, he'll be sworn in for his second term in January.
I asked, perhaps infelicitously, whether his attempts to rein in misconduct by the police put a “target on [his] back,” subjecting him to a challenge at the ballot box.
It did, he said. "But I would simply add that target has been on my back since I won the first term. And it became more apparent to the community with George Floyd and with this election because, you’re right, there is no doubt if someone else was in this position, they would go back to that good old boy way where officers can investigate themselves. Officers can deal with their own investigations concerning shootings; there is no real transparency; we just trust each other."
Since he took over the DA's office, Dupree says, "I've had to fight in private with the Fraternal Order of Police [the local police union], who came out against me on multiple times throughout the first term, writing the attorney general, trying to strip me of my power, saying I need oversight.
[Multiple requests to the Kansas City, Kan. Fraternal Order of Police for comment received no response.]
"Everything that they threw at me has never been done to any prosecutor in the state of Kansas, ever before. But when you have someone who is being disciplined and focused on justice and transparency, that target doesn't go anywhere.
"So, do I think I continue to have a target on my back, absolutely, but that target is a target I wear proudly for justice.
"Because we have to make sure that the community members – not just the police, not just those who are friends with the mayor, not just those who are the rich and powerful in our county, but everyone from the inner city to the suburbs – feel they are being treated fair and just and protected by the entire criminal justice system."
In looking at Mark Dupree's prospective solution to police accountability, we need to ask: is this something specific to circumstances in Kansas City? I called the newly-elected San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin to ask him that question.
A new district attorney in San Francisco takes the lead on police accountability. He knows this will affect his relationship with local cops, and warns that police unions must be kept from meddling in DA races
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Courtesy: SF DA“There is not a simple answer. There is not a one size fits all solution. There is not a magic bullet… And what will work in San Francisco is very different than what will work in, say, Sonoma County or in a different state,” says Chesa Boudin, in a telephone interview.
“You need someone who has the meaningful capacity to investigate" possible crimes committed by police. "And in most jurisdictions, as in San Francisco, the police - the very subject of investigation in this category of potential crime — are the body that do probably 99 percent of the investigative work for the District Attorney’s office.
"And so, having an independent District Attorney, with the political will or courage, to consider filing charges against a police officer, against someone from the very department they rely on as investigators and witnesses in virtually every case they file, is not enough.
"You still need someone to show up at the scene and do an independent investigation and preserve evidence." This is possible in the 47 square miles of the City and County of San Francisco in ways it would be difficult in any larger jurisdiction, Boudin says. (The area of Wyandotte County is about three times larger)
Just since he was sworn in as DA in January 2020, Boudin has instituted the following reforms:
Prosecutors must review evidence before charging anyone with resisting or obstructing an officer;
Officers who have committed serious misconduct will not be the lone voice in testifying against defendants;
Victims of police violence, just like victims of violence not involving police, will be compensated by San Francisco.
“We had a very ambitious campaign platform and we made a lot of specific, concrete promises. We have been able to implement many of the things we committed to do, many of the things that the voters of San Francisco elected me to do. I’m a glass half full kind of guy, but I also focus very much on the things we promise we would do that we haven’t had time or the ability to do.
“It’s been a very productive first eight months or so in office, and we’ve implemented a number of policies that are very important to this issue of police accountability. And supporting victims, even victims of police violence.”
Hanging over it all is the role of police unions.
"I think up until recently [this was] an under-appreciated issue," says Boudin. "I’ve been spearheading, in partnership with a couple of other elected DAs and former district attorney George Gascon, an effort in California to persuade the state bar to implement an ethical rule prohibiting district attorney candidates from accepting direct contributions or political support from police unions to cure this conflict of interest that your question is getting at.
“We know that about 95 percent of elected district attorneys in this country have the support, financial and political, of local police unions when they win their election. And we know that if you don’t do what the unions want there is a very serious price to pay. They spend huge amounts of money, they engage, in some jurisdictions, in really dubious electoral practices, and they are a critical partner in being successful as an administrator of an office.”
Police unions, says Boudin, have a "literal stranglehold on the political process, especially when it comes to district attorney races. And it’s a huge problem when it comes to both the actual independence and the appearance of independence in investigations into police officer misconduct.
“And so it’s not just the threat that they will spend money against you, or endorse your opponent. It’s not just the threat of the millions of dollars in attack ads that are a reality in places like Los Angeles." During his campaign, Boudin says, "[t]hey spent nearly a million dollars attacking me in San Francisco."
What's at stake, according to the DA, is his ability to do his job. And he sees evidence that local police unions are interfering in his office's work, "divid[ing] my office from one of our critical partners in investigating criminal conduct and presenting evidence of criminal conduct to courts and to juries."
"It’s a problem on a wide range of different fronts," he says, "all of which collectively and individually undermine the public trust in these critical institutions that we lead and that we are required to guide towards justice."
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Roger Golubski.
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