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Police chief, city manager suspend Wichita police officers involved in racist messages

City Manager Robert Layton, front, addresses the media last March following an executive session with the City Council to discuss racist texts and memes from Wichita Police officers.

The action was taken over the officers’ involvement in racist and violent text messages.

After reopening a case about racist and violent text messages sent by Wichita Police officers, Interim Police Chief Lemuel Moore announced Thursday that three officers have been suspended without pay.

Moore suspended the three officers for eight days for inappropriate conduct. Two of the officers shared a racist meme about George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer in Minnesota. The third officer professed support for the Three Percenters, an extremist anti-government militia organization.

In a statement following Moore’s comments, City Manager Robert Layton added seven more days of unpaid suspension for the two officers who sent the racist meme. He also prohibited all three suspended officers from serving in special assignments and required their participation in a cultural training program led by a licensed psychologist.

“I am taking these additional steps to send a strong and clear message that those with these types of beliefs are not welcome in our police department or in any positions with the city of Wichita,” Layton said.

Two other officers received a written reprimand and must attend sensitivity training. These officers participated in a text conversation about “permanently de-escalating” people.

The disciplinary action for the five officers follows a March investigation by The Wichita Eagle that uncovered the racist and violent text messages among the police officers and other law enforcement members. The discipline announced Thursday is the most severe punishment the officers involved in the text messages have received thus far.

A previous investigation by the police department into the text messages resulted in little to no discipline for the involved officers:

  • One officer who shared the racist meme received a written reprimand.
  • Another officer who shared the racist meme was not investigated. 
  • One officer who professed support for the Three Percenters received no discipline.
  • Two officers who participated in a conversation about “permanently de-escalating” people received no discipline. 

A city internal review committee found that police department leadership failed to administer sufficient discipline for the text messages. The decision to reopen the case and pursue more disciplinary action came at the recommendation of the Citizen Review Board and follows the departure of former police chief Gordon Ramsay, who voluntarily left the department in March.

In May, Ramsay alleged inappropriate interference by the city’s human resources department in officer discipline.

When asked whether the initial handling of the case was improper, Moore said that every leader is different.

“When you have leadership that comes in, everyone has a different vision, everyone has a different objective,” Moore said.

The city will hire a firm to undertake an independent investigation into the text messages in the next several weeks. The investigation will primarily look into cultural issues in the police department but will also study the relationship between the police department, human resources department, law department and city manager’s office.

“I am hopeful that this evaluation will let us know whether we have a systemic problem in the department that goes beyond those that we are aware of and highlighted here today,” Layton said.

Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership Center’s The Journal. She is originally from Westwood, Kansas, but Wichita is her home now.