Police in KCK shot and killed a homeless man. His brother wants bodycam footage released

A man is suing the police department in Kansas City, Kansas, for body camera footage, saying its release will show his brother was unarmed and running when an officer shot him in the back.

Jon Anderton, a 50-year-old houseless man, was killed by a Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department officer on Feb. 3, 2023.

His brother Eric Anderton filed a lawsuit this month in Wyandotte County District Court seeking public release of body camera recordings from the shooting. The lawsuit was filed against the Unified Government and KCKPD. The UG did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The police department said it could not send responses on Friday.

According to the lawsuit, Jon Anderton called 911 when one of his friends overdosed. He waited until EMTs began arriving and then left on his bike.

An officer located him and an “exchange of some sort” followed, the Kansas City Police Department, which handled the investigation, said at the time. The officer fired at Anderton, who KCPD said had a firearm.

Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree announced no charges would be filed against the officer in August.

Under Kansas law, family members can view body camera footage.

Eric Anderton watched the recording at the police department in August. According to the lawsuit, the police put out a “misleading narrative.”

The petition said the officer stopped Jon Anderton, who said he left the scene because he didn’t think there was anything he could do to help. When the officer went to arrest him, Anderton began running toward a patch of trees. When he reached down to grab his pants that had fallen below his waist, the officer fired about three times at Anderton’s back, the lawsuit said. Anderton fell to the ground and the officer continued to shoot several more times.

The lawsuit said no weapon was visible in the video.

“This case is about whether the public should be able to know if the police agency tasked with protecting and serving them is telling the truth,” the lawsuit said.

Footage and transparency

In late March, Eric Anderton filed a public records request for the videos. The Unified Government denied it on April 8, saying the recordings do not have to be released because they are part of criminal investigation records and would constitute an invasion of privacy.

However, criminal investigation records can be released if a court finds them to be in the public’s interest.

Lauren Bonds, executive director of the National Police Accountability Project, which filed the petition, said the community should know what happens when a police officer takes a life.

“When there’s conflicting narratives about government misconduct, that’s enough of a reason to open the information up to the public,” she said.

Anderton argues that in this case, the public has an interest in resolving conflicting narratives. The lawsuit also said that the public would be able to evaluate KCKPD’s use of force training and leadership, understand their own risk of violence when interacting with the department’s officers and evaluate the district attorney.

It went on to say that access to the footage is essential for community trust. The relationship between the police department and the community has been marred by several scandals, including the ongoing federal prosecution of Roger Golubski, a retired KCKPD detective accused of rape and conspiring to sex traffic underage girls.

The lawsuit also said any privacy concerns regarding the officer or Jon Anderton could be addressed by blurring footage.

Bonds told The Star that accountability in this case was about “the department as a whole, that there’s at least going to be some pressure for them to explain the original statement that they put out, that there’s going to be some pressure for them to explain how this (shooting) happened.”

A Star investigation published last month found that Kansas’ discretionary laws on the release of criminal investigation records has created a patchwork of transparency across the state.

In the five years from 2019 to 2023, police officers fatally shot 47 people in Kansas. Officers were cleared of criminal charges in all of the cases. The Star requested videos from all of the shootings under the Kansas Open Records Act. Where recordings existed, officials denied releasing them to the public 67% of the time.

Eight of those fatal police shootings were in Kansas City, Kansas. The department released one video in 2022. The department denied releasing footage from the other seven fatal shootings, which included Anderton’s.

“If it’s something that we feel is in the best interest of the public, then we would release it,” Police Chief Karl Oakman said during an interview last month.