Committee recommends council pass ordinance dismissing charges for protestors

The Kansas City Special Committee for Legal Review met Tuesday to review an ordinance introduced by Third District At-Large Councilman Brandon Ellington on June 4.

Ordinance 200415 would establish a limited prosecutorial bar for certain acts within the city, erasing previous municipal charges from protests between May 29 and June 2 in the Central Business District, the Country Club Plaza area, the Westport and Mill Creek Park.

Protests have taken place across the country and locally for nearly three weeks, sparked by the death of George Floyd after a Minneapolis Police Department officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said her office had not filed charges for minor offenses against protesters in a statement Thursday.

Charges have been filed by the city prosecutor’s office, which reports to the mayor and the city council.

In the statement, Baker denounced the city filing charges against non-violent protestors for walking in the street or stepping off the curb.

Baker’s office did file four cases related to looting that occurred on the Plaza following protests last weekend, for which all individuals have now been released.

With the council chambers at capacity and over 150 people watching on a screen in the first floor lobby of City Hall waiting to enter the meeting, Committee Chair Kevin McManus said this was the highest attendance for a meeting of the Special Committee for Legal Review.

If the ordinance is passed, it would allow protestors who were arrested for non-violent actions to have their charges dropped. However, charges for theft, violence and property damage would not be dismissed.

The charges considered are in Chapter 50 or Chapter 70 of the City of Kansas City, Missouri’s Code of Ordinances.

Ellington said the City Council has received upward of 300 emails, many anonymous, urging members to vote against the ordinance, saying they look like they are organized and could be coming from the local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).

“Last week when I introduced the ordinance, we talked about it on the floor, it’s a very simple ordinance, but the negative blowback was that I was eradicating violent crimes,” Ellington said. “I want to assure people that don’t understand the law, basic law lets us all know that you cannot do that on the city council.”

Ellington showed the committee and audience a compilation video of local protests.

For nearly three hours constituents voiced their opposition or support for the ordinance.

A group of police officers’ wives, represented by a couple speaker, said they fear for their husbands’ and families’ lives.

Brad Lemon, president of the Kansas City, Missouri FOP Lodge #99, said he believes in free speech and protest, but cautioned the committee of this action affecting how future protests are handled.

“If this was about peaceful protest, we wouldn’t be sitting here today,” Lemon said. “We’re not talking about that, we’re talking about people that chose to throw five-pound stones and crush police officers’ helmets, lacerate livers, people in the hospital, stitches. At some point peace has to be kept, that’s our job. We don’t create rules, we operate within them.”

Supporters of the ordinance said the protests were escalated by police, who responded in riot gear during the initial interactions on the Plaza.

Justice Horn, organizer of support for the ordinance, said as far as he is aware, no police officers have been charged for inappropriate actions during the protests, just protestors.

“No one should have to suffer or be punished for the progress that we’ve made as a community and a city,” Horn said.

Comments in support of the ordinance were met with raucous applause echoing off the marble in the first floor lobby.

Ellington noted that all of the spoken opposition at the committee meeting came from law enforcement or affiliated parties, and said it is not their duty to argue laws.

McManus said he wants to make sure the ordinance is as specific as possible to prevent unintended results.

The draft ordinance was changed, removing a provision to make the order retroactive, which First District Councilwoman Heather Hall argued for, saying that those charged with a crime should face a judge. 

The committee voted 3-1 to recommend the City Council pass the ordinance, with Hall dissenting, calling it a “slippery slope.”

Director of City Communications Chris Hernandez said because the city prosecutor is not a member of the judicial branch, and unlike the municipal court, does not adjudge guilt or innocence, it is within the purview of the city council to bar the prosecutor from going forward with certain charges.

“The city prosecutor continues to review the information related to all charges, including any additional information that may be submitted after the fact, all in an effort to be prepared to properly assess the sufficiency of any pending case as well as be prepared to implement any legislative directive,” Hernandez said Wednesday.

The ordinance will next be considered by the full council Thursday.

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