KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A group of Christian ministers is questioning the fatal police shooting of a Kansas City man after they said videos released this week contradicted the law enforcement version of what happened.
Malcolm Johnson, 31, was shot and killed at a Kansas City gas station convenience store on March 25 when officers tried to arrest him for questioning in an earlier shooting.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol, which is investigating all fatal shootings by Kansas City police, has said two officers tried to arrest Johnson when a fight ensued. The patrol said Johnson pulled a gun and shot an officer in the leg as other officers arrived. The wounded officer returned fire, killing Johnson, the patrol said.
A video released on Thursday, which was taken by a store employee, shows several officers struggling with Johnson on the ground. A shot is heard and the officer who was shot backs away. Then two other shots are heard and Johnson stops struggling.
The video does not show if Johnson drew a gun, who shot the officer or which officers then fired at Johnson.
The Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III said ministers watched the video together on a large screen Thursday morning and it appeared to most of them that one of the police officers may have accidentally shot the officer, and that there is no clear evidence Johnson had a gun.
The ministers are part of a group called Getting to the Heart of the Matter, which has worked with the police department and Chief Rick Smith to bridge a divide with minority communities since social justice protests broke out last summer, while other community activists have criticized the force and called for Smith to resign or be fired.
The ministers first questioned the shooting on Tuesday, when they released a different video that showed two officers with guns drawn entering the store and trying to arrest Johnson, who appears to try and run before being taken down by officers. The struggle moved out of the camera angle before Johnson was shot.
The ministers said at a news conference Tuesday that the initial video contradicted the patrol's account of the shooting and criticized the patrol's investigation and response when they tried to deliver the video, The Kansas City Star reported.
After meeting with patrol officials on Wednesday, the ministers expressed confidence in the investigation but the new video raised more doubts, Cleaver said.
"I think the sentiment is still the same in that this appears to be a shooting that didn’t have to take place,” Cleaver said Thursday.
Cleaver had initially called for the officers involved to be fired and charged but he said on Thursday the officers should be taken off the streets until the investigation is complete.
He said the employees who took the videos did not turn them over to the police because they didn't trust investigators, and instead gave them to the ministers group this week in hopes they would shed light on Johnson's shooting.
While Cleaver said he had friends on the police force and believes most try and do the right thing, “there is obviously a culture that needs to be addressed.”
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said Thursday that her office has received the videos and is analyzing the information. The office is also evaluating its processes to find ways to engage with the community to gain “these necessary facts” in the investigation.
“A part of our review will be an evaluation of any discrepancies between the original accounting of this event and the actual evidence, including any video evidence,” Peters Baker said in a statement. “Our job requires us to gather as many facts as we can and to use those facts to determine if charges are appropriate under Missouri law.”
Missouri Highway Patrol spokesman Andy Bell said Thursday the department could not comment on an ongoing investigation.
The Kansas City police department has referred all questions about the shooting to the highway patrol.
Margaret Stafford, The Associated Press