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Agency investigating months after Tonganoxie police cuff black man moving into own house

Posted: 7:32 PM, Apr 10, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-11 01:23:55Z
Karle Robinson-2
Karle Robinson body cam video

TONGANOXIE, Kan. — A state agency is investigating months after police in Tonganoxie, Kansas, detained a man while he was moving into his house.

Karle Robinson, who is black, says three officers racially profiled him on his own property in August.

In a body camera video obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, a police officer can be heard saying, "Police department. Go ahead and set the TV down."

Robinson, who was carrying a TV into his new house around 2:30 a.m. and didn't realize the officer had pulled up, said he initially thought he was being robbed.

The television was the last item he had to bring from the moving truck into the house.

"You just bought this house and you're moving in at 4 in the morning?" the officer can be heard asking in the body camera footage.

The officer asks Robinson multiple times when he bought the house, if he had paperwork, if anyone else was at the property and if he had any weapons.

Then the officer told Robinson to put his hands on the side of the house and handcuffed him. In the body camera video, Robinson asks if this action is necessary.

"Yes, considering the circumstances," the officer says. "You're moving at 3 in the morning, man, and we've had a lot of break-ins in the area, okay?"

41 Action News spoke with Robinson, now eight months after the incident, at his home on Wednesday.

"I can do what I want. I bought this. If I want to move in at dark-thirty in the morning, that's my business," Robinson said.

During the incident, the officer told Robinson to stay put until "we figure this out" and told him backup was on the way. Two more officers later showed up and searched the house.

After finding the ownership papers where Robinson said they would be, the officers concluded that it looked like someone was moving in.

They uncuffed Robinson and apologized, adding that there had been recent burglaries in the area.

Robinson believes the officers racially profiled him.

"Oh, you better believe it. You better believe they did," Robinson said. "They wouldn't have done that if it was a white man moving in here."

He said he had started moving in the day before the incident and had seen police cars driving by the house more than once.

"If you have a question, stop by and ask. I would have been more than happy to answer any questions they had," Robinson said.

Robinson said that for at least a month following the Aug. 19 incident, he saw police cars parked across the street or patrolling by his house.

On Monday, Robinson and his attorney with the ACLU, Lauren Bonds, met with representatives from the Commission on Peace Officers' Standards and Training (CPOST), an oversight agency that the Kansas Attorney General's Office appointed to investigate after the ACLU filed a complaint .

"Had he had more recourse within the Tonganoxie Police Department, I don't think it would have escalated this far, or even if he'd have gotten an apology," Bonds said.

Robinson and Bonds say he tried to file a complaint with the police department but was dismissed in a meeting with Police Chief Greg Lawson.

Lawson declined to speak with 41 Action News but sent this statement:

"The safety of our citizens and visitors continues to be of the highest importance to the Tonganoxie Police Department. The members of this agency have pledged to serve the community with honor, and the highest degree of professionalism. We have fully cooperated with Mr. Robinson and the ACLU regarding inquiries into this matter. We believe that the ACLU’s correspondence to the Attorney General’s Office contains multiple accusations that are inaccurate. We have, and will continue to fully cooperate with the Attorney General’s Office or the Commission on Police Officers’ Standards and Training (CPOST)."

Bonds said that Robinson cooperated with police and that the officers' actions were excessive.

"I think just throughout the process (Robinson) wasn't armed, he was completely cooperating," Bonds said. "Were handcuffs and restraints absolutely necessary in that situation?"

Three members of the CPOST commission will determine if any disciplinary actions will be taken against the officers. The 12-member commission, which currently has two vacancies, is comprised of all men, and all of them are white except one. Most of the commissioners are currently in law enforcement or have a background in law enforcement.

"If you're investigating an issue of alleged racial bias, I think it's incredibly important you have a diversity of views and diversity of people," Bonds said.

The findings of an investigation will be presented to the commission’s investigative committee. The committee could close the case with no further action, request further information or forward the case to the commission’s hearing committee for possible action.

Robinson said that in the Monday meeting, CPOST members asked him questions including why he moved to Topeka and if he has any other proof that the officers acted in a racist manner.

Disciplinary action could include revocation of an officer's certification or job or a requirement to do more training.

Robinson said he wants the department to be reprimanded.

"If it doesn't go the way I want I said, 'Can I appeal?' And he said no. But the cops can appeal," Robinson said.

CPOST said that when committee members decide no disciplinary action will be taken, the complainant can't appeal that decision but can take another route through the city courts.

Bonds said CPOST plans to follow up with their determination at the end of May.