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Kansas shuts racial bias case after black man detained moving into home

Posted at 4:10 PM, Jun 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-19 17:10:11-04

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A black man who was detained by police while moving into his home said Wednesday that Kansas regulators investigated his racial bias complaint and closed the case with no further action.

"I'm mad as hell," Karle Robinson told The Associated Press of the letter that he shared with the news organization.

Robinson was held at gunpoint and handcuffed in August 2018 as he was carrying a television out of a rented moving van in the middle of the night into the home he had bought a month earlier in Tonganoxie, about 30 miles west of Kansas City. Robinson also alleged police harassed him for weeks after the incident, and that the police chief blocked him from filing a racial bias complaint with the department.

Police video shows Robinson told the officer who handcuffed him and held him at gunpoint that he had paperwork inside that would prove he owned the home. Later, a second responding officer entered the home, brought out the paperwork and took the handcuffs off. The officers helped Robinson carry the TV inside the house after he asked them to help.

Police told Robinson there had been a string of burglaries in the area. An officer can be heard on the body camera video apologizing to Robinson and saying, "If you look at the situation, I think, I think you get it." The officers thanked Robinson for his cooperation, the video shows.

The 61-year-old Marine veteran received a brief letter last week from the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers' Standards and Training. The Kansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union — which has called the incident a case of "moving while black" — initially filed the complaint on Robinson's behalf with the Kansas attorney general's office, and they in turn referred it to the commission.

Their three-sentence-long letter, dated June 4 and signed by investigator Michael Oliver, informed Robinson that the agency's investigative committee met on May 29 to consider the policing complaint and that, after careful review, the case was closed with no further action.

Robinson said he expected that result because "this is just a bunch of white men in a room, a bunch of former cops."

Tonganoxie Police Chief Greg Lawson did not immediately return a message for comment, but he issued a statement in March saying the safety of people who live in the town and those visiting it is important to the department, and the officers and other staff have all "pledged to serve the community with honor and the highest degree of professionalism."

The Kansas police commission's executive director, Gary Steed, cited a Kansas statute that prohibits him from discussing confidential investigations or even confirming their existence. If they take action on a complaint, those are posted on their website.

The Kansas attorney general's office did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The town of 5,400 in northeastern Kansas is 97 percent white, census figures show.

The incident involving Robinson is one of the latest examples of situations in which law enforcement officers have had encounters or confrontations with African-Americans over their own belongings. In the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, city officials approved a $1.25 million settlement with a black man who sued after police tackled him and arrested him for stealing a car that turned out to be his own.

After receiving the letter from the policing commission, Robinson told AP he plans to meet later this week with Lauren Bonds, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas, to discuss possible litigation.

"I am not letting this go," he said.