For immediate release:
Aug. 18, 2020
CONTACT: Mark McCormick, Director of Strategic Communications, 913-490-4113, [email protected]
OVERLAND PARK, KS - The overly reactive and militarized response of the Overland Park Police Department to recent, peaceful Black Lives Matter protests is cause for serious concern, the ACLU of Kansas noted in a letter to Department officials this week. Police appeared at the peaceful gathering in riot gear. They targeted protest leaders and hid their badge numbers from community members, refusing to note even which body they represented.
“We have received reports that your department responded to the protest in riot gear, authorized officers to withhold their badge numbers and other identifying information, and targeted protest leaders with harassment and arrest,” the letter, addressed to Chief Frank Donchez, said. “This conduct raises serious constitutional concerns and undermines community trust.”
The hiding of badge numbers was of particular concern.
“The decision to permit officers to withhold identification was only for the July 24th protest and purportedly motivated by concerns of doxing,” the letter said. “However, it is unclear why OPPD believed individuals attending the July 24th protest posed a unique doxing threat.”
In its letter, the ACLU of Kansas offered to meet with Department leadership, and requested assorted public records regarding department policy. The Aug. 14 letter and meeting requests stem from July protests organized by The Miller Dream Team LLC. Previous events organized by the group had been peaceful, requiring minimal police presence. According to the letter, OPPD even had acted as escorts to a July 11 protest, helping to block traffic for street-marching participants.
“OPPD’s interactions with protesters were reportedly cooperative throughout the July 11th action, and the only contentious behavior came from residents who were angered by the protesters’ message,” the letter said.
Things changed decidedly during a July 24 march that ventured into a residential area near Johnson County Community College, however.
Two residents emerged from their homes and yelled at the protesters to leave the neighborhood and one of those residents accosted a teenage girl trying to de-escalate an argument between a protester and another resident.
Several OPPD officers stood across the street from the residents’ home when protesters arrived but they did not intervene as residents confronted protesters.
Several minutes later, however, approximately 30 officers wearing shields and other riot gear began following the protesters on foot. The officers carried zip ties in their hands and told protesters marching in the street to move to the sidewalk.
As the officers closed in and as demonstrators began to disperse, Stacy Shaw, an attorney coordinating legal observers, remained in the street to help the observers document the approaching officers.
“Ms. Shaw was wearing a vest that said Attorney and was clearly in the street to help gather information about the police response,” the letter said. “Ms. Shaw was the first person arrested. Indeed, OPPD officers bypassed other protesters in order to arrest Ms. Shaw.”
Shaw was not the only individual in a leadership role.
The ACLU of Kansas received multiple reports that OPPD singled out the chant leader and an organizer holding a bullhorn, threatening them with arrest if they did not move to the sidewalk faster.
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About the ACLU of Kansas: The ACLU of Kansas is the statewide affiliate of the national American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU of Kansas is dedicated to preserving and advancing the civil rights and legal freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For more information, visit our website at www.aclukansas.org.