Last summer, Kansas City Police Officer David Frazier knocked 44-year-old Mack C. Nelson to the ground and forced his face against the sidewalk. He has been with the force for less than three years and is assigned to the patrol office, police said.
And that’s about all the police would tell us about an officer who cost taxpayers $500,000 to settle a civil lawsuit Nelson filed against the department.
So far, The Star has only identified the lawman because he was listed in the report of a fellow officer: PO Frazier. Today we name it.
Why is it so important to name officers accused of committing serious acts while on duty? Public safety officials are held to a higher standard than your average citizen. They must be held accountable for their actions.
In the past, we’ve asked the Kansas City Police Department to tell us basic facts about officers involved in fatal encounters or when excessive force is used with a member of the public.
Citing privacy laws, police here very rarely – if at all – tell us which officer injures or kills someone while on duty. We see no other option than to do it ourselves. Only if criminal charges or litigation are involved do we find out. In this case, we learned Frazier’s name from the city citations he issued to Nelson after he was a possible witness to a fatal police shooting last summer.
Missouri law does not prohibit disclosing one’s identity
We wanted to know Frazier’s age, his professional status, what office he worked in, and whether he had been disciplined for his actions during Nelson’s arrest. So we asked Kansas City Police Department officials. In an email, a department spokesperson said personal information such as an officer’s age or disciplinary record could not be shared.
Under Missouri law, “discipline is not an individually identifiable personal record,” the spokesperson wrote.
State law prohibits law enforcement officials from providing certain information about an officer’s personnel file. But the law does not prevent disclosing “the names, positions, salaries and lengths of service of officers and employees of public bodies” involved in serious use-of-force incidents, according to the statutes.
Police Chief Stacey Graves and the Kansas City Police Department must change how they notify the public of cases involving excessive force or officer-involved shootings. Hiding behind a law that does not prevent them from identifying police officers is not the solution.
In Omaha and many other comparable cities, officers involved in fatal on-duty shootings or other use-of-force incidents are identified within days. Transparency helps restore trust between the community and its police department, according to civil rights advocates we spoke with.
We believe in due process. Frazier is under criminal investigation into a possible assault on Nelson, according to a spokesperson for the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office. He has not been charged with a crime.
But his actions led to a six-figure payout. How do we know if Frazier or any other officer is a repeat offender if the police don’t tell us? Maybe that’s the goal.
It’s fair to wonder if Frazier has the temper to be a police officer based on what we watched on the video provided to The Star by local activist Steve Young.
Nelson was at the scene of a fatal shooting by police at a convenience store in the 5400 block of Prospect Avenue last summer. Officers fatally shot a man who rammed a police van with a stolen SUV.
Subsequently, Nelson was among a group of customers inside the store where police asked to remain on the premises. Once he was free to go, officers claimed he began filming them, became belligerent and obstructed justice, according to court documents.
Officers attempted to arrest Nelson but he resisted by refusing to put his arms behind his back, police said. Then Frazier grabbed Nelson from behind and drove him to the sidewalk, according to Nelson’s lawsuit.
Video footage of Nelson lying motionless after being slammed left us with this: He could have been seriously injured or worse. Photos of the horrific injuries above his left eye are hard to see.
On this August night, tensions were already running high. But to kill Nelson, a possible witness to this incident and who nevertheless posed no threat? The police don’t work that way. At least it shouldn’t.
Body-worn cameras not enabled
At least three Kansas City police officers involved in Nelson’s arrest violated department policy by not activating their body-worn cameras during the incident. Two other people named in legal documents were not directly involved in the incident, police said.
We have read the department’s operating guidelines for body cameras. It states, “Members will activate the BWC (body-worn camera) at the start of each contact.”
Neither Frazier, Kansas City Police Officer Alyssa Surges, nor a third officer — identified in Surges’ incident report as PO Powell — turned on their cameras in contact with Nelson, according to her lawsuit.
We asked ministry officials what disciplinary action had been taken against these officers. Personnel records are private, we were told. But, “additional training is always an option in the event of a policy violation,” police officials wrote in an email.
Our hope is that the department better trains its officers on how to follow the policy, as all good law enforcement officials should.
For years, Kansas City activists have implored the department to equip its officers with body camera technology. But if officers refuse to turn on the camera when interacting with the public, why bother?
In addition to these violations, Jackson County prosecutors are investigating whether Surges lied about what happened in the police report related to Nelson’s arrest. If Surges falsified any part of his report, as alleged by John Picerno, a Kansas City attorney representing Nelson, his professional standing should also be reconsidered.
Could Mayor Quinton Lucas deliver justice?
Last summer, Nelson was arrested and charged with one count of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, city court records show.
On video, evidence suggests Nelson did not commit a crime, Picerno claims. Young, the activist, filmed the teardown by police. Nelson did nothing to provoke an attack, Young told The Star.
Later, at a hospital, a trespassing charge for Nelson was added. After being treated for a head injury, he refused police orders to leave Research Medical Center, according to the citation given to him. In a desperate attempt to get out of jail on other charges, Nelson pleaded guilty to all three counts and was placed on probation for two years, according to Picerno. He spent a shock 30 days in jail, according to court records.
We believe that Nelson would never have been hospitalized had it not been for Frazier’s unconscionable act.
We don’t know if Kansas City Municipal Judge Michael Heffernon will grant a motion to vacate Nelson’s guilty plea. There is a hearing date scheduled for August.
If Heffernon refuses to overturn Nelson’s plea — made under duress, according to his lawyer — Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas should consider a pardon for Nelson.
Here’s why: Nelson is a victim of police brutality. Why should he be criminalized for this?