A Kansas City, Missouri, detective alleges he was punished for reporting misconduct by another cop.
Arthur Willingham, 52, was a member of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Kansas City Interdiction Task Force for 16 years until he spoke out after another detective violated a person’s rights.
According to Willingham’s lawsuit filed in Jackson County Circuit Court, the other detective who performed an illegal search was not punished, but he was demoted, stripped of his Drug Enforcement Agency credentials, his department laptop and vehicle and escorted out of the building.
“The experience was degrading and embarrassing, and I felt like a criminal,” Willingham said.
Willingham, who is Black, believes that the demotion was retaliation for reporting the unethical behavior and part of the Kansas City Police Department’s pattern of racial discrimination. He filed the civil suit against the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, a panel that oversees the department.
The Black detective said he and another detective were scanning a Greyhound terminal as part of a federal task force last October when a K-9 led them to two suitcases in the luggage compartment of the bus. Police searched the two suitcases with the owner’s permission and found no narcotics. However, Willingham said as they were putting the luggage back, he saw the other detective “manipulating a separate duffle bag in an attempt to feel its contents.”
“Upon observing the illegal search, Plaintiff questioned his fellow detective about the illegal search, to which he replied what Plaintiff observed, ‘was not what he usually does,'” the lawsuit says. “Pursuant to KCPD’s policy, Plaintiff immediately informed his Sergeant and prepared a memorandum describing the illegal behavior that he witnessed.”
Willingham alleges that was not the first time someone complained about that particular detective. He was told that the detective received an “instructional notice” and wasn’t disciplined in that instance.
As part of the task force, Willingham worked with the DEA, and handled federal cases. In January, he submitted a case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office where he warned the narcotics unit chief of “critical information about one of the detectives that he should be aware of.” Willingham was legally required to include discoverable evidence with the file.
Willingham said he found out about two weeks later that federal prosecutors rejected the case. His unit supervisor called his direct supervisor that day, reports show. Four days later, he was transferred to Investigations Bureau to the Patrol Bureau while they opened an investigation into his conduct.
Willingham’s superiors accused him of “conduct that might compromise the integrity and thus undercut the public confidence” and violating policy on releasing personnel information.
Before being reassigned, Willingham worked for the department for more than two decades. He received several accolades and awards during his tenure.
A Kansas City Police Department official stated that the agency does not “generally speak about details of pending civil litigation to ensure fairness for all sides involved and other department members who may be involved in such personnel matters.”
The department said on Aug. 12 that he is currently a detective in the Investigations Bureau.
“We want to assure the public that the KCPD is committed to ensuring a fair and equitable workplace free from harassment or discrimination,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Also, regarding investigative requirements and guidelines. We are very familiar with the requirements of the 4th Amendment and have several layers of supervisory accountability and review within our department and as part of the investigative partnership with our federal partners.”
The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from illegal search and seizures.
In 2009, the U.S Department Department of Justice launched an investigation into why there was a low number of Black officers in the Kansas City Police Department. The results were not released, the Kansas City Star reports. However, a July investigative report by the local paper shows that the number of Black police officers in the department has dipped since then. Over the past 15 years, 18 Black officers have left allegedly because of racial abuse, being called “boy” and the N-word.
About 11 percent of the force is Black, while Black people account 29 percent of city’s population. Black officers received 18 percent of the discipline in the department, the report shows.