The Wichita Eagle, April 13
Five things a swatting-death review should study to regain the community's trust
The tragic, frustrating death of Andrew Finch will remain with Wichitans for some time. No decision on filing charges against the Wichita police officer who shot him, and no decision on the man charged with involuntary manslaughter associated with fake calls to police, will let us forget about a senseless death.
The district attorney's decision not to file criminal charges against the officer who fired the only shot in the Dec. 28 incident is already receiving widespread criticism, and who's to say the criticism isn't valid? Believing an officer shouldn't shoot someone unless he can identify with certainty that the suspect has a weapon and is threatening others is a completely logical opinion — though Kansas law disagrees.
Now comes an absolutely vital point in the investigation, one that will determine for many the confidence Wichitans have in their police force: The police internal investigation needs to be the most exhaustive, comprehensive effort the department has seen, and the city's new Citizens Review Board should scrutinize it in public.
Many aspects of the swatting call and shooting death should receive scrutiny. Unlike District Attorney Marc Bennett's view that hindsight couldn't be used to determine if the officer was charged, it's certainly in play during an internal investigation.
Most importantly, did the officer follow police procedure in firing a shot from 122 feet when he thought five officers or sheriff's deputies were being threatened? Should the officers 47 feet away, with weapons aimed at Finch and a better view of his hands, had the opportunity to possibly fire first?
Thursday's release of body camera footage shows inconsistencies with how Wichita officers operate the cameras. Two officers closest to Finch didn't have their cameras on at the moment of the gunshot. One camera was turned on as Finch slumped from being shot. The other was turned off in the moments before Finch came out of the house.
Having either camera or both cameras recording before the shot would likely have added a critical view of Finch's hands.
The varying instructions to Finch once he exited is home should also be studied. Loud commands are likely to be fine for suspects who understand why police are there, but citizens who have no reason to believe they're a suspect may be easily confused by loud and different instructions coming from multiple directions.
The department's handling of public information in the days after the shooting was inconsistent, creating errors in the timeline. That's to be expected given such an unusual case, but determining what could have been done better will help police in future cases.
Chief Gordon Ramsay and his department have from the start extended sympathy to the Finch family. An awful hoax and an officer's split-second decision led to an innocent 28-year-old life being taken.
Police on Thursday reiterated in a statement, "The WPD recognizes the concern this tragedy has caused and is committed to do everything it can to prevent an incident like this from occurring again."
That should mean a complete internal investigation with significant input and oversight from the newly created Citizens Review Board. Wichitans will be looking for signs that their police department will improve itself after a needless death.
The Topeka Capital-Journal, April 14
State lawmakers should expedite funding correction
There will be an ornery inclination among some lawmakers to block a revision that is needed in the K-12 school finance plan recently approved by the Legislature.
The required change stems from an error in the funding process that was worded into the bill. Without a correction, the plan falls about $80 million short of the $150 million targeted for the first year of the new arrangement. The error was discovered by the Kansas State Department of Education. When lawmakers return April 26 from break, they must approve a formality changing the bill.
Considering the rancor that erupted over passage of the measure, the chance exists for the formality to obstruct the correction.
In addition to providing public schools with much-needed funding, the bill was designed to satisfy an order from the Kansas Supreme Court demanding the constitutional requirements for school appropriations be met. The deadline to file motions to defend the funding plan is April 30, which prompted both Gov. Jeff Colyer and Attorney General Derek Schmidt to urge the Legislature to pass legislation before the matter was settled last weekend.
Now, Colyer has asked legislators to play nice. "In many ways,? the governor said, "this was a technical correction, but we want everybody to work together.?
Everyone knows how that usually goes with politicians. The governor, however, is right. The intent of the legislation was to approve a plan suitable to the court. A ploy by Republican leaders in the Senate to approve a constitutional amendment backfired. Disagreements were aired, but a compromise was eventually reached.
The mistake in the bill was not found until later. While the discovery can be cited as a reason to work more efficiently on legislation, it is not a reason to sabotage passage of the legislation.
"It's not just what happened on one particular day,? Colyer said. "Look at it on the long term. Lots of good folks, lots of robust discussion through there, and we had a process, and it worked.?
That culmination of the process drew a mixed response, naturally, from lawmakers and even prompted Rep. Randy Garber, a Sabetha Republican, to advocate for prayer in the state's public schools after concluding "taxpayers don't have enough money to fix it.?
Some Republicans offered dire predictions for other state programs while contending the Kansas Supreme Court could rule against the legislation and deem the $525 million boost over five years to be inadequate. If that happens, however, the justices may in effect be asking for a change to the state constitution, which now states "the Legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.? That particular clause happens to be left to the interpretation of the court.
Rep. Larry Hibbard, R-Toronto, essentially issued a challenge, which at this point makes some sense if the court decides lawmakers did not incorporate enough assistance for public schools into the measure that passed.
"No. 1, they want out of this one as bad as we do,? Hibbard reasoned, referencing the Supreme Court justices. "If they don't accept it, when we come back in July, bring that constitutional amendment with you, and we'll have a good discussion.?
Hopefully the issue of K-12 school finance does not come to that. Hopefully lawmakers realize a good-faith attempt was made to satisfy the court. Hopefully lawmakers comply with making the simple fix needed to wording within the bill.
Allow Schmidt enough opportunity to prepare briefs and defend the plan before the Kansas Supreme Court. If the justices do not rule favorably on the legislation, the Legislature will have another opportunity to debate the issue. If it comes to that, then by all means, renew consideration for a constitutional amendment, along with other proposals.
The Lawrence Journal-World, April 15
The university should show Adidas the door and thoroughly review how it became a 'victim' in a college basketball scandal.
The University of Kansas' response thus far to a federal indictment alleging that families of top recruits received illegal payments from Adidas to play basketball for KU is woefully lacking.
"The recent indictment names KU as a victim and asserts that unlawful activities were deliberately concealed from KU officials," KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said Friday in rejecting calls for further investigations into the athletic department. "The indictment does not suggest any wrongdoing by the university, its coaches or its staff."
So, just so we are clear, the FBI has indictable evidence that families and guardians of two top recruits — who aren't named in the indictment, but based on dates cited are Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa — were paid between $20,000 and $90,000 by Adidas executive James Gatto to sign with Kansas, and KU's response is, "hey, we're the victim here."
That's quite the public relations strategy. It's also incredibly risky.
The indictments should prompt the university to undertake an intensive review of its historic basketball program to ensure, as Girod has already asserted, that the scandal does not go deeper.
Is it possible that the Adidas executive acted independently and only in the two times the FBI cited? Yes.
But is it likely? Common sense says not.
This is the second round of indictments in the past year involving shoe company executives, assistant coaches and college basketball teams. The safe assumption is there will be more to come. And of the schools implicated in the two rounds of indictments, Kansas is easily the highest profile and has the biggest relationship with Adidas, though the university has yet to officially sign its 12-year, $191 million contract extension.
Last fall, when this college basketball scandal broke with the first round of indictments, all schools were asked to conduct reviews of their basketball programs, specifically their recruiting policies. Girod said Friday that based on that review, he has complete confidence "that our staff understand and follow the rules."
Yet, last fall's review didn't uncover the payments in the FBI indictments. It didn't uncover the financial issues with Preston's car that kept him from ever playing a game for KU. Such revelations would seem to raise questions about — rather than reinforce confidence in — the thoroughness of that review.
There may be no more storied program in all of college athletics than KU basketball and no more revered figure by a college fan base than head coach Bill Self. This is not an issue any chancellor would want to tackle, especially one in his first year on the job.
KU has always prided itself not only on winning, but winning the right way. The recent indictments threaten that legacy and compel a stronger response from the chancellor.
Girod should show Adidas the door for embarrassing KU with its recruiting shenanigans. And he should commit to taking the steps necessary to ensure those shenanigans don't extend to anyone associated with the university and its basketball program.