How many more wrongful convictions in Wyandotte County? KCK groups ask DOJ to find out

Activists who have long called for a federal investigation into the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department have expanded their request to include the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office.

Local civil rights groups, attorneys and community leaders asked the U.S. Department of Justice to examine unconstitutional policing practices in KCK about a year and a half ago. This week, they sent additional material as part of their plea for federal intervention, hoping to prompt reform not only at the police department but also in the district attorney’s office.

Prosecutors knowingly used false evidence that led to wrongful convictions and assisted police in wrongdoing, they allege.

“For decades, KCKPD and the DA’s office have been skewing the evidence to get the result they wanted—not the just result, not the just conviction—the conviction that fit personal interest(s),” the groups wrote in a 29-page letter to the DOJ.

District Attorney Mark Dupree’s office said his administration was the first in Kansas to create a conviction integrity unit that has helped exonerate two innocent people. That work “continues today,” the office said in a statement.

“Since 2017, the district attorney’s office and local policing agencies established reforms and policies focusing on the equal and fair administration of justice,” the DA’s office said. “These efforts have resulted in achieving justice for victims and a reduction in violent crime in Wyandotte County.”

Groups that sent the letter, including the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity (MORE2) and the ACLU of Kansas, asked for a meeting with DOJ officials this month or next to “make the case” for a civil rights investigation into KCK law enforcement.

The DOJ said it received the letter but declined to comment.

Spencer Webster, an attorney for MORE2, said Tuesday the groups are asking investigators to also look at the DA’s office because police acted “in conjunction” with prosecutors in many cases, including wrongful convictions.

“The community has been waiting so long for this,” Webster said of a potential probe at a press conference inside Grandview Park Presbyterian Church. “It’s an injustice to make them wait a day longer.”

Vicki Ford wipes away tears while holding a photo of her son, Delvin Matthews, who was murdered 25 years ago, during a press conference at Grandview Park Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Kansas City, Kan. Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity held a press conference to call on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate persistent misconduct in the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department, highlighting the urgent need for federal intervention and community healing.

The groups took aim at the DA’s Community Integrity Unit, previously known as the conviction integrity unit, saying it has not convinced residents it is “offering redress.” The unit was created to investigate police misconduct and questionable convictions.

They reminded the DOJ of the unit’s troubling history: one lawyer resigned after “it was known” she was not licensed in Kansas; three unit members were then fired, two for making disparaging comments about various groups, including Black people; after that, the unit hired a respected lawyer — who resigned about a year later.

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project in New York, who also signed the letter, told The Star he has been troubled by the inability of that unit to “get its act together.”

“A robust conviction integrity unit is absolutely critical to cleaning up this legacy of misconduct and wrongful convictions in Wyandotte County,” Scheck said by phone after the press conference.

Dupree created the unit after the 2017 exoneration of Lamonte McIntyre, who was freed after serving 23 years for a double homicide he did not commit. McIntyre won a $12.5 million settlement against Wyandotte County after claiming he was framed by former KCKPD detective Roger Golubski, who now faces two federal indictments.

Last year, The Star reviewed six questionable Wyandotte County convictions that illustrate allegations raised in recent years about the practices of former KCK detectives, including Golubski. In those cases, spanning from 1997 to 2009, detectives have been accused of coercing witnesses or falsifying evidence against suspects who, now in prison or out on parole, maintain they are innocent.

“These are just the instances we are aware of—the one’s lucky enough to get someone’s attention or a platform,” the groups wrote of cases potentially tainted by Golubski. “We do not know who else is in prison that should not be, and without DOJ intervention, we likely never will.”

Golubski, a longtime KCK detective who retired from the force in 2010, faces two cases that could send him to prison for life: one for allegedly conspiring to sex traffic underage girls between 1996 and 1998 with three other men, and the other stemming from accusations he sexually abused and kidnapped a woman and a teenage girl from 1998 to 2002. He has pleaded not guilty.

The signatories to the DOJ letter — who said Golubski is “rightly being donned the villain” — noted prosecutorial misconduct contributed to known wrongful convictions in KCK.

They pointed to the case of Olin “Pete” Coones, who spent 12 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and died months after his 2020 release. In that case, a judge said a Wyandotte County prosecutor presented “patently untrue” evidence at trial.

The community, the groups wrote to the federal agency, remains “nearly certain” there are additional people behind bars for crimes they did not commit in Wyandotte County.

“The DOJ should have an interest in ensuring our crown jewel—the American court system—is not being misused and manipulated to deprive the community of its constitutional rights and protections,” they wrote.