The Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation Department issued a public apology Tuesday afternoon to a Black family who says they were racially profiled and discriminated against after their private party at a city-run water park was suddenly canceled over the weekend.
In a statement, parks officials said they were aware of a “disturbing social media post” made by a part-time lifeguard in response to the family’s frustration of not being able to access the Summit Waves Aquatic Facility, which is run by the parks department.
Parks officials also referenced other “inappropriate and insensitive language used by staff” and said “appropriate” measures were being taken to correct them.
“A sincere apology is owed to the Evans family and our Lee’s Summit community,” officials said in the statement. “(Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation) strives to be a respectful and inclusive organization where all members of our community feel welcome and appreciated. Inappropriate language, social media posts and behavior are not acceptable and will not be tolerated.”
At issue is the cancellation of a 17-year-old’s birthday party that was scheduled to be held Saturday in the suburban water park after his family arranged the get-together in early July. Chris Evans, the teen’s father, says his sons and their party guests were denied access to the park on the day of the planned event “for no apparent reason other than the color of their skin.”
In what has become a widely-seen post on the social media platform TikTok, Evans was seen speaking with a park official as a Lee’s Summit police officer stood by. In the video, Evans asks why the park would be “uncomfortable” hosting, repeating a term she used in informing the guests that they would not be allowed to enter.
The encounter has since thrown a national spotlight on the suburban Kansas City community. It also caught the attention of local officials, including Lee’s Summit Mayor William Baird, who called for the parks department to investigate.
Parks officials said an investigation of the incident was completed Tuesday. The city maintained that the event was officially canceled less than three hours beforehand because of concerns that the event was going to be too large for security to handle.
Findings from that investigation showed the rental agreement was entered on July 8 with a maximum capacity of 250 guests. Between ten and 15 people were to be there as chaperones as part of the agreement. Part of that rental agreement also forbid advertising the event on social media, a policy described by the parks department as a standard one because of the potential to “result in insufficient staffing and security.”
On Aug. 4, Summit Waves staff saw a social media post advertising an event called Splash Blast 2 scheduled to take place between 7 and 9:30 p.m. at the park. Calls were made and messages left with the party organizers over the next two days to inquire about the event that went unreturned, the investigation found.
More than a dozen calls were made to Summit Waves by others inquiring about the event on its scheduled date, officials say. Ultimately the park decided to cancel the party at 5 p.m. Saturday. Contact was first made with renters roughly 30 minutes later, according to the city, and guests were again informed of the cancellation as they began arriving around 6:15 p.m.
Under the rental agreement, the Evans family was required to pay for security to monitor the event, provided by Lee’s Summit police or the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office. During its review, the city also found that staff failed to arrange any security for the party as required.
According to the city, the Evans family was offered a refund this week along with repayment of the cost of other expenses incurred by the family outside of rental fees.
Moving forward, parks officials say they intend to complete a comprehensive review of the rental process and enhance training “to align with the City’s diversity and inclusion efforts.”
Earlier Tuesday, the Evans family gathered at the Kansas City law office of Krigel and Krigel, attorneys hired to represent them, for a press conference to discuss the events of that day. Chris Evans said he hopes Lee’s Summit would make changes to its employee policies, that the Kansas City community may learn and progress from the incident, and that his family will ultimately be able to heal.
“My family has to be OK,” Evans said. “Other Black families have to be OK.”