New KCPD chief releases video statement on Memphis police killing. Here’s what she said

Emily Curiel/ecuriel@kcstar.com

After five fired Memphis police officers were charged with murdering a motorist, Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves on Thursday vowed to do “everything” in her power to ensure “this does not happen in Kansas City.”

In a video statement, Graves applauded Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis for swiftly suspending and firing the officers involved in the killing of Tyre Nichols, a Black man who died days after a confrontation during a traffic stop.

“This is a tragedy,” Graves said. “It should not have happened.”

Graves weighed in on the Tennessee case after Shelby County prosecutors announced the officers, who are Black, face charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.

Video of the Jan. 7 traffic stop will be released to the public Friday, prosecutors said. Nichols’ family and their lawyers say the footage shows officers savagely beating the 29-year-old father and FedEx worker for three minutes.

Graves took the helm at the Kansas City Police Department last month as the agency’s first permanent chief who is a woman. She succeeded interim top cop Joseph Mabin, who took over following the exit of Rick Smith, the last permanent chief.

Smith had been viewed by some as resistant to policing reforms that were widely called for following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

In the video, Graves said she met with command staff Thursday morning to make it clear that KCPD must “reinforce a culture of accountability ... from the top down.

“This accountability brings a duty to intervene if officers witness excessive force or a violation of anyone’s constitutional or civil rights,” she said. “I take this position seriously, and the responsibility that comes with it, which is why we’re having these conversations.”

KCPD has been dogged by its own accusations of excessive force, including cases that have resulted in convictions. Most notably, former detective Eric DeValkenaere was convicted of second-degree involuntary manslaughter in the 2019 killing of Cameron Lamb.

Lora McDonald, executive director of MORE2, a local social justice group, called Graves’ statements “bold” for a chief in Kansas City.

“On the other hand, while I sit with a family member of a young man who was killed by KCPD five years ago, we believe that the truth of her statement will only be validated through actions,” McDonald said.

Darron Edwards, lead pastor of the United Believers Community Church, who has worked with KCPD on community initiatives, said Graves has already done what other recent chiefs have not.

“Evoking empathy and compassion alongside offering the hope of swift justice and accountability is the right tone at the right time from the executive level of KCPD,” Edwards said.

Activist Sheryl Ferguson, an outspoken critic of KCPD and the board that governs it, said departments in other cities, such as Memphis and Minneapolis, have informed the public about changes following “horrendous events.”

She asked about KCPD: Where are the changes? Where is the transparency?

“This tragedy shows it’s more than a Black or white thing; it’s a police thing,” Ferguson said. “And until this country re-envisions policing practices and policies we will continue to see such heinous acts.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.