Wichita police captain leaked confidential info to Walmart security guard, affidavit says

A Wichita police captain leaked dozens of confidential law enforcement records to a Walmart security guard, according to an affidavit of probable cause released Tuesday.

Wendell Nicholson, a 29-year veteran who retired in March, is facing eight counts of felony computer crimes. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett filed charges the day after Nicholson retired.

Bennett previously told The Wichita Eagle that he does not think the leaked records compromised any criminal investigations.

The leaked records don’t appear to follow any particular pattern, but they do include multiple records related to police accountability, including body camera video of a police shooting of a Black man after a fight with officers in a closet. The affidavit does not identify the man or the officers involved.

Nicholson also allegedly leaked to the security guard details about an internal investigation into text messages sent by SWAT team members. Other records included DEA bulletins, shooting reviews, victim and suspect identities, information about gang feuds and murder suspects, and an image of homicide victims.

The probable cause affidavit says Nicholson shared confidential information in a group chat with Walmart security guard David Miller, who told investigators he was a former law enforcement officer; Wichita police officer Paul Zamorano, an executive board member of the Wichita Fraternal Order of Police; and Alan Gales. Gales, who has never worked in law enforcement, told investigators the four men had been friends for more than 10 years because their children played on the same basketball team.

The affidavit claims Nicholson leaked information from the city’s secretive and controversial list of alleged gang members and associates. The city is being sued in federal court on claims that the approximately 3,000-member list is frequently abused and unfairly targets African-American and Hispanic residents for heightened police scrutiny, higher bail and enhanced sentences.

Wichita police generate internal reports called “Gang Bulletins” and “Gang Feud Bulletins” that include dates of birth, addresses, descriptions and employment information of people on the gang list.

The affidavit also discloses that Nicholson was disciplined in December 2022 “for a previous incident where he disseminated Criminal History Records to an individual that was not authorized to receive such information.” The city of Wichita closely guards officers’ disciplinary records and does not release the names of officers who are disciplined for violating police policies.

It does not say what information he shared in the discipline case, and it’s unclear why that case was handled differently by the department and prosecutors.

The breach was reported by Det. Justin Rapp, who shot and killed Andrew Finch in 2017 and has since been promoted to detective in the Exploited and Missing Child Unit. Rapp has a history of working off-duty security at Walmart, The Eagle has previously reported.

On January 17, Natasha Hoffner, a Signal 88 Security parking lot guard at Walmart, showed Rapp what appeared to be a screenshot of an email with information about a Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office case that she received from Miller.

After Rapp reported the potential computer crime, the Wichita Police Department assigned two detectives from the gang and felony assault section to investigate “an official misconduct case and computer crime,” the affidavit says.

It’s unclear why the gang unit was assigned to investigate instead of the Professional Standards Bureau.

Nicholson was the department’s liaison to the Wichita Citizens Review Board, a civilian oversight group that reviews officer discipline decisions and Professional Standards Bureau investigations, from the summer of 2020 to April 2022.

Nicholson — the highest ranking Black man on the Wichita Police Department when he retired — oversaw the board’s review of the department’s mishandling of discipline for officers who sent racist, sexist and homophobic text messages, including some that celebrated police brutality. The board issued a scathing report on the department’s handling of the case, and the city responded by disciplining some of the officers and hiring Jensen Hughes to investigate the culture inside the department.

Two weeks after an Eagle investigation uncovered the troubling text messages and subsequent failure to discipline the SWAT team members involved, interim Chief Lem Moore pulled Nicholson from his role.

Nicholson and Zamorano are two of ten defendants being sued by Deputy Chief Jose Salcido and former deputy chiefs Chet Pinkston and Wanda Givens, who made up former Chief Gordon Ramsay’s executive team.

The deputy chiefs claimed in a late-February federal court filing that “Nicholson is believed to have released confidential information about criminal cases in violation of the law and city policy.”

They claimed Nicholson was interviewed for the chief of police position, despite concerns he had shared confidential information, and that he was part of a conspiracy to discredit and remove the deputy chiefs from their positions. Nicholson, whose legal representation in the federal lawsuit is being paid for by the city, is seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed in part because he was not their supervisor and was not in a position retaliate against them.

Zamorano’s role in an alleged conspiracy to defame and retaliate against Ramsay’s former executive team is not clear. He is mentioned by name in the lawsuit twice, as having “worked together” with other defendants to discredit and remove the deputy chiefs from their positions. He is seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed for failing to show how his actions violated any constitutional rights.