WICHITA, Kan. >> The widow of a Kansas man killed last month by an undersheriff has asked a court to release video and audio recordings of the encounter that her attorney says show her husband was unarmed and trying to obey instructions when he was shot.
Attorney Michael Kuckelman said the video and audio recordings of an Oct. 6 encounter in Sun City, Kansas, that resulted in the death of 42-year-old Steven Myers are troubling and the public has a right to see the evidence.
Barber County sheriff’s deputies were responding to call about a man threatening individuals with a gun outside a bar in Sun City, which is 110 miles west of Wichita. By the time they arrived, the man had left the area and deputies began looking for him. They found Myers in a shed, according to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
The agency said in a press release issued by the KBI the day of the incident that preliminary information indicated Myers did not comply with all verbal commands given by deputies before he was shot by a bean bag round, killing him. Kuckelman contends the recordings he viewed conflict with the law enforcement account that Myers was not complying with orders.
Kuckelman said the Barber County sheriff agreed to allow him to see the video as counsel to the family.
“No one would know exactly what happened that night if not for the video being seen and we need to show that to the public,” said his widow, Kristina Myers. “Our elected officials need to be held accountable for the wrongs that they do just like regular citizens are.”
The family is also trying to get the Kansas Legislature to change the law so law enforcement agencies cannot prevent the release of video and audio in officer-involved shooting cases.
Kansas law considers recordings made by law enforcement using a body camera as “criminal investigation records” that are generally not required to be disclosed, according to a court filing. But a court may disclose them if it finds they are in the public interest, a high bar the family’s attorney says they will have to meet.
The video captures Barber County Sheriff Lonnie Small telling Undersheriff Virgil “Dusty” Brewer just minutes before Myers was shot that with “a little luck and he’ll just pass out and die,” Kuckelman said.
Once officers find him, it takes just eight seconds for Steven Myers to leave the shed once the sheriff orders him out, the attorney said. Myers then stands on the sidewalk — in plain sight and unarmed.
After Barber County Sheriff Lonnie Small and his dog turn around and walk away from the scene, multiple deputies shout inconsistent instructions before Brewer shoots Myers with a bean bag round, Kuckelman said.
According to a court filing, the property owner who witnessed the shooting immediately shouted, “God damn, that was a little drastic wasn’t it!” Brewer then threatened the eyewitness with arrest for interference and ordered him to leave his own property.
A deputy on the scene tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate Myers. The shotgun was later found in a house.
“We are disturbed that after they killed Steven Myers you can hear the sheriff telling the deputy to disable his body camera. We are troubled that the sheriff’s own body camera was disabled soon after the shooting,” Kuckelman said. “The reason they disabled their cameras is because they now understand the investigation is of one of their own.”
The sheriff’s office did not respond to requests for comment. But the KBI defended its initial press release saying it emphasized at the time that it was based on preliminary information.
“It does not represent the totality of our investigation or impact how we proceed with review of evidence,” said KBI spokeswoman Melissa Underwood. “We always conduct a very thorough and independent investigation into what occurred.”
Myers’ widow, who has not seen the recordings, said she wants justice served: “The undersheriff shot and killed my husband for no reason.” She said she also wants to keep this from happening to someone else.
The Myers case is the second recent police shooting in Kansas in which the family has called for the public release of recordings.
In Topeka, attorneys for the family of Dominique White, a 30-year-old man shot by two police officers on Sept. 28, have also called for the footage to be made public. In the White case, the city has refused to identify the officers who shot him or release the video to the family or their attorney, contending it can only release it to an adult administrator of White’s estate which has yet to be appointed.