KC Voices: What will you do, District Attorney Howe?
We’ve been asking members of the KC community to submit stories about life under quarantine, protests, politics, and other subjects that provide important opinions. If you’ve got a story you’d like to share, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration. Today, Shawn Stewart tackles one of the most frustrating situations on the docket for a decision here in the metro.
What will you do, District Attorney Howe? What would you have done?
You’ve struggled to buckle your friend’s kids, both toddlers, into the car as fast as you can. As you are getting off the street, you hear your wife scream your name, “Darrien! Darrien! Darrien! Darrien!…They’re arresting me!”
Children that young can be difficult to manage in ideal circumstances. A “cat-herding” metaphor comes to mind. Now tack on the circumstance of police screaming, “Get off the street!”. By the accounts of eyewitnesses, Overland Park police were expeditiously trying to end the “No Justice/No Sleep” march and had incorporated the use of physical contact to make that point.
You’re trying to get off the street. But you can’t evacuate until you buckle the kids in. And the car is, you know, on the street. Did I mention that the police were in riot gear? Yeah, so there’s that.
The police are in riot gear. You have taken two toddlers from your friend’s double stroller and have ensured they are buckled into car seats so you can get everyone off the street. You are mentally regrouping.
Having watched the critical moment of the arrest of Darrien Richmond from multiple body cam and cell phone angles, the situation seemed unnerving, even for an observer who wasn’t there. Neighbors screaming. Protest leaders on the bullhorns. Police yelling commands in military dress.
How did it come to this anyway?
The Overland Park Police Department supported the same group at a peaceful protest organized by The Miller Dream two weeks prior on July 11th. From the accounts of protestors that evening and even Overland Park city officials, major roads like Quivira and College Blvd. had been blocked off so protesters could march. Walking the streets had been fine.
The baseline was set. Everybody thought what happened to George Floyd was wrong. Police, protesters, they were united. Why were the police here in riot gear this time?
The group recalls bodycam footage released by the City of Overland Park after the event, which seems to have been removed since. In the footage, an officer spoke with people from “The Miller Dream”, which organized the “No Justice/No Sleep” event right before it started. The intentions were divulged and agreed upon, with a request being made by the officer to ensure the march did not involve the obstruction of main roads, like Quivira. That account was verified by a city official, who told me that additionally protestors had been told they were not supposed to be on the streets for the second event.
What led to the police showing up in riot gear, being stationed at every block, not allowing street access, and being colder than accommodating was certainly not known to protesters as they marched on the 24th of July. To Overland Park city officials and the Overland Park Police Department, however, the reason was well known.
“They weren’t aware of the tremendous angst that was generated as a result of their first protest from the neighborhood”, said an elected official of the city. “We still had the concern that despite the fact that their (protestors’) intentions were to be peaceful, that things outside their control could have ended up causing it to go in different directions. The fear was not the protesters themselves.”
The city and its police department were receiving phone calls and emails. City council members were even being approached in person by constituents. The message was consistent, “They want(ed) the police to control the situation, but if they can’t, we’re going to take care of it.”
A young man showed up to speak at the first Overland Park Public Safety Committee meeting following the march. His name was Tyler Paschal. He spoke of the people who lived in the area of the protest as “neighbors” but told the group, with no visible indication of irony that he lived on the west side of Olathe. On August 12th, as a matter of public record he stated, “There were plans on (sic) us showing up and defending the property because, well, when somebody threatens to hurt your neighbors or your friends, you defend them. And luckily somebody got in touch with the police and the police showed up, ended the situation professionally and nobody got hurt.”
Mr. Paschal did not respond to questions I posed via Instant Messenger regarding his statements. The request was however opened. It was unclear why he thought the Miller Dream’s second march in the same neighborhood in as many weeks was a threat to property or neighbors of an adjacent city.
It was also unclear why he felt, despite caveats like, “I’m not trained. I am not a professional at handling terrorists…”, he felt it incumbent upon himself to serve in a role as enforcer. It was unclear why he called protestors who had peacefully marched there before as well as having marched in Kansas City, Leawood, and Prairie Village without incident, “terrorists”. It was unclear why at the end of his address he seemed to indicate that without the police getting involved, “…we would have been and something might’ve happened.”
A city official confirmed that the messages they were getting from some Overland Park residents regarding the second protest to be held on July 24th were not “different in tone” than those from Mr. Paschal. The official was not certain that Mr. Paschal had been among those who contacted the city ahead of the protest.
The same tone was certainly echoed by some of the neighbors as the protestors, some pushing strollers walked the sidewalks in front of their houses. Neighbors Jo and Richard Oborny approached the group as they marched down a side street. Screams of what are ostensibly “Get out!” in a shrill voice can be heard on IJTV’s video of the event. Those appear to have emanated from Jo Oborny. A group leader with a bullhorn can be heard saying, “Ma’am, we are going to keep this peaceful. The police are here.
Jo Oborny and her husband can then be heard screaming, “Get off our property” repeatedly.
The leader responds, “Ma’am we are not on your property.
Moments later, Mrs. Oborny, in an unnerving shriek can be heard yelling at a policeman, “When you sit down and shut up, this is what happens!”
She seemed to think the protestors needed to be stopped. She seemed to indicate they didn’t have the right to protest in her neighborhood that night.
The Obornys opened my requests via Instant Messenger for them to provide me with their account of what happened that evening, but never responded and proceeded to block me.
The exchange with the couple grew so intense that a protest leader can be heard shouting through a bullhorn, “We need a legal observer here. Now!”
A woman in a yellow vest runs to the residence, stands between the Obornys and people passing on the sidewalk, and is shoved repeatedly by Mr. Oborny.
None of the protestors were privy to why things were so contentious, so elevated that evening. Certainly not Darrien Richmond, who actually resided nearby. What they didn’t know was that signs of “credible threat” were all around them. This was the setting to which police responded that evening.
“Credible threat” was the phrase Chief Donchez used at an Overland Park Bias Board Meeting held shortly after the protest. The Bias Board Meeting was held on the 27th of July. A citizen stood at a microphone and asked why police showed up in riot gear at the protest. Numerous witnesses that evening said the Chief spoke of a press release that would make it clear that a “credible threat” was the catalyst for the riot gear and potentially the subsequent truncation of the protest.
I received a statement from Sean Reilly, Overland Park’s Communications City Manager, which read:
“As a result of numerous complaints from neighbors regarding the blocking of streets, the OPPD determined that we would enforce the ordinance regarding protests in the street during the July 24th event. We notified the protestors numerous times that they would be arrested if they continued to violate the ordinance. The vast majority complied, however, the three that did not were arrested.”
It’s unclear to me why the “credible threat” never made the press release, nor was it mentioned in Sean Reilly’s statement. Delineated references only cite an ordinance that prohibited folks from obstructing streets. That ordinance was not enforced at the prior event. To be clear, the rules were different on the evening of the 24th of July, and the protestors were not given the reason.
But back to Darrien Richmond who had no idea about a “credible threat”…
You’ve buckled the kids into the car as fast as you could. You’re complying with the orders to get off the street as rapidly as possible in a chaotic situation which you are still struggling to grasp. Then you hear her scream.
What would you have done District Attorney Howe?
Marisa Richmond said that the cuffs hurt and she was in a heightened state of anxiety as a result of a past trauma she had endured. She wanted Darrien to touch her hand, so she would feel everything was ok. He tried, but police restrained his arms behind his back. That was when it occurred to her she had better stop screaming and reaching for him. She says, “Just as quickly as it happened, my panic attack went away, because I had no choice. If I didn’t calm down, I was afraid the police would kill Darrien in front of me.”
I did some private snooping on Darrien. He is certainly an unlikely candidate for a mugshot. His Facebook picture depicts him and his wife on their wedding day. He has the biggest, goofiest smile: in love and 100% sincere. His profile cover is an image from Dragon Ball-Z.
How does that fit your image of a man being charged with a felony? From all I’ve uncovered, Darrien is a tech-nerd from the ground up. That works out well when you’re a software engineer living in Overland Park. It’s befitting a 4.0 student who earned a scholarship from Georgia Institute of Technology.
Darrien Richmond is like any other geeky 26-year-old Johnson County husband. His convictions just put him in a chaotic situation on the night of July 24th. You see, he has this radical belief that “all …are created equal…that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
He believed on the evening of July 24th, that he was able to exercise his First Amendment right to peaceably assemble so as to demonstrate that all should be treated equally. He had no idea of credible threats from neighbors who viewed his group as “terrorists”, or a “threat to neighbors and their property.” He was not expecting a riot gear reaction.
Darrien Richmond did what most of us would have done in that unfortunate and chaotic situation. He ran TO his partner who called out for help. He didn’t run AT police. He reached his hand out to his wife who was screaming his name and reaching for him. He didn’t reach out his hand to “batter” anyone, least of all an officer.
Many of us have watched those videos repeatedly. The bodycam videos. The cell phone videos. It seems pretty clear that the young man simply ran to his wife. An officer, not knowing the young man’s intentions at that moment restrained him. Please remember, the officer was also in a chaotic situation. Maybe more so as he had the potential of “credible threat” on his mind.
We know how Darrien Richmond reacted in that situation. We’re no longer in the heat of the moment. We know his intentions now. We’re just asking that Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe acknowledges that and ensures a young engineer doesn’t get a felony on his record for doing what many, if not all of us would have done.
I reached out to Mr. Howe’s office and spoke to Kristi Bergeron, the Johnson County District Attorney’s Public Information Officer. She couldn’t offer much since the trial is pending. The case will be heard in Division 13 of the Johnson County Courts by Judge Brenda Cameron on September 25th. The charge: “Battery LEO-Bodily Harm”. A level 7 Felony.
To say folks are perplexed as to why a young engineer with no criminal record is facing a felony “battery” charge for running to comfort his wife when she screamed, would be an understatement. Naturally, his fellow protestors thought it was totally unfair, but to my surprise, they were not alone. That same sentiment was echoed by an Overland Park elected official.
When I asked Sean Reilly about it, his response was “I believe some media outlets stated it was a misdemeanor.”
That was not at all surprising. That was the assumption. Ms. Bergeron told me that the felony was not assigned to the case by Mr. Howe himself but an attorney in the office. “We treat all cases the same,” she said. But why does this one seem different to so many people?
What would you have done District Attorney Howe? What will Judge Cameron do? What do we think true justice looks like?
The hearing for this case begins tomorrow morning.