Drama erupts around conviction integrity unit, Kansas City case

More than 50 current and former law enforcement officials have signed a letter backing the creation of a conviction integrity unit in Kansas City, Kansas after a high profile exoneration uncovered flaws in the justice system there last year. Police and the local district attorney disagree on whether the local prosecutor should have authority to reexamine cases.

The request by a Kansas prosecutor to create a unit that would review cases involving evidence of wrongful convictions has exposed a schism among law enforcement officials who contend that the business of reviewing wrongful convictions should not be left to the local prosecutor.

The dispute was touched off after Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree asked the County Board in July for $300,000 to create the new conviction integrity unit.  The Kansas City, Kansas police chief, sheriff and two Fraternal Order of Police union presidents then sent a July 30 letter to Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt questioning the proposal, and asking Schmidt’s office to oversee any decisions by the local prosecutor to reopen past cases.

On Wednesday, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and Eric Gonzalez, the Brooklyn, New York prosecutor, were among 54 current and former law enforcement officials who signed a letter supporting the creation of the unit within Dupree’s office. Pursuing justice is not “at odds with community safety or victim support,” their letter states. “In fact, victims are safer – and we prevent further victimization – when communities trust that their law enforcement officials seek the truth rather than ‘win.’”

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The issue has erupted months after Dupree cut short a hearing into Lamonte McIntyre’s claim that he had been wrongly convicted and spent 23 years in prison for a 1994 double murder, saying he was acting to correct a “manifest injustice.”

Questions of McIntyre’s conviction involved allegations of a corrupt police detective, a corrupt state prosecutor, misconduct by the trial judge and ineffective representation by his court appointed attorney. The July 30 letter by law enforcement officials challenging Dupree stated the prosecutor had “failed to fulfill its role as an advocate for the homicide victims(s) and the State” in that case.

In response, the letter from Foxx and others notes that there are currently more than 30 such units across the country. The creation of departments made to review past convictions often face significant blowback from law enforcement.

The Kansas City police chief and his colleagues had said that they did not think it should be left to the local prosecutor to reopen past convictions. “While we are supportive of efforts to correct true wrongful convictions, we believe safeguards are appropriate to ensure the review is handled legally and competently,” their letter said, warning of the possibility that mishandled examinations of past convictions could both endanger the public and cause financial liability to public officials.

But in response, the progressive law enforcement officials wrote, “Elected prosecutors should not be expected to await the actions of others to correct legal wrongs. Indeed, they are ethically required to proactively address such issues.”

Tricia Bushnell, an attorney with the Midwest Innocence Project and one of McIntyre’s attorneys, said it is important to see prosecutors come together and recognize their obligation in seeking justice. Just looking at 2017, she said, the vast majority of overturned convictions deal with police and prosecutorial misconduct. Prosecutors are saying that they want to prevent those types of mistakes in the future, Bushnell said.

“I think everyone wants a prosecutor who is concerned with justice, not just prosecution,” Bushnell said.

A spokesman for Dupree did not respond to requests for comment.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the the amount of time McIntyre served in prison. He served 23 years.