Karle Robinson had been moving into his newly purchased home for hours. At 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 19, he was carrying the last item — a 45-inch television — inside when a Tonganoxie, Kan., officer pulled up to investigate what he suspected was a burglary in progress.
Eight months after Robinson was handcuffed and detained, he wants the involved police officers fired. On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas demanded that the state attorney general investigate what it described in a letter as deep-rooted racial bias by the Tonganoxie Police Department and a campaign of surveillance and harassment against a newcomer to the neighborhood.
The department tells a different story:
Police Officer Brady Adams — who encountered a man carrying a television near an empty van at 2:30 a.m. — suspected he had caught a burglar in the act.
Saying he had reasonable suspicion Robinson was committing a crime, Adams drew his gun and ordered the native Kansan and retired Marine to put down the TV. Robinson complied, trying to explain that he owned the home. The officer asked whether Robinson had any weapons on him and, after patting him down, Adams handcuffed the 61-year-old veteran. Then they waited for backup. (Footage from a body camera worn by Adams, which was reviewed by The Washington Post, supports these details.)
Officer Shane Pfannenstiel and Sgt. Collin Clair arrived soon after. They confirmed that Robinson was the homeowner. Robinson was uncuffed, and the officers apologized for the trouble, citing burglaries in the area, and helped him carry the television inside.
The ACLU letter said the police department “maintained a regular presence at or near Mr. Robinson’s home in the weeks following his detention,” routinely following Robinson and driving past his home.
The letter also said that Robinson was prevented by Police Chief Greg Lawson from filing a report that alleged that his detention was because of racial bias. Lawson “told Mr. Robinson that Officer Adams was justified in drawing his weapon and applying restraints because he ‘feared for his life.’ ”
Robinson said the “campaign of harassment and surveillance” subsided only after he spoke to the Kansas City Star.
In a statement to The Post, Lawson emphasized the department’s cooperation with Robinson and the ACLU, adding that Thursday’s letter contains inaccurate accusations.
“The safety of our citizens and visitors continues to be of the highest importance to the Tonganoxie Police Department,” the statement said. “The members of this agency have pledged to serve the community with honor and the highest degree of professionalism.”
Lauren Bonds, legal director at the ACLU of Kansas, told The Post that Robinson believed his detention was motivated by his race. He contacted the organization after he was unsuccessful in filing a complaint.
“He was worried they didn’t do an investigation, and it was summarily dismissed,” she said. “Each of these incidents would be concerning had they been alleged independently. Together they suggest a pervasive culture of racial bias and systemic process failure within [the Tonganoxie Police Department].”
The Kansas Attorney General’s Office has reviewed the complaint and forwarded it to the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training, a spokesman said Friday.
In an interview with The Post, Robinson said that he wants the chief and three officers to lose their jobs. “I’ve had encounters with cops for 40 years, but this was my property. I just bought it,” he said. “I want a totally different department here.”