Court proceeds with suit against Kansas police department’s “Gang List”

Wichita Police Department
Wichita Police Department(KWCH)
Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 4:50 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (WIBW) - Civil rights organizations are celebrating as the Kansas District Court has proceeded with a lawsuit against a Kansas police department for its use of a roster of area gangs.

In a victory for plaintiffs, the ACLU of Kansas says the U.S. District Court of the District of Kansas denied portions of the City of Wichita’s motion to dismiss a class-action lawsuit which challenged the city’s “Gang List.”

The ACLU said the ruling allows the suit to proceed with its claims that the gang database, and the Wichita Police Department’s use of it, is unconstitutional.

“We are largely pleased with the Court’s order,” Teresa Woody, Kansas Appleseed litigation director, said. “There is no justice in Wichita’s unconstitutional use of its gang list, and the Court’s Order allows us to continue to challenge laws and policies that harm residents across Wichita and Kansas as long as they are allowed to exist.”

The ACLU said the Court preserved all individual procedural due process claims, plaintiffs’ void-for-vagueness claims, and plaintiffs’ claims that the Wichita Police Department policy and statute permitting the gang list to exist is unconstitutional because it infringes on freedom of expression and association protected under the First Amendment.

“The state statute authorizing WPD’s gang list and the department’s application of it is unconstitutional, discriminatory, and harmful, and we are eager to begin the litigation of this case in earnest,” said Sharon Brett, Legal Director of the ACLU of Kansas. “Our clients have been profiled, harassed and targeted by WPD for years because of their inclusion on this list, and we’re looking forward to putting an end to these practices through this lawsuit.”

According to the ACLU, Wichita residents can be put on the gang list without notice and without committing or being charged with a criminal offense. It said the list inclusion criteria is vague and broad and encompasses a wide range of innocent and constitutionally protected behavior according to the original complaint.

Once on the list, the ACLU said community members do not have a chance to contest their inclusion. Inclusion on the list can affect access to jobs, housing and more.

The organization said attorneys bringing the suit are asking for injunctive and declaratory relief, challenging the Kansas law and WPD policy and asking the City to immediately cease use of its gang list and prohibit the operation of the list in the future.

The case was filed April 15, 2021, on behalf of Progeny, a Wichita-based youth civil rights organization, and four individuals from the ACLU of Kansas and Kansas Appleseed, with pro bono help from Shook, Hardy, and Bacon LLP. The City of Wichita and the police department’s motion to dismiss was filed on July 9, 2021.

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