Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree demanded Thursday that his name be removed from any report produced by a commission that President Donald Trump ordered to study law enforcement issues, saying it had a “pernicious political agenda.”
Dupree sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Thursday that said he was originally honored to serve on the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice.
But Dupree said he later became concerned by the commission’s lack of transparency and inclusiveness, as well as his view that the commission sought to “attack and erode” the discretion of local prosecutors who looked to improve public safety while reducing incarcerations.
Dupree was appointed a year ago to the commission’s working group on reentry programs to study how to improve the lives of criminal offenders after their prison sentences expire and to reduce their chances of committing crime again once they are free. Dupree resigned that position in his letter to Barr.
“Unfortunately, that work has been smothered by a pernicious political agenda,” Dupree wrote in his letter to Barr. “Therefore, I am saddened but feel morally and ethically obligated to request that my name be removed from the Commission’s final report and any other documents that it issues.”
In an interview with The Star, Dupree said he believed the commission’s agenda favored outdated police strategies.
“What I felt was it was a political agenda of wanting and trying to appease police to court them for political gain,” Dupree said.
A federal judge in Washington, D.C., last month ruled that the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice violated a law meant to ensure that federal advisory committees fairly balance the viewpoints represented and conduct their business publicly.
U.S. District Court Judge John Bates said the commission’s work must stop and that it issue no report until it complied with the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Later, it was decided a report could be issued but would have to include a disclaimer that the terms of the Federal Advisory Committee Act were not met and the commission was not balanced.
“At this time I have not heard if the AG or commission will put it out, seeing how they have to put all of this on it,” Dupree said. “If it is going to come out, I don’t want my name associated with it.”
Bates found that the commission’s membership consisted only of current and former law enforcement and omitted anyone with a criminal defense, civil rights or community organizing background. He also said the commission’s work was not conducted transparently.
“Especially in 2020, when racial justice and civil rights issues involving law enforcement have erupted across the nation, one may legitimately question whether it is sound policy to have a group with little diversity of experience examine, behind closed doors, the sensitive issues facing law enforcement and the criminal justice system today,” Bates wrote in a 45-page ruling.
Bates also said the Justice Department didn’t make great efforts to defend the composition of its commission and oversight failures and merely argued that the Federal Advisory Committee Act didn’t apply, a position the judge rejected.
The ruling came as a result of a lawsuit brought against Barr and the Justice Department by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund alleging that the commission violated federal law.
Dupree said Bates’ ruling confirmed many of the concerns he had with the commission. He said he wrote a letter to the commission and the Justice Department on May 29 but never got a response.
“I have yet to hear whether the Commission’s final report intends to adequately address the racial equity issues millions are pleading with us to reckon with, nor am I confident that the Commission’s recommendations will acknowledge the systemic racism in our justice system — these issues are fundamental to earning the trust of people of color in this country,” Dupree said in a statement. “Instead, and more troubling, the Commission appears to be intent on exploiting the divisions that exist in our country.”
A Justice Department spokesperson said Dupree’s letter was received and the department respected his request.
“He was a valuable member of the working group on Reentry Programs and Initiatives and made important contributions to the Commission’s work,” said the Justice Department spokesperson.
In September, Ramsey County, Minnesota, District Attorney John Choi resigned from the commission. He also cited concerns that the commission did not intend to have thoughtful analysis but instead was cover for a “predetermined agenda” that ignored past lessons on failed crime and incarceration policies.
Dupree earlier this year earned a second term as Wyandotte County district attorney, four years after he became the first Black district attorney in the county when he defeated then-incumbent Jerry Gorman.
Dupree campaigned on a plank of reforming Wyandotte County’s justice system. Among other policies, he formed a community integrity unit that is designed to evaluate past criminal convictions to explore the possibility of miscarriages of justice. The unit was met with opposition by leading Wyandotte County law enforcement officials, most of whom have been at loggerheads with Dupree since his election in 2016.
Dupree has also championed reducing incarceration, particularly for low-level drug offenders who could be put on diversion instead of in jail.
“Across the country there are prosecutors such as myself who have created conviction integrity units,” Dupree said. “There are prosecutors across the nation who decided that crimes that are negatively affecting disenfranchised communities and disproportionately jail folks versus others, those crimes should not, one, be charged, or should be often offered diversion.”
Other law enforcement officials in Kansas and Missouri who were part of the commission and its working groups included Brad Lemon, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 99 representing Kansas City Police Department officers; Jeff Jensen, U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Missouri; Paul Williams, chief of the Springfield, Missouri, Police Department, and Gordon Ramsay, chief of the Wichita Police Department.
“The bottom line is we need to bring about unity in a time of pandemic, in a time of distrust of law enforcement and the criminal justice system in this crisis,” Dupree said Thursday. “We do not need divides, we need to continue to work toward unity, which I believe then will allow us to work together to bring about a better criminal justice system.”