One of Kansas City’s top cops was forced out last year after his patrol car was used in a political ad – yet the current police chief this fall posed for a photograph with a political candidate without repercussions.
Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves posed with Jackson County prosecutor candidate Melesa Johnson at Johnson’s campaign kickoff announcement in September. Until a few weeks ago, that photo was on Johnson’s campaign website.
It is illegal for uniformed KCPD officers to participate in what they know to be political activities.
Johnson, who is Mayor Quinton Lucas’ director of public safety, told The Heartlander the photo of her with Chief Graves was not inappropriate, “But given my relationship with the chief and my relationship with the [police] board, those pictures have been removed from my website.”
The Heartlander asked a KCPD spokesperson why the chief met with Johnson at or after the campaign event – and whether it was proper for the chief to pose with a candidate at the scene of a just-concluded political event, especially considering the other officer’s forced resignation last year.
In response, the spokesperson wrote The Heartlander in an email:
“Chief Graves did not attend Melesa Johnson’s event, the photo was taken afterwards. Melesa Johnson is the Director of Public Safety for KCMO; it is not uncommon for the two to appear in photos together. Melesa Johnson is involved in Partners for Peace, which is an organization that works closely with KCPD in assisting with violent crime.
“The Chief saw Melesa from across the street and greeted her as she has done on many occasions. It is generally not uncommon for people to ask to take photos with her. Melesa has a professional relationship with KCPD due to her being the actual Director of Public Safety for Kansas City, Missouri. The Chief confirmed this picture was not taken at the event and was after.”
The spokesman did not say whether there was a Partners for Peace event or any other official meeting at that time that involved the two officials.
Making Graves’ actions all the more curious is the fact that the forced-out officer’s mother, former council member Teresa Loar, says her son David was required to do what he did by his chain of command – which, at that point, included the now-chief Stacey Graves.
Loar says her son was directed by his superiors, including Graves, to take U.S. senatorial candidate and former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on an official ride-along, which he had made clear he didn’t want to do. Nonetheless, she says her son told Greitens and his handlers there were to be no images taken at the event, but they were taken anyway without his permission.
“He was doing what he was supposed to do, what he was told to do by his superior officer,” she said.
Loar says her son was forced out in June 2022 by a then-interim chief.
A KCPD spokesman told The Heartlander Graves wasn’t Capt. Loar’s direct supervisor when he was directed to provide the Greitens ride-along. The spokesman did not confirm whether Graves approved it. Loar maintains Graves was in her son’s chain of command and gave ultimate approval for the ride-along.
In 2009, Capt. Loar was one of two KCPD officers honored by President Obama for their extraordinary personal efforts to help a homeless man get back on his feet.
Local blog Tony’s Kansas City wrote at the time of his ouster that “Police Captain David Loar served as an EXCEPTIONAL 26-YEAR KCPD VETERAN who earned a great deal of respect from his colleagues and community. During a crime wave you’d think that KCPD would want to protect some of their more experienced vets but politics has conspired to create yet another crisis and/or legal battle.”
“He had 28 letters of commendation in his file. Not one negative thing in his file. Nothing,” says Ms. Loar.
Asked what she thinks of KCPD’s response regarding the chief’s photo with Johnson, Loar replied, “Well, I thought it was pretty lame. When this same incident happened with my son, the campaign had filmed a police car, not even him, unbeknownst to my son, and they put a picture of the police car on the website. And my son was forced to retire from just a picture of a police car.
“It was an official ride-along. Greitens filled out all the paperwork. David cleared it with his superior officers. David asked not to be the one to take him, but in fact [a] superior officer, which happened to be Stacey Graves, said, ‘No. I want you to do it simply because I trust you.’
“David told [the Greitens people] right up front, no pictures, no filming. And David went to get his equipment and put his equipment in the car. They left, and as they were driving out, the two campaign people filmed the car driving out. That’s why they accused David of campaigning while on duty.”
Loar said that as a council candidate she knew enough not to put her son in uniform in her campaign materials.
“Melesa Johnson, if she is a liaison with the Police Department, she should know better than putting a police officer, specifically the chief in full uniform, on her website. Both of those women knew that that was a violation of law for Kansas City police officers.”
Asked if the chief’s photo with Johnson approached an endorsement, Loar says, “Absolutely. Absolutely it is.”
Asked how she would feel about the chief’s photo with Johnson if she were a candidate competing with Johnson for county prosecutor, Loar said, “I would be incensed and I would definitely file a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission. And I would file a complaint with the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department because it violates section 84 – which is what they said David violated.”
Loar wonders if there are political dimensions to the left-leaning city’s disparate treatment between her son and the chief, noting that Greitens is Republican and Johnson is a Democrat.
“I mean, you tell me.”