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Meet The Candidates For Wyandotte County District Attorney

Crysta Henthorne
KCUR 89.3

Incumbent Mark Dupree faces prosecutor Kristiane Bryant in the Kansas primary Aug. 4. The winner will run the District Attorney’s office for the next four years, since no Republican has filed in this race.

As violent crime and calls for racial equity both mount in Wyandotte County, the Aug. 4 primary for District Attorney has become a referendum on how to reform the criminal justice system while keeping the community safe.

Mark Dupree defeated a longtime incumbent Wyandotte County prosecutor to become the first Black District Attorney in Kansas in 2017. In his first term, he has been an outspoken advocate for overturning the status quo and systemic racism, and for transforming the courts to be more fair and equitable.

He was instrumental in seeing that Lamonte McIntyre, who served 23 years for a murder he didn’t commit, was set free in October 2017.

But Dupree faces a vigorous challenge from a veteran prosecuting attorney, Kristiane Bryant. Bryant and other critics argue Dupree lacks experience and competence and say his office’s mishandling of cases and lenient plea bargains with dangerous criminals seriously threaten public safety.

Courtesy of the Dupree campaign

Age: 38
City of residence: Kansas City, Kansas
Experience: Law clerk, assistant prosecuting attorney in Jackson County, public defender in Johnson County, private defense attorney, children’s attorney and District Attorney of Wyandotte County, 2017-present.
Key endorsements: None listed
Campaign website: www.dupree4da.com

What sets you apart from your opponent?

Dupree defeated longtime Wyandotte County DA Jerome Gorman. He says when he took office in January 2017, the culture and racial biases needed to change, and he has done that.

“Whenever there was a hung jury there was a noose passed around. And that was the thought process, it was okay. There was no cultural education. I believe you can’t be legally competent without being culturally competent as lawyers and law enforcement, judges and so on. So I had to put an end to that tradition and that culture,” Dupree told Steve Kraske on KCUR’s Up To Date program. “I’m an advocate for getting rid of those good-old-boy traditions, those good-old-boy thought processes and making sure that justice and our constitutional rights apply to every person.”

Dupree says he has brought more diversity to the office. He created a “Community Integrity Unit” to root out corruption. He has brought implicit bias training to the office and instituted other reforms, and says he will build on that track record if he gets a second term.

“I have been involved in the community for over 24 years and am comfortable with every sector of this great county,” Dupree said in an email to KCUR. “I believe the relationship with the police department is an important working relationship and should not be complicated by campaign donations. As such, I believe it is a conflict to accept campaign donations from the Fraternal Order of Police and vow not to do so.”

Key accomplishments: Dupree says he helped overturn a terrible miscarriage of justice in the Lamonte McIntyre case.

“Lamonte Mcintyre has been freed and exonerated by the Kansas Attorney General and we did our part by dismissing those cases,” Dupree said on Up To Date. “Those are huge massive steps that hadn’t happened for 23 years. And under the previous administration and his staff, they kept quiet for 10 years of those 23 years and refused to look at it.”

He secured funding to investigate alleged wrongful conviction cases.

He also took steps to ensure that independent agencies would investigate allegations of wrongdoing by police.

He says he has improved diversity in the office by bringing in new African American, Hispanic and Asian attorneys and staffers.

“We had to make an effort to go find diversity and bring educated, qualified individuals into the prosecutor’s office so we can make sure we’re representing the entire people,” he said on KCUR.

He also established a youth mentoring program in Wyandotte County schools and did an expungement fair for Wyandotte County residents who have paid their debt to society, making it easier for them to find gainful employment.

Violent crime: “We vigorously pursue violent crime,” Dupree said in an email to KCUR. “Homicides and violent crime, in general, threaten the safety and sanctity of our entire community. We use the evidence we receive from our partners in law enforcement to administer the law correctly and convict the accused.”

Dupree acknowledged that violent crime is up in Wyandotte County but said that’s been the case in many communities across the region and the country. He said the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for police and social service agencies to intervene early in domestic disputes, which can escalate to physical violence.

Dupree argued his office is correctly charging cases, offering fair plea deals and going to trial when needed. He said the office has instituted important reforms and now participates in Drug Court, Behavioral Health Court, Veteran’s Court and established a mental health diversion program.

Key proposals: Dupree’s focus is dubbed “Justice 2020,” a guide to holistic, preventative and just prosecution. It calls for bail reform, domestic violence prevention, treatment and rehabilitation for those addicted to illegal substances, and investing in quality education versus mass incarceration. He says he has implemented implicit bias training and supports re-entry efforts for those who have served their time.

Criticism from The Kansas City Star: The Kansas City Star has recently run editorials critical of Dupree in his role as Wyandotte County DA. Dupree responded that he is a criminal justice reformer and is taking on an establishment that wants to preserve the status quo and special backroom deals.

“The transparency and integrity Mr. Dupree has established in his office no longer make this a possibility,” his campaign said in an email to KCUR. “This makes some people uncomfortable but it is empowering to the people.”

Dupree pushes back on allegations that cases have been mismanaged and argues he has highly experienced, competent attorneys in the office who are helping to root out corruption.

Dupree also joined KCUR's Up To Date to respond to the Star's editorials.

Courtesy of the Bryant campaign

Age: 42
City of Residence: Kansas City, Kansas
Experience: Currently, Trial team leader with Jackson County Prosecutor’s Violent Crimes Unit. Previously, assistant and deputy district attorney, Wyandotte County 2007-2011 and 2014-2016, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Litigation Division with the Kansas Attorney General’s Office, 2011-2014.
Key Endorsements: IBEW Local 124, Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus, FOP Lodge 4
Campaign website: www.bryant4wycoda.com

What sets you apart from your opponent?

Bryant says Dupree’s background is as a defense attorney while she has an extensive background as a prosecuting attorney, with years of experience handling criminal trials.

“Prosecution is a pretty specialized field,” Bryant told Steve Kraske on KCUR’s Up To Date. “In order to handle high-level felony trials you have to have experience in the courtroom.”

She said Dupree’s lack of trial experience takes a toll on the office and there’s been a lot of turnover of veteran prosecutors. “Without a strong leader who understands how cases need to be handled in a courtroom there’s a lack of training and mentorship for newer attorneys coming into the office,” she said.

Bryant argues some defendants have been given plea bargains that she considered too lenient. She pointed out that one jury in a murder trial earlier this year took the highly unusual step of apologizing to a victim’s family after the state presented what the jury considered to be a weak case at trial, forcing an acquittal.

(In that case, Dupree’s office responded that another defendant in the case was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to prison).

“Everybody is accountable for how they handle cases,” Bryant said on KCUR. “In Jackson County we are prosecuting cases. In Wyandotte County, the crime rate has popped up substantially and they are trying 50% fewer cases and giving substantially more plea offers to high-level offenders.”

In an email to KCUR she said the most important work in the District Attorney’s office happens away from public appearances and television cameras.

“I can ensure zealous advocacy for crime victims in the courtroom as well as professional day-to-day operation of the office,” she wrote.

Key accomplishments: Bryant says that during her career she has handled juvenile offender and child in need of care cases. She has also handled felonies ranging from theft to public corruption, to child sexual abuse to murder. She has handled high-level cases and has gone to jury trial on dozens of violent felonies, including cold case homicides.

She serves as an instructor for the Intensive Trial Advocacy Program at Washburn University and was a former Chair of the Kansas Child Death Review board.

Violent crime: Bryant says diligent prosecution of violent crime by the District Attorney's Office is essential. In an email to KCUR she said she will work to build stronger partnerships with community members, prosecutors, police, law enforcement, service providers, educators, businesses and other stakeholders.

To build trust, she advocates more community-based policing and improving witness protection.

“I’m interested in moving towards a model where instead of having prosecutors and law enforcement telling the community what they need to do and what they need to think, I want to move towards a model where we actually sit down and take community input and find out from neighborhood to neighborhood what’s driving crime,” she said on KCUR’s Up To Date. “And what we as law enforcement and prosecutors can do to help.”

She also advocates more community engagement activities with youth and restorative justice alternatives for young offenders.

Key proposals: Bryant said the Conviction Integrity Unit that Dupree initiated is a good start but can be improved and needs more transparency.

“The public doesn’t know what cases are being reviewed and what the outcomes are,” she said. “We need to open that process up so people understand what cases are being reviewed.”

Other aspects of her platform include more consistent treatment of cases, fewer lenient plea bargains and better supports for felons re-entering society.

She said the court system also still needs bail bond reform. “People sit in jail on low level offenses because they can’t pay cash bond,” she told KCUR. “That impacts people of color. That practice is still going on. It needs to change.”

Kansas City Star editorials: Bryant said in an email to KCUR that the editorials published by the Kansas City Star give the general public a glimpse into what is going on behind the scenes in Wyandotte County’s court system and the lives that are impacted.

“They highlight the importance of this election to our community,” she wrote. “I have been made aware of the failures of the District Attorney’s Office repeatedly over the past three and a half years and I am well aware of the harm they have done, which is why I filed to run for this position.”

Lynn Horsley is a freelance writer in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley.
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