Kansas City, KS – The family of a Kansas City police captain who was murdered in the line of duty in 2016 has filed an ethics complaint against the Wyandotte County district attorney, after the prosecutor made a last-minute modification to the charges against the captain’s killer.
Jamaal Lewis, 22, was scheduled to go to trial on Nov. 5 for the capital murder of Kansas City Police Captain Dave Melton, WDAF reported.
The modification of charges allowed Lewis to plead guilty to a lesser offense on Thursday, and he will now receive a lesser sentence, according to WDAF.
Capt. Melton, 46, was fatally shot on July 19, 2016, after he responded to a report of a drive-by shooting at an apartment complex, The Kansas City Star reported at the time.
An officer soon located the suspect vehicle involved in the reported incident, and took one armed person into custody.
Two other suspects – one of whom was Lewis – fled the scene on foot.
Capt. Melton spotted Lewis and attempted to block his path of travel with his patrol car, at which point Lewis opened fire through the patrol vehicle’s side widow.
The captain was shot multiple times before he had even exited his cruiser, and died approximately an hour later at a local hospital.
Lewis fled into the woods after the fatal shooting, and was apprehended approximately 20 minutes later.
Capt. Melton, a 17-year department veteran of the department, had also served nine years as a Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Office deputy, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
He left behind three children and his pregnant girlfriend, who has since given birth to a little girl.
Approximately three weeks ago, Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree amended the charges against Lewis, and added a single count of first-degree felony murder.
“We had a meeting a couple of days before they filed amended charges, and [Dupree] explained to us that they were adding that in case they had trouble with the jury in premeditation,” Zeta Bates, who was engaged to Capt. Melton at the time of his death, explained to WDAF.
"It was never explained to us that he could plead guilty at any time to that alternative charge," Bates told the news outlet. "Had it been explained to us, we would have fought that the entire way."
But that is exactly what happened on Thursday, when Lewis entered a guilty plea to the lesser charge of first-degree felony murder.
At his Nov. 30 sentencing hearing, he will face a maximum of life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 25 years, WDAF reported.
"This is not over for us,” Bates said. “If he got convicted of capital murder and life without parole, that part of it would be over. If he got convicted of second-degree murder and had a hard sentence and been released, that part would be over.”
“This part, we have to open that wound very time we have to go in front and beg them not to let him out [on parole]," she said.
According to the captain’s family, Dupree lashed out at them when they confronted him about Lewis pleading guilty to the lesser offense, KCTV reported.
“He was mad…yelling, screaming,” Capt. Melton’s brother, John Melton, told the news outlet. “And that, to me, is unprofessional. I mean, especially when…we were blindsided.”
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4 President Scott Kirkpatrick denounced the turn of events on Thursday, according to WDAF.
"Today, the family of Captain Dave Melton, the members of the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department, and FOP Lodge 4 were completely blindsided by the plea of Captain Melton’s killer,” Kirkpatrick railed.
“Now, instead of facing the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole, this cold-blooded murderer of a police officer will be set free after only serving 25 years,” he added.
Kirkpatrick noted that the plea occurred without the input of Capt. Melton’s family, and that Dupree “berated” them when they questioned him about what had occurred.
"Mr. Dupree failed to take the necessary legal steps to stop this plea before it occurred,” he said. “When the Melton family questioned him, Mr. Dupree, instead of explaining the situation, berated the family choosing to focus more on his personal reputation than the justice he is obligated to seek for the commission of this heinous crime.”
According to Bates, Dupree told the family that he was sick of them complaining about him to other members of the community, WDAF reported.
"[He] told us that he was tired of us badmouthing him…spitting on his reputation, and that he didn't owe us anything," Bates recounted. "That he was trying to seek justice for Dave and that we as the family were disrespectful to him, so he didn’t owe us anything."
Capt. Melton’s family has since filed several ethics complaints against Dupree, and has also filed complaints with the Kansas Attorney General’s Office of Victim’s Services, WDAF reported.
Kirkpatrick said that Dupree has still “refused to accept responsibility for his incompetent decision to include this lesser offense in the charging document.”
"Captain Melton’s murder was unquestionably premeditated, and his killer deserved the maximum possible sentence under the law,” he continued. “[Dupree’s] enormous mistake allowed Captain Melton’s killer to escape the appropriate punishment for this capital crime.”
“It is a travesty of justice,” Kirkpatrick declared.
The union president said the outcome of the case was only one example of Dupree’s “incompetence,” and that the union would “work tirelessly” to make sure he was not reelected in the future.
Following Lewis’ guilty plea, Kansas City Mayor David Alvey said he was “concerned” that the outcome “does not match the exceptionally serious nature of this capital crime,” according to WDAF.
“I am also disturbed that neither the victim’s family members, nor our law enforcement community, were apprised of this plea agreement before it took place,” Alvey said. “This plea agreement is a de facto devaluation of victim’s rights and the daily sacrifices of our law enforcement community.”
In response, Dupree released a statement arguing that there was never a plea agreement involved – Lewis just opted to plead guilty to the lesser count the prosecutor had recently added to the charges against him, he said.
"Lewis entered said plea without any agreement from the state, and the plea was accepted by the court. There is no agreement in this matter," he said. "A criminal defendant may plead guilty to any charges against him at any time."
Dupree has not responded to requests for comments regarding the ethics complaints the family has filed against him, WDAF reported.