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St. Louis County sheriff candidate defends response to Wichita race controversy

Gordon Ramsay, the former Duluth police chief, says he's being scapegoated by his former supervisor.

Gordon Ramsay.jpg
Gordon Ramsay
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DULUTH — St. Louis County sheriff candidate Gordon Ramsay defended himself Friday after a week of bombshell reporting in Wichita, Kansas, called into question his handling of an incident last spring involving racist messages exchanged by police officers there.

“I have nothing to hide,” Ramsay said. “I know I did the right thing.”

Ramsay, the former Duluth police chief who left to lead the 900-plus person department in Wichita, was involved in news reports throughout the week in Wichita, where his supervisor, City Manager Bob Layton, said Ramsay failed to report the racist text exchanges.

The text exchanges roiled the Wichita community after coming to light in media reports this week, catching the city’s mayor and council off-guard.

The text messages included graphic and racist memes shared among law enforcement officers, including some texts featuring George Floyd, the Black man killed by Minneapolis police in May 2020. Floyd’s death sparked waves of civil rights protesting and even rioting throughout the country.

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The firestorm of coverage left Wichita city leaders wondering how they were left uninformed. Ramsay called it a “he said, she said” scenario, and told the News Tribune he not only reported the text exchanges to Layton last spring, but also to the city’s human resources department, the city attorney, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Attorney and the Wichita Citizens Review Board, which Ramsay said he established for transparency’s sake early in his tenure at the department.

Ramsay noted that, based on the city’s “weak mayor” form of government, it was Layton’s role and responsibility to inform the city council and mayor.

Layton, threatened with termination by the city’s mayor, basically called Ramsay a liar.

“I don’t want to just come out and say he’s a liar,” Layton told The Wichita Eagle. “But I don’t recall that.”

The former Duluth police chief is one of three candidates vying for the seat.

Ramsay left the Wichita department March 1 in a long-planned resignation. A Duluth native, Ramsay’s family had moved back to the city in 2021, and he announced his plan to run for county sheriff earlier this month.

Ramsay described having a healthy relationship with Layton up until now, and believes he’s being scapegoated by his former supervisor.

“This is bigger-city politics and if I was still there it wouldn’t have rolled out this way at all — 100%,” Ramsay said.

Ramsay described arriving in Wichita in 2016 to weekly protests of the police department.

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“That doesn’t happen any more,” Ramsay said, while also noting his own clashes with a toxic “old guard” within the department.

“I was changing culture and there’s a lot of people that don’t like that,” he added. “They want to see me get my kick in the butt.”

Ramsay was police chief in Duluth from 2006-16, before leaving for Wichita for six years to lead that department. He was a finalist for the same job in Austin, Texas, but decided to return to his hometown after failing to get that job.

“I’ve been doing this job for 16 years, and I’ve had plenty of issues dealing with race, use of force, community relations and transparency,” Ramsay said. “My record speaks for itself.”

Duluth's chief of police is one of two finalists to fill the same job in Wichita, Kan. Chief Gordon Ramsay announced the news Friday, as did the city of Wichita in a news release. The other finalist is Jeff Spivey, assistant chief of police in Ir...

As the Wichita-based reporting unfolded, sources came forward to describe how Ramsay had been upfront last year with a local group of Black pastors about the department’s investigation into racist text exchanges.

But Thursday, Layton persisted in his own defense, telling Wichita television station KWCH: “I was never told about any ongoing investigation or the results of the investigation.”

News reports were also critical of Ramsay’s handling of discipline in the racist texting scandal. None of the 11 police officers investigated by the department lost any work time, Ramsay confirmed. While some were reprimanded, media coverage contrasted his department's response with how three local sheriff’s office deputies are no longer working for the office in the wake of the scandal.

Former Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay, who now leads the Wichita (Kan.) Police Department is garnering praise from near and far this week after his officers and members of the community worked together to hold a cookout on Sunday.

Ramsay said the local citizens review board was doing its job by addressing the disciplinary outcomes, and that some of the officers involved in the text exchanges had been victimized by gunfire at a protest a day or two before the messaging.

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“When you look at this case there is context with some of this stuff,” he said.

Ramsay’s opponents in the St. Louis County race for sheriff — current St. Louis County Undersheriff Jason Lukovsky and gun-store operator Chad Walsh — declined to comment on the matter.

Ramsay said he’d cooperate with an investigation by the city of Wichita.

“I haven’t done anything wrong,” he said. “Of course I’m going to cooperate.”

Brady Slater is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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Bygones is researched and written by David Ouse, retired reference librarian from the Duluth Public Library. He can be contacted at djouse49@gmail.com.