It is a scandal that has shocked many beyond the borders of Kansas City, where a senior white policeman allegedly carried out a reign of terror in which he brutally abused and sexually assaulted vulnerable Black women.
An appalling set of allegations against former Kansas City, Kansas police department detective Roger Golubski has lifted the lid on a scheme where he is alleged to have protected local drug dealers in the midwestern city, who then allowed him to rape women forced to work as prostitutes.
Golubski, 69, spent 35 years in the police department and worked as a detective in low-income, predominantly Black neighborhoods. The federal government charged Golubski in September with six counts of sexual assault and in November charged him and three other men with conspiring to hold young women in a condition of involuntary sexual servitude, according to US justice department news releases.
Golubski, who faces life in prison if convicted, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The details that have emerged about the allegations against Golubski are shocking.
In 2017, Lamonte McIntyre, a Black man arrested at age 17, was exonerated and released from prison after serving 23 years for a double murder he did not commit. McIntyre and his mother filed a lawsuit in 2018 against Wyandotte county alleging Golubski framed him because his mother rejected his sexual advances and that the county was responsible.
The lawsuit included the initials of 73 women that Golubski allegedly victimized, according to the Washington Post. Earlier this year, the county agreed to pay McIntyre and his mother $12.5m (£10m) as part of a settlement.
Ophelia Williams, a 60-year-old Black woman, alleges that Golubski raped her in 1999. She was living in Kansas City with her four children when police arrested her 14-year-old twin sons over a double homicide. After other officers walked outside her home, Golubski stayed inside with Williams and complimented her legs, she said.
A few days later, Golubski returned, Williams said. Williams assumed it was to talk about her sons’ cases, so she let him inside. While talking, he put his hand on her leg, and she slapped it away. Then he raped her, she said.
He returned days later, she said, and raped her again.
After the first incident, Williams said she told him she would call the police.
“He said: ‘I am the police,’ and [that] if I said anything about it, he would kill me, shoot me or have somebody else to do it, where it would take them a long time to find me,” Williams said.
She did not report the crime.
Golubski’s attorney, Christopher Joseph, said his client denied the charges and described the allegations as uncorroborated.
But there are divisions in how best to deal with its impact and aftermath. The director of an organization that helps people who were wrongfully convicted and a Kansas district attorney agree there is a need to investigate the trove of cases, but the two attorneys disagree about the best way to achieve justice on behalf of the alleged victims.
Mark Dupree, district attorney of Wyandotte county, which includes Kansas City, will lead a $1.7m plan to review 150 of Golubski’s cases. He said a new mayor and police chief, who assisted federal authorities in a criminal investigation of Golubski and support the local review, should get an opportunity “to prove themselves or disprove themselves”.
Meanwhile, the Midwest Innocence Project is reviewing the cases of 40 inmates in Wyandotte county, many of which are tied to Golubski, according to the group’s executive director, Tricia Rojo Bushnell.
She said the way to hold Golubski and the police department accountable was for the justice department to conduct an independent review.
If not, local Black residents who say Golubski preyed on them could conclude that the local government and criminal justice system have again failed them.
“We have to ask for and demand accountability and systemic review of all of the issues that have happened in Wyandotte county and make sure that the system is changed to prevent this – and actually, I would argue, stop this from continuing,” said Rojo Bushnell, whose organization has already agreed to represent four people convicted in Wyandotte county whose cases involve official misconduct, she said.
The misconduct extends beyond Golubski, who was a captain, Rojo Bushnell said. She points to the fact that former police chief Terry Zeigler served as Golubski’s partner for several years, and according to McIntyre’s lawsuit, knew about his actions. Zeigler retired in 2019 after the Kansas bureau of investigation launched an investigation examining whether the chief “double dipped” when he took paid time off while also charging the county government for work he did on a county-owned lake house, the Associated Press reported.
A retired Kansas City homicide detective also said in a 2015 deposition that Golubski was known throughout the department for “having sex with Black, drug-addicted prostitutes”, according to USA Today.
“Even if someone wants to argue it is just [Golubski], there’s an entire system that not only permitted him to do it but supported him and promoted him,” said Rojo Bushnell.
To best address the alleged corruption, Rojo Bushnell said, the federal government should conduct a pattern or practice investigation, which examines whether there was systemic misconduct rather than isolated wrongdoing.
While running for mayor in 2021, Tyrone Garner told the Kansas City Star he would urge the federal government to investigate the police department.
But a year later, once elected, Garner said of a federal investigation: “After talking and consulting with the law enforcement community here, if that’s something where I need to stand with them in that regard. I’m going to follow their lead because they’re the law enforcement professionals, not me,” the Star reported.
When the Guardian asked Dupree, the district attorney, whether there should be a federal investigation, he said he would “leave that to the mayor and to the chief of police. My whole focus is making sure that” the new police chief, Karl Oakman, who took office in 2021, has support in “reviewing his own house, quite frankly, while I’m looking at the criminal convictions over here” in the district attorney’s office.
The investigation involves digitally scanning about 4,000 boxes, each containing about 20 files, which could take 18 months, Dupree said. His office will review the cases throughout the process, he said.
“We cannot say that Chief Oakman’s administration has had three decades to clean up their house” as the Innocence Project said of the police department. “They have had a year and a half, and I think that that’s not giving him a fair shake and an opportunity to clean out what he finds there,” Dupree said.
Nikki Richardson, the founder of an advocacy group called Justice for Wyandotte, said she thought Dupree had “done everything that he can to run his office in the most ethical way possible” and could do a very thorough investigation. But she thinks county officials are “too close to the problem”, and as such, she would feel more comfortable with a federal investigation.
Meanwhile, Williams said she believed her sons, who remain incarcerated, will be released from prison for a crime she said they did not commit.
Rojo Bushnell said she could not provide information on whether the Innocence Project was reviewing the sons’ cases.
Five years ago, Williams suffered a major heart attack, which makes it difficult for her to talk and breathe.
She hopes investigators find out that “all of the cases, Golubski put stuff on people. A lot of people didn’t do nothing, but he said they did,” Williams said.
Asked whether she thinks the investigations will help her achieve justice, Williams said: “I feel good about it. I believe something’s going to happen. I don’t know when, but it is.”
• This article was amended on 9 December 2022 to remove an incorrect picture that showed the police department of Kansas City, Missouri.