Off-Duty Cop Involved in Arresting Patron and Librarian at Pro-Israel Event Received 'Counter-Terror' Training in Israel

News & Politics

The Kansas City Public Library is attracting national press coverage over an incident that occurred on its premises this year, when private security forces working for a pro-Israel event arrested an attendee for asking critical questions—and then reportedly injured and arrested a librarian attempting to defend the audience member’s right to free speech.

Biographical information available online reveals that the private forces included an off-duty police officer named Brent Parsons, who had received “counter-terrorism” training in Israel and works at a secretive fusion center in concert with the Department of Homeland Security. Meanwhile, the security point person for the event, Blair Hawkins, has previously spoken of the securitiy lessons he learned from a visit to Israel.

The ties raise questions about whether the forces' “counter-terror” training in the U.S. and abroad helped fuel their seemingly aggressive actions.

The incident occurred during a May 9 talk titled “Truman and Israel,” delivered by former U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross, who has been criticized for exploiting the peace process to advance Israeli goals, including the consolidation of its control over the occupied West Bank while serving as a negotatiator in the administrations of Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. "We need to be advocates for Israel," Ross once told an audience.

Ross's address was “co-presented by the Kansas City Public Library, the Truman Library Institute and the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City,” according to an online announcement. The Jewish Community Foundation had requested extra private security and off-duty police presence for the event, after the organization was targeted in 2014 by an anti-Jewish hate crime in which three people were killed.

During the question-and-answer session, local documentary filmmaker and activist Jeremy Rothe-Kushel sought to ask critical questions of Ross but was forcibly removed and then arrested by private security. Here is how Kansas City Star reporter Ian Cummings describes what happened:

The audience member, Jeremy Rothe-Kushel of Lawrence, was standing still and speaking into a microphone when a private guard and off-duty police officers removed him.

...When Rothe-Kushel tries to ask another question, a private security guard grasps his arm, followed by an off-duty police officer, both employed by the Jewish Community Foundation.

Rothe-Kushel confirmed to AlterNet that "private security detail grabbed [his] arm from behind while he was mid-sentence and forced [him] away from the microphone." When a staff member at the library sought to prevent Rothe-Kushel from being removed, he became the next target. Cummings explains:

After [Steve Woolfolk, director of public programming for the library] tried to intervene, officers arrested both men. Woolfolk said he suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee when a police officer kneed him in the leg. Kemper said the library is paying workers’ compensation for the injury.

The story attracted widespread attention in late September when officials representing the public library condemned the city for aggressively pursuing charges against its employee and patron. The executive director of the city’s library system, R. Crosby Kemper III, recently stated that the private security forces had no right to remove an event attendee for raising provocative questions. “At this stage, I’m actually outraged,” said Kemper, according to Cummings. “This is a big violation of the very first amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

A police report filed by Kansas City police officer Michael Shatter, and sent to AlterNet by Rothe-Kushel, sheds light on the incident. The paperwork states that Hawkins, the head of security for the Jewish Community Foundation, instructed Satter to monitor alleged protesters. “Within the first hour of the event, Hawkins alerted me to two males sitting outside of the library entrance and advised they were possible protesters of this event,” Satter wrote, noting that he checked both men’s bags.

“A short time after the question and answer session began, I could hear Hawkins advise on the radio that someone needed to be removed,” Satter continued. “Upon walking into the auditorium, I observed both Hawkins and Detective Parsons involved in a physical struggle with both Rothe-Kushel and Field Contact 3 (Woolfolk) in attempt to remove Rothe-Kushel from the auditorium.”

Satter provided a bracing account of the incident, claiming that Woolfolk was resisting arrest by remaining tense, and appears to support the case that Woolfolk suffered bodily harm:

“I was trying to be careful, with the hope of de-escalating. This isn’t how we handle things at the library,” Woolfolk recently said. “For anybody, a police officer or someone else, to take it upon themselves to silence a person they disagree with, it’s not appropriate.”

According to George M. Eberhart, writing for American Libraries, “Woolfolk said that the off-duty police officers were not at the event to ‘enforce city ordinances, but were taking direction solely from the private security team.’ Kemper told the Kansas City Star that the security guards and police officers clearly violated the agreement they had with the library. ‘We’re going to be living in a different kind of country,’ he said, if people can be arrested for asking questions at a library.”

Training in Israel in "counter-terrorism policies"

Parsons, who is repeatedly cited in the police report for his direct role in the arrest, is currently employed with the Kansas City police department and the private security firm NPB Companies, according to his LinkedIn page.

“He currently applies his 20 years of experience in Law Enforcement by providing timely, relevant intelligence and guidance to the entire nine county bi-state region of the Kansas City Terrorism Early Warning Fusion Center,” his background summary states. According to his page, he has held the official title of “U.S. Department of Homeland Security Liaison and Security Officer for the Kansas City Terrorism Early Warning Center” since 2010.

While the activities of the Kansas City Terrorism Early Warning Fusion Center are highly secretive, Kansas City Police Capt. James Thomas previously told the Kansas City Star: “We look at domestic terrorism, we look at international terrorism, and we look at cyberthreats and critical infrastructures. The communication that takes place in this fusion center is just incredible. If it’s not a meeting at the FBI, it’s a meeting here. We have a secure room in which we can do classified teleconferencing and video conferencing, and we’re linked into Washington, D.C., and other places.”

But Parsons is not just working with domestic federal agencies. According to his LinkedIn page, he has received training in Israel on “counter-terrorism policies.” He writes that, in November 2015, he was “Selected as a member and participant in the Homeland Security Law Enforcement Executives, and Directors for the first mission to Israel with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Under Secretary.” His LinkedIn page explains:

Our mission sought to identify successful Israeli practices in public participation in counter terrorism policies. We worked exploring specific ways and means through which Israeli first responder communities facilitate and motivate the public for effective engagement in counter terrorism policies.

This exchange of information was facilitated by Israel National Police, experts from Israel's intelligence and security services, and the Israel Defense Forces. Multiple lectures and briefings were given resulting in a bridging of relationships, best practices, and communication with the Israel and U.S. Governments.

In fact, Parsons is not the only individual involved in the arrest who has visited Israel. In an April 2016 article in the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, Hawkins mentioned that he had taken a trip to Israel, stating: “The Israelis think about security all the time, but now we must also constantly be thinking about security as well.”

In the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, Barbara Bayer wrote that Hawkins “has worked for the U.S. State Department overseas and has been a security contractor for a variety of corporations in our area and around the country.”

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