A Black teenager in Kansas City, Missouri has reached a $900,000 settlement with the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners after he was detained for three weeks for a crime he did not commit. According to KSHB, Tyree Bell filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Kansas City Police Department after he was arrested and detained in a juvenile jail for three weeks in June of 2016.
At the time, officers Peter Neukrich and Jonathan Munyan were responding to a call about three Black teenagers who were allegedly playing with guns.
When cops arrived to the scene, one of the teens took off running and the officers were unable to catch up to him. Moments later, however, the officers saw Bell a mile away and stopped him.
Bell was taller than the teenage suspect, wearing different clothes and his hair was in a different style. However, police still arrested him and took him into custody for a 24-hour “investigative hold.”
The teen ended up being detained in jail for three weeks without ever being charged. He was finally released after detectives watched patrol car videos from the initial incident and realized he was not the suspect.
“It was a part of a national disgrace that has been allowed to persist among white police for 40 years: cross-race identifications of Black males by white officers are often wrong,” Bell’s attorney Arthur Benson said in a statement. “And they are often wrong because too many police departments do not train their officers that all Blacks do not look alike and how to make an eyewitness identification that is not tainted by racial stereotypes. Tyree Bell was a victim of the Kansas City Police Department’s failure to address this national outrage.”
Bell initially filed a lawsuit against officers Neukrich and Munyan, but the suit was dismissed due to qualified immunity. However, the teen appealed the decision to a federal appeals court, which reinstated the suit in October of 2020 and said the two officers did not have probable cause to make the arrest. The case went to trial last year, but the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, resulting in a mistrial.
The case was scheduled to go back to trial on Monday (Feb. 28), but it will now be dropped as the police board of commissioners has settled with Bell’s family.
As part of the settlement, the two officers involved said they would like to meet with the teenager and apologize. The sum still needs to be approved by a federal judge
“Just the fact that we started this together and we couldn’t finish it together put me in a position where I don’t really know how to feel,” he explained.
Bell reflected on being detained at the juvenile facility and said he felt “all the emotions” when he first saw his family through the glass.
“… I was about to start crying because I can’t stand to see my mama cry or my grandma go crazy,” he recalled.
The teen also said that moving forward, he hopes the police department will make more of an effort to connect with the community it serves.
“The more they know people, the less they’ll be likely to shoot somebody or harm somebody,” he said. “If somebody commits a crime, a police officer could say, ‘Hold on, I know him. Let me talk to him for a second and let me see where his mind is.’”