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Kansas City Police Sergeant Pleads Not Guilty To Kneeling On A Black Teenager, Injuring Him

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Traffic moves past the intersection of 51st Street and Troost where prosecutors say Kansas City Police Sgt. Matthew Neal, 40, slammed a teenager to the pavement while arresting him in November of last year.

The officer is charged with using excessive force against the teenager, who pleaded ‘I can’t breathe.’

A Kansas City police sergeant indicted for excessive force against a 15-year-old Black teenager has pleaded not guilty.

Sergeant Matthew Neal is charged with third-degree assault for the incident which happened in November on a parking lot at 51st and Troost Avenue.

Neal, an 18-year veteran of the police department assigned to the patrol bureau, was placed on administrative leave until the outcome of his trial.

The teen, who was unarmed and complying with officers, was face down when Neal allegedly kneeled on the back of his head, forcing his face into the pavement.

“The victim can be heard saying, ‘I can’t breathe,’” said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Bakers said in an August press conference announcing the indictment. “Those, I realize, are now pretty infamous words.”

The teen was hospitalized with broken teeth and a gash to his head.

Baker said she was disturbed by the November incident, as well as by the fact that she didn’t learn of it until the spring.

“It should not be a provocative statement to say that we expect better,” Baker said. “That this conduct cannot be tolerated.”

Police Chief Smith says the case was sent to Baker, federal prosecutors and the FBI following an internal review.

“All of us want justice,” said Smith in August when the Neal was indicted. “And we remain committed to the legal process going forward.”

But Baker has criticized the police department for failure to provide her charging documents and evidence in cases involving its officers. She's called for the establishment of an independent system for reporting and reviewing all excessive force incidents.

According to the charging documents, Neal and another officer suspected the victim, who was a passenger in a car driven by another juvenile, of shoplifting at a 7-Eleven near 89th and Wornall. Police say they drove away but were eventually stopped at the parking lot of Go-Chicken-Go at 51st and Troost.

Baker says witnesses and a video showed the juveniles exited the vehicle with their hands up and and did not struggle with the officers. Neither teen was arrested or charged with a crime stemming from the incident.

But the Kansas City Fraternal Order of the Police says Neal’s actions were appropriate.

“The Lodge supports Sgt. Neal and believes that his actions were justified under the totality of the circumstances,” said president Brad Lemon in an August statement. “We will support our brother as this matter proceeds to court, where we are confident that he will be ultimately exonerated.”

Neal is the fourth Kansas City Police officer to be indicted by the Jackson County’s Prosecutor’s Office since May.

Lucas Cuni-Mertz is a news intern at KCUR 89.3.
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