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Kansas City Police agree to pay $900,000 and apologize to Black teen wrongfully jailed for weeks

A man in a red coat stands with his hands in his pockets in an empty hallway.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Tyree Bell was detained without charge for three weeks in 2016.

Tyree Bell was held in jail for three weeks without charge and released only after a detective watched patrol car videos from his arrest and concluded that his clothing and appearance did not match those of the suspect.

Updated: February 23, 2022 at 12:31 PM CST
This story was updated to include the comments of a police department spokesman.

The Kansas City Police Department has agreed to pay $900,000 and apologize to a Black teenager who was arrested and detained for three weeks for a crime he didn’t commit.

The settlement would resolve a civil rights lawsuit brought by the family of Tyree Bell in 2017. The settlement needs to be approved by a federal judge, but that’s expected to be a formality.

Kansas City lawyer Arthur Benson, who represented Bell, said the case was not just one of mistaken identity or "walking while Black."

"It was a part of a national disgrace that has been allowed to persist among white police for forty years: cross-race identifications of Black males by white officers are often wrong," Benson said. "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."

Police Department spokesman Sgt. Jake Becchina said in an email that the department "always sought a successful resolution for all parties."

"Regarding the settlement of the lawsuit in this matter, the Board of Police Commissioners have agreed to a settlement amount of $900,000 made payable to Mr. Bell and his attorney Arthur Benson representing $458,000 for attorney’s fees and costs and $442,000 for compensatory damages," Becchina said. "We are glad we reached a mutual resolution and we wish Mr. Bell and his family all the best."

Bell, then 15, was walking home from a relative’s house on June 8, 2016, when he was stopped by police. Earlier, someone had called 911 and reported three Black males playing on the corner with guns.

When Kansas City police officers Peter Neukrich and Jonathan Munyan arrived, one of the males began running in the opposite direction. While running, he pulled a gun from his shorts and tossed it over a fence.

One of the officers gave chase but lost sight of the suspect. About seven minutes later, another policeman saw Bell walking about a mile away and talking on his cell phone. Although he was considerably taller than the suspect, wore his hair differently, wore shorts, shoes and socks that were different from those of the suspect and was not out of breath, Bell was placed on a 24-hour “investigative hold.”

He was held in jail for three weeks without charge and released only after a detective watched the patrol car videos from his arrest and concluded that his clothing and appearance did not match those of the suspect.

Bell originally sued Neukrich and Munyan as well as the officer who detained him, the members of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners and then-Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forte. But a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit after finding the officers were entitled to qualified immunity – the legal doctrine that shields government officials from being sued for actions taken in their official capacity unless those actions violate a “clearly established” legal or constitutional right.

In October 2020, however, a federal appeals court reinstated the lawsuit after finding that the officers did not have probable cause to arrest Bell. The case went to trial in October. However, the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, and the judge declared a mistrial.

The case was set to go to trial again on Feb. 28. The court canceled the trial on Tuesday after the parties notified it of the pending settlement.

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