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Kansas City changes its 'failure to obey' laws after settling lawsuit with arrested protesters

A crowd protests at J.C. Nichols Fountain on May 30, 2020.
Carlos Moreno
A crowd protests at J.C. Nichols Fountain on May 30, 2020.

Three people who were arrested in the protests following the police killing of George Floyd in 2020 sued the city. The lawsuit alleged that the laws were unconstitutional.

Kansas City has agreed to settle a federal lawsuit filed by three women arrested during the protests against police violence two years ago. The suit alleged the city’s “failure to obey” ordinances were unconstitutional.

Terms of the settlement required the Kansas City Council to propose amendments to its failure to obey laws so that witnessing or recording the actions of police officers are not a violation of city law unless the offender is substantially impeding the officer’s duties.

On Thursday, the council voted 9-1 to pass the ordinance. Third District-at-large Councilman Brandon Ellington cast the sole no vote.

The women were among more than 200 nonviolent protesters arrested at or near the Country Club Plaza during protests following the killing by Minneapolis police of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. They were charged with violating city laws that criminalize resisting or interfering with an officer. The lawsuit called those laws unconstitutionally vague and overly broad.

Sariah Moody, one of the plaintiffs, alleged she was sitting off the curb along J.C. Nichols Parkway when two officers picked her up from the ground. She was then surrounded by six other officers. When they asked Moody to move, she said no, according to the lawsuit, and was arrested.

Moody said she did not move because the street was already shut down to vehicular traffic to make room for the protest.

Grace Reading, another plaintiff, also attended the protest and was standing with other protesters on the closed street when officers ordered her and a friend to step back. They refused and were arrested.

Emily Cady, the third plaintiff, was part of a group of protesters marching through midtown Kansas City when they came upon a blockade of police officers at 39th and Pennsylvania. Cady was standing on the sidewalk when officers ordered her to get on the ground. Officers then arrested Cady and several other protesters.

The lawsuit alleged that the three protesters were afraid of participating in future protests because of the KCPD’s enforcement of the failure to obey laws.

The settlement did not require the city to pay any monetary damages to the women.

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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