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Kansas City Police to pay $5 million over 2019 fatal shooting of Terrence Bridges

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KCUR 89.3
The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners reached a $5 million settlement in the police killing of Terrence Bridges in 2019.

Bridges was shot and killed by a Kansas City Police officer following a foot chase. He was unarmed. The settlement is one of the largest sums paid out by the police department.

The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners reached a $5 million settlement agreement in a lawsuit filed by the family of Terrence Bridges Jr., a Black man who was shot and killed by a Kansas City police officer in 2019.

The settlement is one of the largest sums paid out by the Kansas City Police Department, which is overseen by the police board.

“This Agreement represents the police department's acknowledgment of the tragic and significant loss to the family of Terrence Bridges that this incident caused," the family's attorney Tom Porto said in a statement. “Despite this tragedy, we recognize that police officers have difficult jobs and are frequently faced with making split-second life or death decisions. The family is grateful that they are now able to put this matter behind them.”

The cost of wrongful death settlements

The $5 million settlement comes out of KCPD’s nearly $269 million budget. The KCPD allocates some of its $191 million general fund for legal settlements. The general fund makes up 71% of the department’s total budget, though it covers many costs besides settlements.

The KCPD has a separate “Self-Retention General Subsidiary Fund” that it uses if legal claims exceed what it’s already budgeted for in the department’s general fund. This year, the self-retention fund has $6.8 million.

According to reporting from The Kansas City Beacon, the KCPD has transferred at least $1 million every year since 2015 to the self-retention fund. That fund grew from $66,558 in 2017 to $6,683,028 in 2021. The department moved more than $3 million from its general fund to the self-retention fund.

What led up to Bridges’ death

A KCPD officer shot and killed Bridges, a 30-year old Black man, on May 26, 2019. The KCPD said they were responding to a domestic violence call involving a firearm and a reported carjacking on the 7000 block of Bellefontaine Avenue. Officers were investigating the incident, and said at the time that they believed Bridges to be a suspect.

When Bridges returned to the home on Bellefontaine, police reports contend that Bridges ran when a KCPD officer Dylan Pifer attempted to arrest him, leading to a foot chase. Pifer shot Bridges in the chest when he caught up to him.

According to the Kansas City Star, Pifer told detectives hours after the shooting that he thought Bridges was pulling a gun out of his pocket. Pifer was not charged.

The KCPD previously said that Bridges was resisting arrest, but his family disputed that, and said Bridges was not a threat to the officer, did not have a firearm at the time and did not steal the car.

The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office investigated Bridges’ killing, and a grand jury ruled for no charges to be filed in the investigation.

An investigation into the incident found that Bridges did not have a gun when he was pursued and shot by the officer. The officer also did not give Bridges any commands during the foot chase.

In audio recorded by the officer’s microphone following the single gunshot, Pifer says, “Why’d you attack me, dude?” Bridges responds, “I didn’t attack you.”

Faith leaders and community advocacy groups questioned Bridges’ killing — and the police narrative around it. In 2019, the Kansas City-based social justice advocacy group More2 called for Pifer to be indicted.

The Bridges settlement is one of many

The $5 million settlement with the Bridges family is the latest in a string of payouts involving KCPD officers and excessive, fatal force cases.

In late October, a Jackson County judge approved a $500,000 settlement for the family of Brian Prince, who died after he was tackled by Kansas City police officer Chris Viesselman at Walmart in south Kansas City. Don and Carolyn Prince brought forth a wrongful death lawsuit against the KCPD in 2018.

In September, the KCPD agreed to pay a $1.5 million settlement in a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the parents of Robert White, who was randomly assaulted by Timothy Mosley in June 2018 at Barney Allis Plaza. In that incident, the lawsuit alleges that Mosley used White as a “human shield” when three KCPD officers approached them.

KCPD officers shot at White and Mosley. White was shot at least 15 times; he was unarmed.

In February, the KCPD agreed to pay $900,000 in a settlement for Tyree Bell, a Black teenager who was arrested and detained for three weeks for a crime he did not commit. The settlement resolved a 2017 civil rights lawsuit brought by Bell’s family.

Last January, the Board of Police Commissioners agreed to a $725,000 settlement involving an incident when police Sgt. Matthew T. Neal slammed a 15-year-old boy’s head into the pavement during an arrest. He broke two of his teeth and gashed his face. Officer Pifer, who killed Bridges, was also involved in this arrest.

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives.
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