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Kevin Strickland says KCPD misconduct caused him to be wrongfully imprisoned for 43 years

Kevin Strickland leaves the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri, hours after a judge overturned his 1979 conviction.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kevin Strickland leaves the Western Missouri Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri, hours after a judge overturned his 1979 conviction.

Strickland was freed in 2021. He's now suing the KCPD, alleging misconduct and a reckless investigation that led to his conviction.

Kevin Strickland, the Missouri man who was wrongfully imprisoned for four decades for a triple homicide he did not commit, is suing the Kansas City Police Department alleging serious misconduct and a reckless investigation that resulted in his wrongful conviction.

The lawsuit was filed this week in Jackson County Circuit Court. The lawsuit alleges that even though Strickland had a credible alibi and evidence showing he was not involved in the killings, KCPD officers manufactured evidence to implicate Strickland and constructed a false case against him. The lawsuit states the defendants violated Strickland’s civil rights, including his right to due process and his right to be free of prosecution without probable cause.

“The only evidence used to implicate Mr. Strickland in this case was the product of police misconduct,” said Amelia Green, one of Strickland’s attorneys.

Strickland was wrongfully incarcerated for more than 43 years — the longest wrongful imprisonment in Missouri, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Strickland was convicted at 18 years old. He was 62 when he was freed.

“He's lost his entire adult life,” Green said. “This lawsuit seeks to hold the Kansas City Police Department accountable for that. There has been a longstanding issue in the Kansas City Police Department, in its policing and misconduct, that has caused extraordinary damage in cases of Mr. Strickland and others.”

A judge in Jackson County Circuit court set aside Strickland’s conviction and ordered his release in November 2021. That ruling came after the Jackson County Prosecutor motioned to vacate Strickland’s conviction.

The suit says the police department pressured the case’s sole witness, Cynthia Douglas, into identifying Strickland and fabricated evidence to beef up Douglas’s false identification of Strickland, who was 18 years old and lived two houses down from where the crime took place.

“When attempts to pressure Strickland into confessing failed — because he was innocent — Defendants falsely attributed inculpatory statements to Strickland that he did not make,” the suit states.

Strickland was convicted in 1979 of one count of capital murder and two counts of second-degree murder before an all-white jury. That was the second trial in the case; the first trial ended in a hung jury.

Following Strickland’s conviction, Douglas told family and friends that the police pressured her to identify Strickland during the trial. The people who committed the homicides have also repeatedly said that Strickland was not involved.

The lawsuit also says that the Board of Police Commissioners “directed, encouraged and/or ratified” the officers’ misconduct.

“There is no way that this level of misconduct could have taken place in a case like this one, with this much high-level involvement, without the leadership of the police department at the highest level knowing about it,” Green said.

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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