Family of Black man killed by Independence police sue for $25 million: 'We want justice'
More than a year after his killing, the family of Tyrea Pryor Sr. has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Independence and two of the officers involved in Pryor’s killing.
Backed by a team of local and national civil rights attorneys, the family of Tyrea M. Pryor Sr., a 39-year-old Black man killed by Independence Police, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the City of Independence and the officers who shot Pryor.
The lawsuit seeks at least $25 million in damages for wrongful death and excessive use of force by officers Hunter Soule and Jamie Welsh.
On March 11, 2022, a police pursuit ended in a crash near the intersection of U.S. 24 and Noland Road. Pryor, who was driving the vehicle, was left incapacitated by the crash. Multiple officers surrounded the vehicle, guns drawn, according to a letter from the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office. Two passengers exited the vehicle, but Pryor was stuck.
An assault-style rifle was lodged between the driver’s seat and the console. Officer Welsh thought he saw Pryor reach for a gun from his waistband and said, “Hey, he’s got a gun.” Police then fired more than 20 times into the vehicle, striking Pryor approximately 15 times, according to the lawsuit.
Dashcam video showed the incident. Pryor can be heard moaning in pain before he was shot.
In March, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker declined to press criminal charges, stating that although the officer was wrong in thinking Pryor had a pistol, there was not enough evidence to prove the officers were not justified in their shooting.
John Burris, a California-based civil rights attorney and one of the family’s lawyers, said due to the extent of Pryor’s injuries, the officer’s first step should have been to see if he needed medical attention.
“I wonder if it's only because there was a Black man in a car . . . Although we haven't had to allege a race in this case, it's understood that many of these shootings of African American men were unarmed,” Burris said at a press conference Thursday. “This is another example. Although there was a weapon in a car, he himself was unarmed. He himself was not trying to reach for a gun. So in our way of thinking, this is clearly a violation of his civil rights.”
Attorneys for the family said the Department of Justice is also looking into the case. They say Pryor’s three children, ages 17, 15, and 12, would be the beneficiaries of any settlement.
Burris said the children’s lives will never be the same.
“They never get over this. They suffer and they suffer and they suffer because they can't process why their loved one, their dad, was killed the way it is,” he said.
On Thursday, the City of Independence responded to the lawsuit with a statement.
“The men and women of the Independence Police Department are sworn to keep people safe, and when there is a fatality, it weighs heavily on all of us. Any loss of life is tragic,” the statement said. “We are aware that a lawsuit has been filed by the family of Tyrea Pryor, but neither the officers nor the City have been served.”
The statement called attention to the fact that the case was investigated independently by the Missouri State Highway Patrol and evaluated by the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office, which chose not to charge the officers.
The statement continued, “We are constantly working to improve our ability to respond to intense situations and ensure our officers are prepared to provide the services needed during any call they receive."
Ebony Findley, the mother of Pryor’s two oldest children, said Pryor missed his son’s graduation. Despite the sudden death of his father, he graduated high school a year early this spring.
Findley said she and the rest of the family have a lot of unanswered questions about Pryor’s death.
“Just, why it happened. You know, why were the other people in the car rescued and why was he murdered? The passenger was banged up pretty good and her leg was broke,” says Findley. “So just imagine the impact that happened on his side and you know, just imagine how injured he was. Why he didn't get the help that he was supposed to receive?”
Pryor’s brother-in-law, Nigel Johnson, said the case demonstrates why the community has no faith in the justice system.
“It's just really sad. It should be humans behind the badges. It just makes you question: do they really care?” Johnson said. “Because here it is more than a year later and we haven't heard anything from anybody.”
Johnson said he worries about others who have suffered from police violence whose stories have not been told. He says he wants police to be held accountable.
“We want change. We want change. We don't want this to happen to anybody else's family. We want justice for our loved one, as simple as that,” Johnson said. “His children should not have to grow up without a father. And nobody else's children should have to go through this either.”