© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kansas City man reportedly thrown to ground by KCPD settles lawsuit for $500,000

Mack Nelson shows off his Friday Night Protest. He calls the organization his "guardian angel".
Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Mack Nelson, pictured in November 2022, shows off his Friday Night Protest T-shirt. The organization is the parent of KCLEAP. Nelson calls Friday Night Protest/KCLEAP his "guardian angel."

The Kansas City Police Department and Mack Nelson have reached an agreement to resolve litigation over an August 2022 incident. Court documents allege Kansas City Police threw Mack Nelson facedown to the ground, held him against his will and wrote false reports about the incident.

Mack Nelson and the Kansas City Police Department have settled a civil lawsuit filed in February alleging Kansas City police threw Nelson facedown to the pavement, held him against his will and falsely reported the incident. Nelson’s attorney, John Picerno, said police will pay Nelson $500,000.

“We're very pleased with the settlement itself in terms of compensating Mack for what occurred and for his injuries,” Picerno said. “We're still in the same situation, sadly, that we were in when the incident happened back in August and the officers’ actions came to light, in that no one's been disciplined for what they did to Mack, period.”

In August 2022, Nelson was at a gas station on Prospect Avenue when police killed a man later identified as Zachary Garrard. Nelson and other bystanders were kept at the station while Kansas City police officers and the Missouri Highway Patrol documented the scene.

When Nelson was free to leave the gas station, according to the lawsuit, he went outside and began filming on his phone.

Nelson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But he told KCUR in November that he didn’t trust the highway patrol had conducted a fair investigation because they did not question him or other witnesses at the gas station.

“So I decided to go on Facebook Live and record that,” Nelson told KCUR.

“I walked around inside the perimeter for a good, I don't know, eight, nine minutes and, you know, describing it,” he said. “I guess the lady officer heard me and … demanded that I step back behind the tape and I did exactly that.”

A police report said an officer asked Nelson to step outside of the police tape multiple times. Nelson complied, the report stated, but when officers walked away, he stepped back into the crime scene.

Nelson's lawsuit described things differently. It alleged Nelson complied, moved to a part of the gas station parking lot not taped off by police and continued recording the scene. When an officer asked him to leave, the lawsuit stated, Nelson backed up and tried to go.

Another officer approached Nelson and attempted to arrest him, grabbing him from behind, knocking his phone from his hand and ultimately throwing him to the ground, the lawsuit alleged.

One police report claimed Nelson “fell to the ground after jerking his arms away and attempting to twist his body away from P.O. Frazier.” Another said Nelson was “pulled onto the ground.” Picerno said both statements were false.

 Mack Nelson, who says he was thrown to the ground by Kansas City Police, shares a picture of his injuries on his phone in November 2022. A large cut on his head required multiple stitches and left a scar.
Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Mack Nelson, who says he was thrown to the ground by Kansas City Police, shares a picture of his injuries on his phone in November 2022. A large cut on his head required multiple stitches and left a scar.

Picerno said none of the five KCPD officers involved had been disciplined.

“I don't know any legitimate reason why the officers who falsified the police report have not yet been disciplined, period,” he said. “It seems to me that that should be a zero-tolerance type of activity on behalf of law enforcement officers and it's just mystifying why they haven't been disciplined yet.”

A KCPD spokesperson told KCUR that disciplinary action records are closed under Missouri’s Sunshine Law. The spokesperson said four of the five officers named in the lawsuit remain employees of KCPD. The fifth was identified as a John Doe and it’s unclear whether or not that officer still works for the department.

At the gas station last summer, KCLEAP, a law enforcement accountability group, was on the scene to document how the fatal police shooting was investigated. Steve Young, a co-founder of KCLEAP, happened to record the moment Nelson was slammed face-first into the pavement by police. Picerno said that had Young not been there, it’s likely Nelson would not have prevailed in his case. All too often, Picerno said, the police account of events trumps a victim’s account.

“When you do catch an officer who is falsifying police records, chances are that wasn't the first time. Chances are that wasn't the first time they used an unreasonable amount of force. It's just really the first time someone caught them,” Picerno said.

Following the incident, Nelson faced criminal charges for resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and trespassing. The police report said he refused to leave the hospital and was belligerent toward hospital security.

Picerno said Kansas City municipal prosecutors are refusing to drop the charges, and he plans to move for their dismissal this week.

Kansas City resident Mack Nelson runs his fingers over a scar he says he got in August 2022, when police allegedly threw him to the ground. Nelson says his head is numb in places now.
Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City resident, Mack Nelson, runs his fingers over a scar he says he got in August last year, when police allegedly threw him to the ground. Nelson says his head is numb in places now.

In addition to multiple injuries, including a head wound that left scars on his face, Nelson told KCUR he has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the incident.

Young said he is glad Nelson will get compensated for his suffering, but that will only go so far.

“He has experienced a lot of trauma and setbacks just from this incident happening,” Young said. “It kind of uprooted his whole life and changed a lot of things that were going on in his life, as far as employment, housing, all kinds of things.”

Young said more needs to be done internally to address excessive use of force by the police department.

“Are you gonna take steps to actually change the culture in KCPD to prevent these lawsuits from happening? Or will you just go to the BOPC (Board of Police Commissioners) and ask for more money for lawsuits? You know, which one is it gonna be?” he asked.

A spokesperson for the Jackson County prosecutor’s office said it is still investigating the case to determine if officers should be charged.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga reports on health disparities in access and health outcomes in both rural and urban areas.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.