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Bell v. Neukirch

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

March 21, 2019

TYREE BELL, Plaintiff,
v.
PETER NEUKIRCH, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTION

          GREG KAYS, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This case arises out of Plaintiff Tyree Bell's arrest and detention for a crime he did not commit. Plaintiff is suing members of the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department (“KCPD”) involved in his arrest, as well as KCPD Police Chief Richard Smith and the individual members of the Missouri Board of Police Commissioners (“the Board”), for violating his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. He claims these violations occurred because of the KCPD's policies, procedures, or customs and its negligent training and supervision of its officers. Now before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 56). Because the officers are entitled to qualified immunity, the motion is GRANTED.

         Background

          Around 4:10 p.m. on June 8, 2016, KCPD Officers Peter Neukirch and Jonathan Munyan were dispatched to the corner of James A. Reed and 91st Terrace. A homeowner in the area (“the calling party”) had reported three black juvenile males on the corner were playing with guns.

         Seven minutes later, Munyan and Neukirch arrived near the street corner and saw three black male juveniles talking to a few teenage girls in the front yard of a residence. As the officers got closer, the three males turned away from the patrol car and quickly went around the street corner. Seconds later, as the officers turned the street corner, they stopped their patrol car next to the juveniles, who were-at this point-walking.

         Immediately as the officers exited their patrol car, one of the juveniles, who was wearing a white shirt and black shorts, turned toward the officers, grabbed his waist, and began running in the opposite direction. While running away, he pulled a gun from his shorts and tossed it over a fence. Munyan chased after him, yelling, “Come here! Drop the gun! Drop it! Drop it!”

         While in pursuit, Munyan gave updated locations on dispatch radio. But by 4:19 p.m., Munyan had completely lost sight of the suspect, though he guessed on dispatch radio that the suspect had run north. Munyan described the suspect as a “juvenile, black male, 17-18, about 5'10”, skinny, blue shorts, white t-shirt, shoulder-length dreads. He was taking his shoes off. I'm not sure what kind of shoes he had on.”

         A couple of minutes later, Munyan set up a perimeter around James A. Reed and 91st Terrace and requested that other officers respond to assist in locating the fleeing suspect. Five other officers, including Officer Chris Viesselman, responded to the area. None saw anyone fitting the description of the fleeing suspect until 4:26 p.m.-approximately seven minutes after Munyan started chasing the suspect-when Viesselman saw a black juvenile male with dreads, a white t-shirt, and black and white-striped shorts walking near 87th Street and Blue Ridge Boulevard. The juvenile would later be identified as Plaintiff Tyree Bell.

         At first, because Plaintiff had his shoes on, Viesselman questioned Munyan on dispatch radio about the suspect taking off his shoes. Munyan responded that he did not see the suspect take his shoes off and could not find any shoes, so it was possible the fleeing suspect “held them and put them back on.” Munyan told Viesselman to conduct a pedestrian check of Plaintiff. Viesselman got out of his car, summoned Plaintiff, and conducted a pedestrian check.

         Plaintiff, who told the officer he was 6'3” and 155 pounds, fully complied with Viesselman's requests. When asked what he was doing in the area, Plaintiff told Viesselman he was walking back to his house from his cousin's. Plaintiff also gave Viesselman his home address and his mother's name, address, and phone number.

         Viessleman explained to Plaintiff why he had detained him, noting, “You don't seem like you're really out of breath after a foot chase or anything, so I don't imagine it's you, but you match what he's wearing so that's why I gotta stop you until we check, okay? And you're the right age, too. He was a juvenile.” Plaintiff nevertheless remained handcuffed in front of the patrol car while he and Viesselman waited for Officer Munyan to arrive and identify if Plaintiff and the fleeing suspect were the same person.

         While Plaintiff and Viesselman were waiting for Munyan, another officer recovered the gun at the original scene and asked the dispatcher to run its serial number. The dispatcher found no records for the gun.

         At 4:41 p.m., Munyan arrived at 87th Street and Blue Ridge Boulevard, parked on the opposite side of the two-lane street, within seconds identified Plaintiff as the fleeing suspect, and radioed, “We have our party down here at 87th.” A minute later, Munyan got out of his vehicle and walked across the street to where Plaintiff and Viesselman were waiting. Munyan told Viesselman that he “noticed the red on his shoes when he was running and started to take them off.”

         After agreeing that the officers should transport Plaintiff back to the original scene, Viesselman put Plaintiff in his patrol car and headed back to the of corner James A. Reed and 91st Terrace. While in route, Plaintiff told Viesselman that he was not the fleeing suspect.

         Around 4:46 p.m., Viesselman and Plaintiff arrived back at the original scene, where Neukirch and the two other juveniles were waiting. Unlike the fleeing suspect, the two other juveniles had not tried to run, and Neukirch had quickly detained them. They remained handcuffed and sat along a fence, while Plaintiff remained in the patrol car.

         Viesselman exited the patrol car to talk with another officer at the scene. At the same time, Munyan and Neukirch, along with Sergeant Luis Ortiz, reviewed patrol car video of the fleeing suspect to “double-verify” the identification. The log file on the patrol car reported that the officers played the video at least twice.

         Around 4:50 p.m., Neukirch called and discussed the case with Detective John Mattivi, reporting that he and Munyan saw a juvenile suspect flee from them with a gun, Munyan chased him on foot, lost sight of him, minutes later another officer found Plaintiff who fit the fleeing suspect's description, and Munyan identified Plaintiff as the fleeing suspect. Neukirch also reported to Mattivi that he, Munyan, and Ortiz reviewed the patrol car video to confirm that Plaintiff was indeed the fleeing suspect. Based on this information, Mattivi told Neukirch to put Plaintiff on a twenty-four-hour investigative hold and to take him to the Juvenile Justice Center (“JJC”). He also told Neukirch to release the two other juveniles.

         From 4:54 p.m. to 4:56 p.m., Munyan asked the other juveniles for information about Plaintiff. On the patrol car video, Munyan is heard asking the juveniles, “So you don't know where he lives?” And then, “Jay? What's his real name?” Though the juveniles' response cannot be heard, Munyan reported back to Ortiz that Plaintiff's street name was “Jay.” He also reported that when he asked the juveniles, “You know we got him, right?” (referring to the fleeing suspect), one of the juveniles responded, “Yeah, I seen you when you pulled up.” No. one directly asked either of the juveniles whether Plaintiff was the fleeing suspect. The officers also did not ask the calling party, who lived three houses away, to confirm whether Plaintiff was the person he saw with the gun. Around 5:00 p.m., Ortiz left the scene. He did not return or go to JJC.

         Meanwhile, Neukirch went to the calling party's house but decided against having him come to the scene because earlier, while waiting for Plaintiff to return to the scene, the calling party yelled at the two juveniles and threatened them. Neukirch arrived back at the scene around 5:10 p.m. and took Plaintiff's photograph just outside the patrol car. At 5:22 p.m., Munyan played back the patrol car video two more times.

         Ten minutes later, Neukirch and Munyan, with Plaintiff, left the original scene and went to JJC. During the approximately twenty-minute ride to JJC, Plaintiff had a calm demeanor and indicated he knew one of the two other juveniles involved.

         Once at JJC, Munyan took Plaintiff inside. Neukirch watched the patrol video again in his car. The file log indicates the video was played back four times. Munyan and Neukirch again assured Mattivi they had reviewed the video footage and identified Plaintiff. The officers then wrote a report regarding Plaintiff's arrest, and, once they were done with the report, left. They had no further involvement with his case.

         Mattivi interviewed Plaintiff after reading him his Miranda rights. Plaintiff's mother and aunt, along with Deputy Juvenile Officer Michael Grimes, were also present. Plaintiff told Mattivi he walked home from school by himself, realized he had locked himself out of the house, and therefore walked to his cousin's house. When he arrived, no one was home, so he started walking back to his house by himself. That is when Viesselman stopped him.

         Plaintiff denied any involvement in the crime, and his mother also insisted he was not involved. Therefore, with Plaintiff's consent, Mattivi took a DNA sample to compare to the DNA found on the gun. Mattivi did not make any further investigation that night. He did not call the other two juveniles or their parents, did not call ...


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