The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners has agreed to a $900,000 settlement with a Black man who was wrongfully arrested and ended up spending three weeks in jail as a result. According to The Kansas City Star, the June 2016 incident occurred when Tyree Bell was 15 years old.
Per the details of the agreement, the settlement will cover damages as well as court costs. Bell’s family filed a lawsuit against the officers responsible for his wrongful arrest as well as the police department in 2017. The suit claimed the White officers involved in his wrongful arrest violated his civil rights. The suit also accused the officers of failing to take a look at available evidence that could have ultimately exonerated the Black teen.
Bell will be paid $442,000 in compensatory damages while the remaining $458,000 will go to his attorney to cover legal fees. In a statement to the news outlet, Kansas City Police spokesman Sgt. Jake Becchina said the department “always sought a successful resolution for all parties” after the lawsuit was filed.
“Through the legal process the officers involved made it known they would like to meet with Mr. Bell and apologize,” Becchina added. “We are glad we reached a mutual resolution and we wish Mr. Bell and his family all the best.”
Becchina, in the statement, also admitted Bell’s arrest was a mistake, FOX4 reported. “We made a mistake, and the arrest of Mr. Bell was in error.”
Bell had just come back home from summer camp when he was arrested on June 8, 2016. Kansas City police had responded to a suspicious activity report around a residence after a caller claimed three Black male teenagers were brandishing a gun at some teenage girls, The Kansas City Star reported.
The three teenage suspects subsequently fled the area after officers Jonathan Munyan and Peter Neukirch responded to the scene. That was after the emergency lights of their patrol car were activated.
And though two of the suspects were eventually apprehended, the third took to his heels and was seen disposing of a gun. Neukirch provided the third suspect’s description via police radio. Bell, who was about one mile away from the scene, was later confronted by a Kansas City Police officer. Bell was detained as the officer believed he matched the third suspect’s description.
After he was taken back to the scene, Munyan and Neukirch confirmed Bell was the third suspect who fled, court records stated. Lawyers, however, argued police failed to review their dashboard cameras or even question witnesses about the plaintiff. The lawyers said that could have ultimately cleared Bell’s name. The Black teen’s hairstyle and clothing did not match the third suspect’s description, court documents also stated.
Despite maintaining his innocence, Bell was detained at the Jackson County Juvenile Detention Center for three weeks. The Black teen’s mother, on several occasions, also reached out to Kansas City police to scrutinize the evidence gathered in the case.
The charges against Bell were ultimately dropped after a detective reviewed the dash camera video and realized they had arrested the wrong person. Bell was subsequently released.
“Knowing that your son is in a cell for something he didn’t do? It was horrible,” Bell’s mother told The Kansas City Star after they filed the lawsuit.
Bell also said the incident had a negative effect on his perception of the police. “Every time I see a police officer or a police car, I feel like I’m in trouble. I don’t know how to really explain it, it’s just a feeling that I get. The police, I felt like they were there to comfort and support,” he said.
“I don’t feel that anymore.”
Bell’s lawyer, Arthur Benson, said his client’s arrest wasn’t just about his race or being mistakenly identified. “It was a part of a national disgrace that has been allowed to persist among white police for forty years: cross-race identifications of Black males by white officers are often wrong,” Benson said.
“And they are often wrong because too many police departments do not train their officers that all Blacks do not look alike and how to make an eyewitness identification that is not tainted by racial stereotypes.”
“Tyree Bell was a victim of the Kansas City Police Department’s failure to address this national outrage,” he added.
Since 2014, the Kansas City Police Department has forked out almost $10 million to settle cases brought against them.