Kansas City settles with Black man wrongly jailed at 15

Posted at 7:25 PM, February 23, 2022 and last updated 4:48 PM, July 5, 2023

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Black man who was arrested when he was 15 and held for three weeks for a crime he did not commit reached a $900,000 settlement with the Kansas City Police Department.

The settlement announced by attorneys for both sides Tuesday comes in a civil rights lawsuit filed by the family of Tyree Bell over his June 8, 2016, arrest. As part of the agreement, the Police Department said it would apologize to Bell. A federal judge must still approve the settlement, KCUR reported.

Officers Peter Neukrich and Jonathan Munyan said they arrested Bell because he looked like another teen who ran from them earlier in the day and threw away a gun as he fled.

Police video showed Bell was taller, had a different hairstyle and was wearing different clothing than the original suspect. He also cooperated with police and was breathing normally, unlike someone who had just run from police.

An appeals court said in an October 2020 ruling that allowed the lawsuit to go forward that Bell’s only resemblance to the suspect was that he was Black, juvenile and male.

Kansas City lawyer Arthur Benson, who represented Bell, said the case was not just one of mistaken identity or “walking while Black.” He said it was part of a longtime “national disgrace” of white officers wrongly identifying Black suspects.

“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,” Benson said.

Kansas City police officers Peter Neukrich and Jonathan Munyan were looking for a suspect who fled from an earlier confrontation when another policeman saw Bell walking and talking on his cellphone and detained him.

The officers said they identified Bell as the suspect and arrested him after watching dashcam video of the original event several times.

Bell was placed on a 24-hour “investigative hold” but was not released until June 29, 2016, after a detective watched the video and determined Bell was not the suspect.

Bell originally sued Neukrich and Munyan as well as the officer who detained him, along with several police officials. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit after finding the officers were entitled to qualified immunity.

An appeals court reinstated the lawsuit in October 2020 after finding the officers did not have probable cause to arrest Bell. The first trial ended in a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

The case had been set to go to trial again on Feb. 28, but that was canceled when the pending settlement was announced.