Wrongly jailed, KC teen sues, claims police ignored evidence
It was a hot and sticky June afternoon in 2016, when 15-year-old Tyree Bell found himself walking the streets and through a web of chaos.
He had just finished his day at summer school and, his cell phone glued to his ear, tried to check in with his mother as he meandered down 87th Street towards Blue Ridge Boulevard.
Suddenly, a Kansas City Police patrol car pulled up beside him.
“Come here, mate,” said an officer as he exited the vehicle. “Put your phone on my hood for a second. Do you have any guns or anything on you?
“No,” Tyree replied, her face shrouded in bewilderment and anxiety.
“For now, I’ll hold you back while we sort this out,” the officer said, handcuffing Tyree and leaning him against the car.
With her hands behind her back, Tyree asked, “Why am I being held?”
“Right now you are being detained because you fit the description of a group that was in a foot pursuit with our officers carrying a gun. So as long as I can verify that it’s not you with him then I’ll let go and you will be gone.
“You’ll be gone here in a second.” “
Instead, Tyree landed in juvenile prison. For three weeks.
Another policeman, Officer Peter Neukirch, arrived and identified Tyree as the miner with a gun.
“You almost got shot,” Neukirch can be heard telling Tyree via dash camera footage.
“He put me in the car and they slapped each other in the hand,” Tyree recalled now. “I was shocked.”
Tyree is reportedly spending three weeks at the Jackson County Juvenile Detention Center in a mistaken identity case for a crime he did not commit – even though police had video evidence of his innocence.
Now her mother, Sherri James, is suing police on her behalf in federal court for wrongful arrest and “willful disregard” to her rights.
The lawsuit, which charges police with unlawful arrest, negligent training and supervision, and deprivation of Tyree’s constitutional rights, is due to go to trial in March. The defendants include Arrest Officers Neukirch and Jonathan Munyan, Detective John Mattivi, Police Chief Richard Smith and the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners.
The Star asked police for comment, particularly why it took officers weeks to view the exculpatory footage. The department spokesman, citing an ongoing litigation, declined to comment. But in a court filing in response to the lawsuit, police denied violating Tyree’s constitutional rights or sitting on evidence.
Court documents filed a year ago by civil rights attorney Arthur Benson allege that around 4 p.m. on June 8, Munyan and Neukirch responded to a report of three black teens wielding guns near 91st Street and from Marsh Avenue.
Within minutes, police found the teens and briefly sounded their sirens. Two of the teenagers were lying on the ground, making their way to Neukirch. The third teenager, wearing a white shirt and shoulder-length dreadlocks, took off his flip-flops and fled, with Munyan chasing him.
The on-board camera footage of the officers’ patrol car vehicle obtained by The Star showed the teenager pulling a gun from his pocket and throwing it over a fence.
This same footage showed Munyan chasing the suspect around 4:17 pm and shouting into his radio receiver, “Black man. Firearm. Blue shorts. “
Less than 30 seconds later, dispatchers gave a more detailed description to officers in the area:
“The party in general is going to be a black man, 17, 18 years old… 5-10 years old, slim, wearing a white shirt, blue shorts, took off his shoes, was last seen on the train to run west from the 92nd and James A. Reed, armed with a rifle.
The suspect eventually passed Munyan and was never apprehended.
At 4:26 a.m., over a mile away, another KCPD officer spotted Tyree walking along 87th Street, separate dash camera footage obtained by The Star’s shows.
Tyree was also slim, with dreadlocks, and wore a white T-shirt. However, Tyree is 6 feet 3 inches tall and was wearing black shorts with white stripes and shoes – a pair of sneakers – and showed no signs of walking for less than seven minutes.
“I kind of thought I was going to get let go, because I knew I hadn’t done anything,” Tyree told The Star during a recent interview inside the Blue Ridge branch of the library. from the middle of the continent, barely a mile from where he was apprehended.
He has a soft voice and often looks down when he speaks. Before the arrest, the biggest problem he remembered was a fight in eighth grade. He even played recreational basketball for the neighborhood Police Athletic League.
“I blame myself for everything that’s going on,” said her mother, sitting next to Tyree.
The only reason, said James, that Tyree was walking down the street that afternoon, was because she was out looking for her nephew as a last-minute favor for her sister. The unexpected run took her away from home and left Tyree locked out. To escape the heat, he decided to stop by his cousin’s nearby. She wasn’t there either, so Tyree went home.
“If I had been there to let my son into the house, none of this would have happened. “
After arriving at the detention center, James said, Detective Mattivi told him there was video evidence of everything.
“So I wonder why he’s not looking at him,” she said. “They had the proof and didn’t even take the time to look at it and confirm that it wasn’t my child.”
Over the next three weeks, James said, she called Mattivi several times, begging him to view the dash camera footage at discharge. “He was in no rush to get there.
During this time, James said, she was “in it and out of him mentally” and suffered frequent panic attacks. “Knowing that your son is in a cell for something he didn’t do?” It was horrible.”
Tyree said he struggled with depression while in the detention center.
“I cried the first night,” he says. “Being stuck in a cell for long hours is difficult.”
Twenty-one days later, on June 29, James received a call from Mattivi. “He said to me, ‘You can come and get him, we’ll release him,” James said. “No apologies or anything.”
In the two years since her release, Tyree started a club at Ruskin High School to encourage students to form stronger bonds with their classmates with special needs. He has also become a mentor for young teens who have come into conflict with the law.
Now a senior, he hopes to go to college after graduation to become a child psychologist.
But, he said, “my attitude has changed towards the police. Every time I see a policeman or a police car, I feel like I’m in trouble. I don’t really know how to explain it, it’s just a feeling I have. The police, I felt like they were there to comfort and support.
“I don’t feel that anymore.”
This story was originally published September 2, 2018 5:30 a.m.