Independence officers sued by family for shooting
Attorneys for the family announced Thursday that a federal lawsuit had been filed against the City of Independence and two Independence police officers in connection with the fatal shooting of Tyrea Pryor.
The attorneys claim the officers’ actions were reckless and excessive, as they fired their weapons at Pryor on the night of March 11th, 2022. Since the officers are employees of Independence, they have also sued the city. But the family’s legal team say they will amend the complaint if documents reveal that the city has also been negligent in overseeing the Independence Police Department.
Pryor’s family stood beside their attorneys with sullen faces at the Justice and Dignity Center on The Paseo as they discussed the lawsuit, which asks for $25 million in damages.
Nigel Johnson, the uncle of Pryor’s teenage son, said he believes their lawsuit has the power to bring about change for other families.
“Our faith in the system is being challenged,” he said. “We don’t want this to happen to anyone else. We want justice for those we love… These children shouldn’t have to grow up without a father.”
One of the family’s attorneys, Arimeta Dupree, said the family has yet to receive condolences from the department.
John Burris, another attorney, said that the first step to change is admitting wrongdoings. Burris claimed that there was no obvious reason for officers to have used force on Pryor when he was murdered.
“No one had called and said a man had a gun and threatened them,” Burris said. “There had been a crash … There was no threatening activity.”
In the legal team’s claim, the attorneys said Soule and Officer Jamie Welsh “breached their duty by shooting and killing Tyrea even though he posed no threat.”
According to Burris, the high number of shots fired suggests, “they were ready to shoot no matter what.”
“What we’re looking for now is to vindicate a family’s civil rights here.”
Burden of proof
The story began one night in March, more than a decade ago, when Officer Hunter Soule responded to 803 East College Street after receiving reports of a man and two women pounding at the door of an 911 caller. The women had gone to the house to return items that another woman wanted.
As Soule set off his sirensThe three then jumped in a white car and took off. Interviews with the Missouri State Highway Patrol reveal that he witnessed Pryor grab something unknown from the back seat of the car before escaping. After a short chase, the officer stopped to follow Pryor.
Officers were later called to a crash involving Pryor’s vehicle. Video footage released by attorneys for Pryor family shows the aftermath of the crash: One officer shouted “Gun!” and police proceeded to fire their weapons. Pryor had been shot 15 times.
According to interviews conducted by investigators, an assault-style silver rifle was found inside the vehicle. However, it had been already secured by a police officer. Another officer revealed that a pill bottle in Pryor’s pants may have been mistaken for a a handgun.
Attorneys of Pryor’s family claimed “Soule and Welsh fired their service weapons in a disabled vehicle, mutilating a severely injured, incapacitated, unarmed and trapped Tyrea,” according to the lawsuit filed Thursday.
The lawsuit also accused Soules and another officer, Jamie Welsh, of placing Pryor as well as other members of the public in serious danger and acting in “bad faith.” They allege Pryor was “deprived of his constitutional rights” and his family is owed financial compensation due to the resulting medical expenses and loss of the 39-year-old’s future earnings.
After Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker declined to pursue the case citing the “reasonable belief” Her March statement stated that police were under threat.
But the family’s attorneys said Thursday they’re not concerned about Baker’s assessment. Attorney John Burris explained to me that the burden is very different for the prosecutor.
Burris’ legal team and Burris are suing as civil suits, so they don’t need to prove their claims beyond a reasonable doubt. In order to do so, they must prove that the claims are at least more likely than not true.
Harry Daniels who also represents the family agreed.
He said the officers decision to stop after a short pursuit of Pryor’s vehicle following the first 911 call suggests the 39-year-old did not pose an “imminent threat.”
Daniels claimed that even though officers found an assault-style silver weapon in Pryor’s car while responding to a car accident, this did not justify the use of force by officers.
“He had a Second Amendment right to have a gun, a gun itself is not a reason why you should be killed.”
Force is used by the police
The Star obtained data from the police department through an open record request. The Star found that there are significant racial differences in the use of force by police in Independence. Last year 30.7% were Black. The city has 9.6% Black residents. according to the U.S. Census.
The records outlined 163 cases that ended with force, including Pryor’s shooting. Nearly 42% of encounters involved the use of a Taser. Physical strikes, pepper spray, and bean bag rounds were also used.
The racial gap increased to 38% when it came to some tactics, such as the neck restraint called an LVNR.
Gwen Grant of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City said that the data is alarming but not surprising.
“These numbers substantiate the need for extensive reform in policing practices in Independence, including accountability for officers who racially profile and use excessive or deadly force,” Grant said.
“Implicit bias training alone will not solve these problems. These officers need to learn about the deeply rooted systemic issues… they need to unlearn the myths and misconceptions that result in their lack of respect and appreciation for the humanity of Black people.”
Adam Dustman, the police chief, said that every incident is evaluated and reviewed by several people. He noted that there were over 6,800 arrests in 2013 with only 2% of them involving use of force.
Dustman stated that all but two of the LVNR incidents began with a citizen calling police to ask for assistance. Only one of the eight cases involving a black person was a resident of Independence.
“Many of the locations associated with an incident are on our main corridors into and out of Independence,” he said. “These incidents often involve a mix of residents and nonresidents, which makes the application of the Independence census information misleading as a comparison.”
Attorneys for the Pryor family said they are aware of the data, and plan on further exploring how department policies may have contributed to Pryor’s death.
The Star’s Katie Moore contributed to this story.