KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A Black man who was wrongly arrested when he was 15 and held for three weeks without charge will be allowed to sue the two Kansas City officers who detained him, a federal appeals court has ruled.
A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Wednesday that the officers violated the constitutional rights of Tyree Bell when they arrested him without probable cause on June 8, 2016, KCUR reported.
Officers Peter Neukrich and Jonathan Munyan said they arrested Bell because he resembled another teen who had run away from officers earlier in the day, discarding a gun as he fled. Bell was walking home about a mile from where that happened when the officers stopped him.
The appeals court wrote that Bell’s only resemblance to the suspect was that he was Black, juvenile and male.
Police video showed Bell was taller, had a different hairstyle and was wearing different clothing than the original suspect. He also was breathing normally — unlike someone who had just run from police — and cooperated with the officers.
The officers argued that they watched dashcam video of the earlier event several times before arresting Bell and had reasonable belief that he was the suspect. But it wasn’t until June 29 that a detective watched the video and concluded Bell wasn't the suspect and should be released from detention.
Bell and his mother sued the police, plus several city and police department officials in 2017.
The lower court dismissed the lawsuit in March 2019 after finding the officers were entitled to qualified immunity, which protects government officials from being sued for actions in their official capacity unless they violate a legal or constitutional right.
“Given the glaring differences, there was not arguable probable cause to believe that Bell was the fleeing suspect,” Chief Judge Lavenski R. Smith wrote for the appeals court. “Bell’s right to be free from an arrest and detention under the circumstances was clearly established. It is an obvious case of insufficient probable cause.”
Bell’s lawyer, Arthur Benson, applauded the ruling in an email.
“Fifteen-year-old Black males walking home from school in the summer wearing dark shorts and a white tee shirt are not all criminal suspects to be arrested and jailed for three weeks," Benson wrote. "They do not all look alike, even though two untrained Kansas City police officers may think they do.”
Police spokesman Sgt. Jake Becchina said the department does not comment on pending litigation.
The appeals court upheld the lower court’s dismissal of all the defendants except the two officers.