Kansas City police officer indicted on felony assault charge

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City police sergeant has been indicted on a felony charge of third-degree assault after he allegedly kneed a 15-year-old boy on his neck and head and forced his head into the pavement while the teenager repeatedly said “I can’t breathe,” a Missouri prosecutor announced Friday.

The juvenile was handcuffed, kneeling and cooperating when Sgt. Matthew Neal injured him in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in eastern Kansas City on Nov. 14, 2019, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said.

“I know (I can’t breathe) have become very infamous words but those were his words back when this occurred,” Baker said.

The phrase has been a rallying cry for protesters since the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, who said he couldn’t breathe several times as an officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck.

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The juvenile, whose name was not released, was treated at a hospital for broken teeth and a gash on his head.

“This use of force, injuring this juvenile who was handcuffed and compliant — I think we can all agree this is not a provocative statement — just can’t be tolerated,” Baker said. “We should all agree about that.”

Baker said police video captures part of the incident but not Neal’s handling of the juvenile. But she said there was audio of the incident and eyewitnesses also provided information.

She said a second officer was involved and the investigation was continuing.

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith said in a statement the department became aware of the incident after a complaint was filed with department’s internal affairs unit. He said after reviewing the investigation, the information was sent to federal prosecutors, the FBI and Baker’s office.

Neal, an 18-year veteran of the department has been on administrative leave since the investigation and will remain on leave pending the outcome of the case.

“All of us want justice,” Smith said. “And we remain committed to the legal process going forward.”

Baker said she was disturbed that the incident occurred in November but her office was not made aware of it until late spring, and she credited a lawyer who represents the juvenile and his mother with being instrumental in moving the case forward.

“Needless to say, learning of incidents like this more quickly increases the chance the we’ll find additional evidence,” Baker said. “So it’s important, timing is important on these. That kind of speaks for itself.”

A grand jury affidavit said the incident began when an officer tried to stop the 15-year-old and a male who was with him at a 7-Eleven because he suspected a robbery might occur. The driver fled until the vehicle was stopped at the fast-food restaurant. The driver and the teenager got out of the car, knelt down and had their hands above their head, Baker said.

When Neal arrived, the juvenile, who was unarmed, was on his stomach and did not struggle, the affidavit said. Neal put his knee on the back of the teenager’s head and forced his face into the cement. The officer’s knee remained on the juvenile, who repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe, according to the affidavit.

No charges were brought against the juvenile.

Neal has been served with a summons to appear in court on a date that has not been scheduled.

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