KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) – A grand jury indicted a Kansas City Police Department officer with assault in connection with an incident involving a teen in November of last year.
During a news conference Friday, county prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said Sgt. Matthew T. Neal was charge with third-degree assault, a felony.
Peters Baker said Neal inured the 15-year-old by kneeing him in the back of the head and neck and forcing the juvenile’s head to the pavement. The indictment said the teen was saying “I can’t breathe” during the altercation, and the victim sustained broken teeth and a gash to the head.
The incident took place near 51st and Troost Avenue around 10:40 p.m. on November 14, 2019. Officers said they saw the victim and another male in a nearby store and attempted to stop them, but the two fled until they reached the restaurant parking lot where the incident happened.
Court documents said the two exited the vehicle they were in with their hands above their heads and got on their knees. The indictment states Neal was the first on scene and was in charge of taking the 16-year-old into custody.
The indictment goes on to state that while Neal and another officer were lifting up the 15-year-old, who court records indicate was cooperating, Neal forced his knee into the victim’s neck, driving his face into the ground and pinning him to the pavement.
After other officers saw the victim’s injuries, the teen was taken to Children’s Mercy Hospital for treatment.
"I’d like to remind everyone that our victim was a 15-year-old passenger who was cooperative with police,” Peters Baker said in a statement. “He ended up in Children’s Mercy Hospital with a gash on his head and broken front teeth. I hope all involved in this case and our community will rally around this victim and support him."
Even though the incident happened in November, the case did not go in front of a grand jury until June 12.
Peters Baker said she was not made aware of the incident until the spring of 2020. In a release she noted she is calling for an independent system for these incidents to be reported but is asking the public for now to contact the prosecutor’s office with any reports of excessive force or misconduct by officers.
"We know the playbook. We’ve seen it before. The playbook is to make the victim appear to be a bad person. Someone who deserved this rough treatment," Peters Baker said.
Following the prosecutor's new conference, KCPD Chief Rick Smith issued a statement, saying after the department became aware of the November incident, it was investigated by the department's Office of Community Complaints and the Internal Affairs Unit.
After those internal reviews, Smith said the case was forwarded to county and federal prosecutors and the FBI, per standard protocol.
The chief said Neal, who has been with the KCPD for 18 years and is currently assigned to the patrol bureau, has been on administrative leave since the internal investigation was completed and will stay on leave until the case is settled.
"As Chief of Police, when matters that raise concern come to my attention, it’s my responsibility to ensure they are appropriately investigated and that those investigations are turned over for possible further proceedings in the criminal justice process," Smith said in the statement.
Brad Lemon, the President of the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police, issued this statement:
The Lodge has been made aware of charges filed against Sgt. Matthew Neal. The Lodge supports Sgt. Neal and believes that his actions were justified under the totality of the circumstances. We will support our brother as this matter proceeds to court, where we are confident that he will be ultimately exonerated.
Calls from some to fire Smith continued Friday night following news of the indictment.
A group gathered outside of the Kansas City Police Department's headquarters.
The group also called or justice for the 15-year-old.
"Compliant," said protester Sheryl Ferguson. "Hands already in cuffs. You kicked him basically with your knee to where you broke his teeth."