KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The shooting of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., set off nearly two weeks of protests and backlash against police in that St. Louis suburb, but it appears to be also having an effect on police and community relations in Kansas City as well, contributing to a spike in complaints of mistreatment by KCPD officers.
Merrell Bennekin, the deputy executive director of the Board of Police Commissioners’ Office of Community Complaints, said while compiling the hard data will take weeks, his office has noted an increase in complaints against local police in the last ten days. Some callers mentioned the death of teen Michael Brown or the situation in Ferguson as part of their impetus for calling.
“That's been the case with most incidents that gain national attention. We will generally see an influx or a rise in complaints dealing with those same matters,” Bennekin said on Tuesday. ”More than anything, people just want to come in and file a complaint just to make sure that their negative contact with the police department was, at very least, documented.”
Bennekin said the number of complaints against the KCPD for perceived infractions including biased policing, harassment or excessive use of force has risen slowly over the last few years. He said those numbers do not necessarily indicate an increase in police misconduct, but they do reflect the rise of cellphone video to document such instances, and to increased awareness of the various avenues available to file a complaint including his downtown office.
“I think that we have a very responsible police department, and also very responsive to the complaint process,” Bennekin said, noting that the rate in which his office’s investigations turn up wrongdoing by officers is on par with, or below that, of benchmark cities.
Among those motivated to seek renewed attention to a case of alleged excessive use of force was the Pierce family of Kansas City.
Stephanie Pierce approached a reporter at a rally for Michael Brown last week, brandishing cellphone video that showed her husband’s arrest by KCPD last summer. He was pulled over by officers who said his music was too loud, and he had made an improper turn.
Dewayne Pierce, her husband, felt race contributed to the physical treatment he received from KCPD officers. Mr. Pierce is black, and a large man at about 270 pounds. When he was arrested, his wife, who is white, was in the passenger seat. His arresting officers were white.
At the time, Pierce had an outstanding warrant for an assault charge, and a probation violation. Both charges were later dismissed.
“Basically, I think, I mean, it was profiled from the get go. I've got a big truck, people in it. We were having a good time,” Mr. Pierce said.
Pierce said officers wrenched his ankle painfully after he had already submitted, and that his face was scraped and bruised from being pressed into the street.
“I don't think I deserve four guys practicing their MMA moves on me,” Mr. Pierce said. “I didn't deserve that.”
But Pierce did not file a formal complaint. He said lawyers he consulted did not take him seriously, and worried a complaint would go nowhere. Now, in the aftermath of the Ferguson case, he felt such complaints were getting renewed scrutiny and attention.
“I think that everybody does speak up; it’s just because of what's going on now the media is ready to listen,” Mr. Pierce said.
KCPD did not respond to requests for comment about Mr. Pierce’s arrest.
Charles Stephenson, a former police instructor and FBI agent, and now the owner of the Orion Group security company and a frequent expert witness in use-of-force cases, reviewed the tape of Mr. Pierce’s arrest for 41 Action News. Stephenson said from what he could see, the officers appeared justified in their use of force.
“The guidepost is always: you only use the force necessary to make the arrest,” Mr. Stephenson said. “And that means submission of the individual.”