KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City, Missouri, police Sgt. Matthew T. Neal was indicted Friday by a Jackson County grand jury on one count of third-degree assault.
The charge, a Class E felony in Missouri, stems from a Nov. 14, 2019, incident in which Neal allegedly kneeled on a 15-year-old boy’s neck and struck him with a knee, causing serious injuries, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office announced.
The teen, who Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker declined to identify as a minor, suffered multiple chipped front teeth and needed eight stitches to close a gash on his forehead from Neal allegedly striking his face into the pavement of the Go Chicken Go parking lot near East 51 Street and Troost Avenue.
“The victim can be heard saying, ‘I can’t breathe,’” Baker said, noting that KCPD video footage only captured audio of the encounter. “Those are now pretty infamous words, but those were his words back in November 2019.”
Baker announced the charge during a Friday afternoon press conference.
LIVE: Jackson County prosecutor press conference
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker is conducting a press conference in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.Posted by 41 Action News - KSHB-TV on Friday, August 21, 2020
Officers began following the car in which the 15-year-old was riding after observing two males with masks on walk into a 7-Eleven near West 89th Street and Wornall Road.
After exiting the store, police observed the Toyota Camry they got into leaving the convenience store before it ran a stop sign.
The driver fled an attempted traffic stop before the vehicle was disabled after a 13-minute chase and stopped in the Go Chicken Go parking lot.
At that point, the driver and the 15-year-old passenger exited the vehicle, kneeled and placed their hands above their heads.
The juvenile complied with Neal’s command to lie on his stomach and crawl to officers, who handcuffed him.
While handcuffed and still lying on his stomach, Neal allegedly kneed the 15-year-old in the back of the head as he and another officer conducted a search of his body and clothes, according to evidence presented to the grand jury.
Neal kept his weight on the juvenile’s neck as he told officers he was struggling to breathe. That’s also when the injuries to his teeth and face, including the gash as well as other scrapes and bruises, occurred.
The 15-year-old was treated at Children’s Mercy Hospital for his injuries.
“Nobody in this city should disagree ... no one should think it’s provocative that we should expect better,” Baker said.
Calling herself a “messenger” for the grand jury, Baker lamented the fact that her office was only notified of the incident in the spring — and only then by a lawyer representing the family of the 15-year-old assault victim.
She called for an independent system to report and review all excessive force claims, but suggested the public can use an online reporting tool on her office’s website until such a system exists.
“I’m learning ... there is a need for a better reporting structure,” Baker said.
Baker said she also encourages other lawyers who know about excessive force or police misconduct incidents to contact her office.
KCPD Chief of Police Rick Smith said in a statement Friday after the charge was announced that his department “became aware of the incident following a complaint that was investigated by the Office of Community Complaints.”
Without naming Neal, Smith said the investigation’s findings were sent to federal and county prosecutors as well as the FBI and that the officer, “an 18-year veteran of the department assigned to the Patrol Bureau,” was placed on administrative leave at the conclusion of the internal investigation.
“He will continue to be until the outcome of the proceedings,” Smith said in a statement. “All of us want justice. And we remain committed to the legal process going forward.”
Baker said the FBI assisted the Jackson County prosecutor’s office in the investigation.
“The Lodge has been made aware of charges filed against Sgt. Matthew Neal,” Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 99 President Brad Lemon said in a statement Friday evening. “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.”
Neal could face two to four years in state prison or up to one year in county jail and a $10,000 fine.
This is the fourth KCPD officer indicted in recent months.
Two other officers, Matthew Brummett and Charles Prichard, were charged last May with assault for using excessive force against Breona Hill during a May 2019 arrest. The charges were upgraded to a felony in June after review by a grand jury.
Eric DeValkenaere, a KCPD detective with the investigations unit, was charged with involuntary manslaughter in June for the shooting death of Cameron Lamb in December 2019.
For jurisdictions that utilize the Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers Tips Hotline, anonymous tips can be made by calling 816-474-TIPS (8477), submitting the tip online or through the free mobile app at P3Tips.com.
Annual homicide details and data for the Kansas City area are available through the 41 Action News Homicide Tracker, which was launched in 2015.