KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker took the unusual step of releasing a letter she sent Tuesday to Kansas City, Missouri, Police Chief Rick Smith and the mother of a deadly KCPD officer-involved shooting victim.
Baker’s office and a grand jury, which "no billed" the case in October, both declined to press charges against the officer who fatally shot Terrance Bridges, a Chicago native and the father of two young children, during a May 26, 2019, incident.
Prosecutors and the Use of Force Committee, which reviewed the case, struggled to reconcile the officer’s statements that “described the Civilian (Bridges) as coming toward him while taking his hands out of his hooded sweatshirt, while in another instance the Officer stated that when he used the word ‘attack’ out of ‘instinct’ when talking to the Civilian after the shooting,” according to the Analysis and Conclusion section of Baker’s letter.
Investigators also revisited the scene multiple times and re-interviewed witnesses, while also trying to enhance the dashcam footage for additional information about the incident, according to Baker.
Ultimately, the determination was made that the officer reasonably believed the suspect was armed, was a threat and was attempting to escape by use of a weapon, which prevented the prosecutor from finding “that admissible evidence will be sufficient to support conviction beyond a reasonable doubt” as Missouri law requires,
“It is our responsibility to fairly seek justice for both the victim and the accused,” Baker wrote. “As members of this community, we are sensitive to and instructed by the issues of race, implicit bias and imperfect balances of power. However, we cannot be guided by feelings. Rather, our sworn duty requires us to be faithfully bound to the evidence and law. The Committee met over multiple sessions reviewing this matter and the law.”
According to witness accounts and the officer’s statement, police were called to the 7000 block of Bellefontaine Avenue on reports of an armed disturbance shortly before 12:30 a.m.
A woman wearing a bra and no shirt fled to a neighbor’s house after an argument with her boyfriend, later identified as Bridges, according to the Summary of Facts in Baker’s letter.
He followed her to the house, which was two homes away from where the couple resided, and allegedly kicked in the door and got into a fight with a 62-year-old man who lived there.
Three officers initially arrived at the scene, but two left after the girlfriend said the possibly armed suspect had taken her car and might have been headed to the bus station.
The officer escorted the girlfriend back to her residence and was speaking with her when Bridges returned.
The officer’s dashcam showed Bridges crossing the street before the the officer spotted him and gave chase.
Roughly 17 seconds after leaving the victim’s porch, the officer, who is not identified in the letter and who 41 Action News is not identifying because he hasn’t been charged with a crime, encounters Bridges as he turns the corner around a long hedge that separated two residential properties.
By his own admission, according to the Summary of Facts, the officer did not give Bridges any verbal commands before firing a single shot into his chest.
“I’m using the light on my gun to clear around the corner and the suspect that she pointed out was standing at the edge of the hedge waiting for me with his hands in his front hoodie pocket and he takes a few steps towards me,” the officer said in a formal statement about the shooting. “As I’m backing up, we’re about two feet from each other and he pulls his hands out of his hoodie pocket and towards me and I was … I was scared. I thought he had a gun. The way he brought his hands up out of his hoodie pocket it was like he was presenting a gun up towards me so I shot him.”
Bridges was shot in the left side of his chest and later died at the hospital from his injuries.
The entire incident was captured on the officer’s dashcam audio but not its video.
After shooting Bridges, the officer asked, “Why’d you attack me, dude?” during a brief exchange.
Bridges replied, “I didn’t attack you.”
Bridges was unarmed at the time of the shooting and the investigation never turned up a gun at any of the residences involved, according to the Jackson County prosecutor.
But the officer’s “reasonable belief” that Bridges was armed given witness statements ultimately prevented the prosecutor from filing charges.
“We now know that the Civilian (Bridges) was not armed at the time of the shooting, but the officer’s mistaken belief that he was armed was reasonable given the information provided to him by witnesses ...,” Baker said in her letter. “This incident is a tragedy that we wish had simply not occurred. We offer our deepest condolences and sympathy to the Civilian’s (Bridges) family and loved ones.”
Bridges' parents are suing the officer in Jackson County Circuit Court for the killing.