I’m tired of writing about Black men who pose no threat being killed by police without consequence. Seriously — the absence of accountability for bad police shootings is exhausting physically, mentally and spiritually. Yet, in Jackson County, here we are again.
Tyrea Pryor, a father of two teen sons, was not a threat when he was fatally shot last spring by Independence police officers Jamie Welsh and Hunter Soule, attorneys for the Kansas City man contend. Can you blame them?
After watching a 23-minute video of the incident, it is obvious to me that Pryor was incapacitated from a car crash and posed no threat to officers on the scene. Still, Welsh and Soule unleashed a volley of shots — 15 total — that killed Pryor.
The shooting was captured on fellow Independence police officer Jacob Pope’s dashboard camera, according to a report from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, which investigated the fatal encounter last March. Moments after Pryor was hit by a barrage of bullets, one officer is heard on video saying, “I don’t see a pistol.”
The cop didn’t see a pistol because there was none, according to Harry Daniels, an attorney representing Pryor’s family along with another lawyer, Arimeta DuPree.
A disturbance at a home in the 800 block of East College Street in Independence led to police pursuing Pryor as he fled in a white car, according to legal documents. Officers called off the chase, but later found Pryor and two female passengers inside a wrecked Dodge Avenger near William Chrisman High School, according to the Highway Patrol.
The video I watched shows officers walking up to the vehicle after the crash and ordering a female passenger to get out and onto the ground. Pryor is heard moaning from inside the car. Officers commanded him not to move before one yelled, “Gun!”
“Where’s the gun?” Daniels asked. Great question. There was a weapon inside the smashed Avenger — but the AR-15 style rifle was immovable, wedged between Pryor’s right leg and the vehicle’s console. Pryor was badly injured, his fingers broken in the crash. There’s no indication he was holding the gun, or certainly not that he was pointing it at anyone.
Alex Steele, another police officer, told investigators he tugged at the AR-15 from the back seat but couldn’t get the weapon free because it was stuck, according to the Highway Patrol’s report.
Physically, it was impossible for Pryor to have been a threat to officers or the public, Daniels said. Pryor was trapped in the front seat of the Avenger and couldn’t move his legs. The steering column was on top of him, according to Daniels.
“He was in pretty bad shape,” the lawyer said. The video provides pretty convincing evidence that no threat existed.
After the shooting, officers on the scene struggled to remove Pryor’s limp body from the mangled car. The total disregard for Pryor’s safety and well-being was sickening to watch.
Requested Justice Department civil rights investigation
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker declined to file charges against Welsh or Soule.
Were Pryor’s civil rights violated? Quite possibly. Daniels wants the U.S. Department of Justice to look into the matter.
In a letter sent this week to Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Daniels noted that Officer Steele gave statements to investigators that the AR-15 was immovable after the crash.
“Steele stated that he had both of his hands on the rifle attempting to remove it from the vehicle at the time Welsh and Soule began to fire their weapons.” Daniels wrote.
I asked Independence city officials if Welsh or Soule are still on the police force and patrolling the streets, but those inquiries went unanswered.
This week, Baker’s office offered to me a canned statement expressing empathy with Pryor’s family. I’m not buying it, though. The 39-year-old man was not wielding a gun when he was shot, his attorneys contend. Why didn’t Baker see fit to present the case to a grand jury?
“We met with the family last month to express our condolences and discuss our review of the case,” read a statement from Baker’s office. “We informed them that based on the evidence and law, this is not a case that could be criminally prosecuted. There were a series of ill-advised events that resulted in a terrible loss of life.
“After we issue detailed findings, we will respond as appropriate to further inquiries.”
On Thursday, supporters will gather on the front steps of the Jackson County Courthouse to decry Baker’s decision not to seek criminal charges against the officers involved in the encounter.
Did prosecutors mislead the family, as Daniels suggests?
First, prosecutors told family members Pryor possessed a “floating gun,” according to Daniels. Then they came back and said there was a shootout. Now they are telling the family: Oops, our bad, Pryor wasn’t really even holding a firearm after all.
Last I checked, the punishment for possessing a weapon or running from the police was not a death sentence. Pryor deserved a better fate. And his family deserves more clear-cut answers as to why these two Independence officers will not be held to account for killing a severely wounded, unthreatening Black man.