‘Atrocious.’ Loved ones of Black man shot by Independence police want officers charged

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Bishop Adriene Gardner with the Justice and Dignity Center stood outside the Jackson County Courthouse Thursday holding up a cardstock sign. Taped to the front, a picture of her friend, Tyrea Pryor, 39, who was shot and killed by Independence police officers last year.

“It’s atrocious,” she said. “It’s a family member lost … a father lost.”

Gardner was one of several loved ones rallying against the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office’s decision not to send the case to a grand jury and have the officers potentially be held criminally responsible. Earlier this week, attorneys for the family formally requested the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the case.

At the rally, attorney Harry Daniels said he and other lawyers working the case would fight for justice for the family.

“This is not a case where it’s a close call,” he said. “They know they messed up.”

The shooting

On March 11, 2022, police responded to calls about a disturbance at a home in the 800 block of East College Street. Officers began to chase Pryor’s vehicle after seeing it speed away from the residence.

The chase ended with a crash near the intersection of U.S. 24 and Noland Road.

Dashcam video released by lawyers representing Pryor’s family just last week shows officers walking up to the vehicle after the wreck and ordering a woman to get out.

An officer advised others that Pryor, still in the car, had a weapon. Several shots ring out before officers are heard expressing confusion over what kind of gun the man was believed to be holding at the time officers fired.

One is overheard saying “I don’t see a pistol.”

Afterward, officers pulled an AR-style rifle out of the vehicle, which Daniels said was secured and separate from the firearm the officer believed was in the man’s left hand.

“They killed him over a gun that did not exist,” Daniels said at the rally Thursday. “A gun lying on the ground, stuck, is not going to injure anybody.”

The officers who shot Pryor were identified in the investigators’ report as Jamie Welsh and Hunter Soule.

Daniels furthered argued that, because of the crash, Pryor posed even less of a threat to officers.

“He’s incapacitated … he’s actually trapped,” he said. “That does not give anybody the right to shoot and kill. The threat has to be an imminent threat.”

‘It could happen to me’

At the Thursday afternoon news conference, Tyrea Pryor’s son, Tyrea Pryor Jr., stood in front of a podium and recalled being woken up at 2 a.m. after the shooting and finding out his father had been killed.

The 17-year-old pleaded for accountability of the officers and said he was concerned for his safety as a young Black man.

“I just started driving,” he said. “I feel like it could happen to me.”

Harris specifically criticized Jean Peters Baker, Jackson County’s lead prosecutor, for the decision.

“Ms. Baker, Tyrea Pryor’s dead,” he said. “He was shot 15 times, unarmed, pinned down by the steering column.”

The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office released a statement Thursday regarding the office’s decision, arguing that the officer only needed “reasonable belief” that a threat was being posed at the moment, regardless of information learned later.

“... The law would not afford the State an opportunity to charge for belief that was later demonstrated to be wrong even if that mistaken belief ended in tragedy as here,” the statement reads.

According to prosecutors, Pryor’s movement was concerning to the officer, who believed he was handling a weapon. A smashed windshield further obstructed officers’ view of the suspect, prosecutors say.

Though prosecutors stated it was indisputable Pryor did not have a gun in his hand, they maintained the officers are covered under Missouri’s use of force law due to their perception of a threat.

“The law restricts the State to evaluating only what was known or reasonably believed prior to or at the time of the shooting,” the statement reads. “Thus, the fact that the Civilian did not have a pistol … is not, by itself, determinative of whether charges should be filed against the Officers.”

Thursday afternoon, Independence Police Chief Adam Dustman released a statement regarding the shooting death of Pryor, saying, “The men and women of the Independence Police Department are sworn to keep people safe and when there is a fatality, it weighs heavily on all of us.”

Dustman added all officer-involved shootings are reviewed by an external agency before being evaluated by the Prosecutor’s Office, and said they’re working to improve their officers’ ability to respond to intense situations.

Jackson County Prosecutor's letter on Tyrea Pryor shooting by The Kansas City Star on Scribd

Before the family departed Thursday, marching down 12th Street while holding signs demanding justice for Pryor, Daniels asked, “They say Missouri is the ‘Show Me State.’ Is that right?”

Several in the crowd nodded and said, “Yes.”

“Show me justice. Show me equality. Show us that an unarmed Black man has the same right to life and justice for his own family than an unarmed, or armed, white man.”