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Mother of dead Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher sues team

Updated: 2014-01-01T06:33:58Z

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

Jovan Belcher’s mother has filed a wrongful-death suit against the Chiefs, seeking unspecified damages after the former linebacker killed his girlfriend and himself in December 2012.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Jackson County circuit court, alleges that Belcher “unknowingly sacrificed his brain” during a four-year career with the Chiefs. It also alleges that the team failed to protect Belcher and his safety and knew, or should’ve known, that Belcher showed signs of cognitive and neuro-psychiatric impairment.

Belcher’s body was exhumed at the request of his family at the North Babylon Cemetery in Bay Shore, N.Y., two weeks ago. His brain is being examined for evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The family is awaiting final results.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges “wrongful conduct” by the Chiefs that “destroyed multiple lives.” The suit specifically mentions CTE many times.

A similar suit was expected to be filed on behalf of Belcher’s year-old daughter, Zoey, by her guardian. Those lawsuits will likely be merged, according to a Belcher family attorney. Both cases would then be handled by Kansas City-area lawyers Paul Anderson, Greg Leyh, Ken McClain and Dirk Vandever.

A Chiefs spokesman said the team is aware of the initial lawsuit but would have no comment.

Belcher killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, with nine gunshots Dec. 1, 2012, at the home they shared. He then drove to the Chiefs’ practice facility and killed himself with a single shot to the head, leaving their daughter orphaned. Belcher’s mother, Cheryl Shepherd, and Zoey were both in the home when Belcher, 25, killed Perkins.

Belcher had no documented history of concussions or other head injuries. The lawsuit alleges the Chiefs missed signs of concussions, including one allegedly suffered in a game against the Bengals on Nov. 18, 2012, on a play that ended up being Belcher’s last tackle.

The suit also mentions changes in Belcher’s behavior, including mood swings, and alleges that the Chiefs “directly caused or directly contributed to cause” Belcher to develop neurological impairments or damage.

CTE has been found in the brains of both living and deceased football players at a rate higher than the general population. According to the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, such “brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression and, eventually, progressive dementia.”

CTE has been found in the brains of several former football players, including stars like Junior Seau, who committed suicide in May 2012, as well as former professional wrestler Chris Benoit, who killed his wife and son before hanging himself in 2007.

The suit says Belcher was knocked unconscious during a game against the Jaguars in 2009 but was not immediately evaluated or given time to fully recover before resuming practice. It also says the team assumed a duty to provide competent health care for Belcher when it ordered him to see a counselor on at least two occasions in October and November of 2012.

The suit also alleges that team officials “engaged in mental abuse to ‘motivate’ ” Belcher to play through injuries. The suit alleges that Belcher was told “he was just an accident and they would get rid of him” — treatment the suit labels “constant bullying pressure and stress” that, coupled with Belcher’s concussion issues, “caused or contributed to cause (him) to become insane.”

Killing his girlfriend and himself, the suit says, was “uncharacteristic of the loving father, son, teammate and advocate for victims of domestic violence that (the Chiefs) hired in 2009.”

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send e-mail to smellinger@kcstar.com .

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