Even if a grand jury finds Kansas City police had justification for a fatal shooting, family members who believe officers acted wrongly can, and often do, seek redress in civil court.
The standard of proof is lower in a civil case than a criminal case.
Still, Kansas City police have not lost a wrongful death lawsuit in the 11-year period studied by The Star, although two cases are pending. Courts dismissed three cases, a Jackson County jury rejected one case, the plaintiff dismissed one case, a federal judge dismissed one case and the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a ruling in favor of the police in another case. At least one of the dismissals may have involved a monetary settlement, but the record is sealed.
In years prior to 2005, police paid for some fatal actions by officers.
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A Jackson County grand jury had cleared three white officers who in 1998 shot a 13-year-old black youth five times. They killed Timothy Wilson after a vehicle chase. The officers said they thought he was reaching for a gun and was about to ram them with his truck. An FBI inquiry found no civil rights violation. But a lawsuit contended police planted the gun after the shooting. The jury awarded Timothy’s mother $700,000 in damages. Police agreed in 2003 to pay it out of a self-insurance fund, but the settlement did not include an admission of guilt.
In 2000, police settled for $400,000 a civil case involving a 37-year-old white pregnant woman who was shot and killed in 1999. The white officer said Carol A. Kerns accelerated toward him with her vehicle after he stopped her for running a red light. A Jackson County grand jury cleared the officer, but the city settled in federal court, also while not admitting liability.
[Explore the data: See The Star’s analysis of 47 fatal police-involved shootings, with details of each case.]
[By the numbers: Take a closer look at how the shooting data was assembled and what it means.]
[Mental health: Read about Kansas Citians whose mental health crises ended in tragedy.]