A Kansas City police officer was wrong to shoot and kill a 55-year-old woman with a mental illness in 2007, a Jackson County jury found on Friday.
After a weeklong trial, the jury voted 9-3 to award the son of Linda Joyce Friday a judgment of $680,734.18.
The case involved a woman who called 911 to request an ambulance and then played gospel music on her stereo before displaying a gun to police.
It is the largest damage award against Kansas City police since a jury awarded $700,000 to the mother of Timothy Wilson, a 13-year-old black boy who was shot five times by three white officers in 1998.
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The Friday case centered on whether police responded appropriately to a person known to be mentally unstable by not requesting assistance from specially trained crisis intervention officers. The lawsuit contended the officers knew about Friday’s mental state from a previous incident.
“I believe the evidence in the case showed that these officers did a number of things — basically what-not-to-do stuff — when dealing with mentally ill people,” said attorney Andrew Schendel, who represented Jason Friday. “If anything comes out of it, I would hope it would be more training on how to deal with the mentally ill.”
Chief Darryl Forté responded to The Star by text message, “Out of respect for all involved in the incident I’ll refrain from commenting about the verdict until I’ve had the opportunity to discuss details of the outcome with KCPD legal counsel.”
In an email to The Star late Sunday, a spokesman said the police department will appeal the jury verdict.
A Jackson County grand jury earlier had cleared police of criminal action in Friday’s death.
The civil case was filed against officers Keli Theison and Mike McClure, as well as members of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners. The jury found McClure at fault but not Theison, who has since left the Police Department. Theison had been on the force 14 years when the shooting occurred. McClure had been on the force 12 years.
Theison was awarded a departmental Purple Heart in 2009 after she was seriously injured when she was struck by a vehicle while helping motorists in icy conditions.
McClure and Theison are white. Linda Friday was black. She was shot three times on the morning of Feb. 12, 2007, in her bedroom in her home at 8105 E. 100th Terrace.
The day before, she had been arrested after an altercation at a thrift store on Blue Ridge Boulevard. An employee told police he saw Friday writing on an exterior wall of the store with a can of spray paint. Theison found red spray paint in Friday’s car and took her into custody. Friday was released early the next morning on $300 bond.
Shortly before 10 a.m. that day Friday called 911 from her home and asked for an ambulance before abruptly hanging up on the dispatcher. Theison and McClure were sent to the address to check on her welfare, according to department policy. According to the lawsuit, the two officers had discussed the previous incident and knew that Friday was “an emotionally disturbed individual.”
When McClure and Theison arrived at the home they found a note on the door that said: “Stay the hell away from me. I need some peace and quiet.”
The officers encountered Friday’s 25-year-old son, who told them his mother had called 911 but did not need an ambulance. He said she was in her bedroom.
Friday was lying on her bed listening to gospel music. She asked the officers to leave. As McClure entered the room to question Friday, her son told Theison in the hall that she had not been taking her medication. Theison then entered the bedroom.
“Officer McClure then turned off Friday’s stereo,” the lawsuit said. “Linda Friday then became agitated and pulled out a firearm. Officer Theison then drew her firearm and (shot) Linda Friday once. Officer McClure then drew his firearm and shot Linda Friday twice.”
The lawsuit contended the officers were required to call in specially trained officers when they knew they were dealing with someone who was mentally unstable. The lawsuit also argued the officers fired at Friday’s “head and neck rather than firing non-fatal shots.”
Schendel said Sunday the jury awarded approximately half of what he had requested on behalf of his client. He said he assumed that is because they found only one of the officers to be at fault.
Schendel said that his client was thrilled with the jury’s verdict and that it provided some closure for the family.
At the time of Friday’s death, a neighbor told The Star he was shocked.
“She was a good woman,” said Mike Johnson. “A sweet woman. Always concerned about everyone.”
Police paid $700,000 from a self-insurance fund to Timothy Wilson’s mother in 2003, but the settlement did not include an admission of guilt.
In 2000, police settled for $400,000 a case involving a white, 37-year-old pregnant woman who was shot and killed by a white officer in 1999. The officer said Carol A. Kerns accelerated toward him with her vehicle after he stopped her for running a red light. A county grand jury cleared the officer, but the city settled in federal court, also without admitting liability.
The mother of Ryan Stokes, a 24-year-old black man who was shot by a biracial Kansas City police officer in 2013, last week filed a lawsuit in federal court.
Kansas City police have killed 47 people since 2005, according to a review by The Star.