Crime

KCK police sued by family of man who died while being detained

The Kansas City, Kan., Police Department is being sued over the death of a black man who allegedly resisted arrest in 2014.
The Kansas City, Kan., Police Department is being sued over the death of a black man who allegedly resisted arrest in 2014. The Kansas City Star

The Kansas City, Kan., Police Department is being sued over the death of a black man who allegedly resisted arrest in 2014.

Craig J. McKinnis, 44, of Kansas City, Kan., died May 22, 2014, after struggling with police when officers pulled over a car in which he was riding for a traffic violation about 6 p.m. in the 500 block of Stewart Avenue. Police said after officers determined McKinnis was wanted on a criminal charge he tried to flee and resisted arrest. After what police described as a brief struggle, officers noticed that McKinnis needed medical help. Police said officers began first aid and called for an ambulance.

Phyllis Salazar of Kansas City, Kan., who says she was McKinnis’ common-law wife, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., the police department and several individual officers. The suit, filed in 2015, alleges violations of McKinnis’ civil rights.

Salazar’s suit says police tackled McKinnis after instructing him to get out of the car. The suit says McKinnis repeatedly told officers he could not breathe while they were holding the 244-pound man face-down on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back. The suit says one of the officers replied, “If you can talk you can breath (sic).” The suit says Salazar learned of her husband’s death after being taken to police headquarters for questioning.

The lawsuit alleges the Kansas City, Kan., Police Department has “a culture of violence in which the use of excessive force is an accepted and customary part of the police work...”

The police department’s answer to the lawsuit denied the specific allegations concerning McKinnis’ death. The answer said the officers “reasonably believed that the force used on McKinnis to be necessary to effect his arrest and to defend themselves from bodily harm while making the arrest and, therefore, the use of such force was justified.”

McKinnis’ family is also suing the police department. His children dispute that Salazar was McKinnis’ common-law wife. The lawsuits were reported over the weekend by The Lawrence Journal-World.

Matt Campbell: 816-234-4902, @MattCampbellKC

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