A Kansas City firefighter has been found not guilty on all charges after being accused of spitting on a black child, threatening his grandfather and using a racial slur at a Hooters restaurant in Overland Park.
At trial Wednesday in Overland Park Municipal Court, two independent witnesses testified that they saw and heard different portions of the incident.
But after more than five hours of testimony, a judge found Terrence "Jeremy" Skeen, 42, not guilty of battery, assault and disorderly conduct.
Judge Cynthia Cornwell said that the witness statements were incomplete and contradictory and that the charges had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Surveillance video from the restaurant was shown in court, but it did not capture the key portions of the incident.
The incident occurred on Feb. 26 at a Hooters in the 10600 block of Metcalf Avenue, where a family was celebrating a birthday when a young boy wandered away from the group.
Testifying at trial on Wednesday, the boy's grandfather, Raymond Harris, said he was walking over to collect the 3-year-old when a restaurant patron told him that Skeen, who was sitting at a nearby table, had spat on the child.
The patron who Harris said spoke to him did not appear in the video and was never located by police, said Skeen's defense attorney, Tom Bath.
"None of that happened," he said. "It didn't happen."
Harris also described an argument in which Skeen called the child the N-word and threatened to shoot Harris. Harris said he felt spit in the boy's hair as he took the child away.
Harris said the exchange traumatized him and that it was the worst night of his life. "I was in fear for my life and my grandson," he said.
Two separate witnesses, who each said they did not know the child's family, backed up portions of Harris' account.
Restaurant patron James Berger testified that he heard Skeen use the racial slur and make a motion that looked like spitting.
Another man at the restaurant, Jared Cross, testified that he heard Skeen say, "I've got guns" and make a second comment about a gun, which he interpreted as a threat against Harris.
But the two men did not testify that they heard or saw all of the same things, and Bath, the defense attorney, seized on several inconsistencies among the witness accounts and the video.
Surveillance video taken from the restaurant and shown in court did not capture the key incident but only the movements of Harris and the child immediately before and after the encounter with Skeen.
Skeen took the stand in his own defense, saying that he did have a hostile exchange with Harris and did tell him that he carried a gun — which, he testified, he did not actually have on his person at the time of the argument.
But, he said, he never used a racial slur and did not spit on the child. To say he did that, Skeen told the court, was "a bold-faced lie."
"There was more than one liar in the restaurant," he said.
In his testimony, Skeen commented that the child behaved like one who had not been "taught manners."
Skeen said he was the one who called police to the Hooters because he felt unsafe once the argument escalated and Harris' family became angry.
Skeen has kept his job while the case works through the courts. A spokesman for the city of Kansas City said that Skeen, who goes by Jeremy, has worked for the fire department since 2002. He took a year off for personal reasons in 2010.
After the incident, the city of Kansas City issued a written statement saying that officials could not comment on individual personnel or discipline issues.
But the statement added that the city "values diversity and expects all employees to treat others with respect."
Hooters of America, the restaurant's corporate office, also released a statement at the time: “Hooters does not tolerate any harassment or discriminatory language, the safety and well-being of our guests and employees are our utmost priorities. Of course it goes without saying that our policy is to fully cooperate with any law enforcement investigation.”