Crime

Deputy faces charges for shooting someone in the back. It’s not her first shooting.

Update: After the charges were announced, the family of a man shot and killed by the deputy in 2017 said they want a new look at their case. That story is posted here.

A Jackson County sheriff’s deputy was charged with assault Wednesday for shooting a woman in the back this summer after trying to stop two people who were riding a scooter the wrong way in Midtown Kansas City.

Deputy Lauren Michael, 29, of Lee’s Summit, faces charges of first-degree assault and armed criminal action for the shooting about 11:15 p.m., Aug. 8 at 40th and Oak streets.

At the time, Michael said the woman had taken her stun gun away from her and shocked her with it. But investigators later cast doubt on that story, according to charging documents.

“Laws that protect law enforcement’s actions are a high hurdle for prosecutors to overcome. We believe, however, this case will meet that high bar,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said in a statement.

“Each case stands on its own fact pattern. In this case, we do not find the actions of this officer to be reasonable or lawful.”

The shooting came two years after Michael shot and killed a shoplifting suspect while working security at a Raytown Walmart. Michael is a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit in that shooting, for which she was also awarded a medal of valor.

Michael referenced that shooting in the moments immediately following the August incident, telling her supervisor: “I am not as comfortable with this one as the last one,” according to court documents.

Lauren Michael.jpg
Jackson County Deputy Lauren Michael was presented a medal of valor in 2018 by then-Sheriff Mike Sharp for her role during an altercation with shoplifting suspect.

In the recent shooting that resulted in charges, Michael was one of several deputies conducting traffic enforcement patrols in the Westport area when they noticed two people allegedly riding a scooter on the wrong side of the street.

A deputy followed them in a patrol car and moments later collided with the scooter. The male driver of the scooter was immediately arrested, but the female passenger, Brittany Simeck, ran away.

Michael caught up with Simeck and a struggle ensued.

Michael pulled out her service handgun and shot Simeck in the back and buttocks. Michael later said Simeck had managed to grab the deputy’s stun gun and use it on her.

Michael has been placed on unpaid leave pending the outcome of the criminal case, which is a standard practice when criminal charges are filed, Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forté said.

“Deputy Michael is presumed innocent until a court determines otherwise,” Forté said in a message on Twitter.

In the charging documents, prosecutors allege that Michael was not truthful when she told investigators that Simeck tried to grab her stun gun.

Both cartridges from the stun gun were found to have been used within a three-second time span, which did not leave enough time for a physical altercation, according to the probable cause statement filed in support of the criminal charges.

Simeck told investigators that Michael shot her in the back as she tried to run away, according to court records.

Investigators said there was no proof that Simeck was armed at the time of the incident. Kansas City Police Department crime scene investigators found five .40-caliber cartridges missing from the magazine of Michael’s service handgun. They found bullets had damaged Michael’s patrol car and another vehicle in the area near where Simeck ran after the altercation, court records stated.

Simeck, who is retired from the U. S. Coast Guard, was not charged in the incident.

Simec_fitted.jpeg
Jackson County prosecutors said Brittany Simeck was wounded by a Jackson County Sheriff’s Office deputy during an altercation Aug. 8 at 43rd and Oak streets. Simeck had previously served in the United States Coast Guard. Submitted

“We respect the hard job law enforcement does, however law enforcement is not above the law and when excessive force is used it is imperative that they are held accountable,” said Mike Yonke, a civil attorney who is representing Simeck.

“We appreciate that the prosecutor recognizes this and is pursuing criminal charges against Ms. Michael.”

Yonke said Michael fired four shots at Simeck. One of the bullets hit Simeck’s cellphone.

Another bullet broke her sacrum, a bony structure connected to the pelvis, and had to be surgically removed. Simeck also had four stun gun prongs lodged in her when she was arrested, he said.

Simeck has experienced post trauma stress disorder, anxiety and depression since the incident, Yonke said.

For Michael, bond was set at $30,000, according to court records.

John Picerno, a criminal defense attorney in Kansas City, said the bond amount was more lenient than that received by defendants who aren’t law enforcement.

“That is an unreasonably low bond amount for first-degree assault,” Picerno said. “It seems like this is standard practice in Jackson County for law enforcement.”

Previous shooting

Deputy Michael previously shot and killed a man under similar circumstances in 2017, when she said a shoplifting suspect at a Raytown Walmart took her stun gun from her and shocked her with it.

Mike Mansur, spokesman for Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, prosecutors have reviewed the case, decided not to file charges, and do not plan to look at it again.

The man’s father Donald Sneed Jr., however, said he hopes the new charges prompts a new look.

“Now we’ve got another lady shot and that cop doesn’t even belong on the force,” Sneed Jr. said. “She’s trigger happy and she’s gonna kill more.”

Michael was working off-duty security at the Walmart when Donald Sneed III was stopped by employees who suspected him of shoplifting.

Sneed photo
The Jackson County sheriff’s office identified Donald Sneed III as the man fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy Sunday. This family photo shows Sneed with his daughter. Photo courtesy of the Sneed family

Sneed allegedly became violent and Michael tried to help the employees. Michael later said Sneed grabbed her stun gun and shocked her in the neck with it before she shot and killed him.

In a statement on the shooting, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office said Michael shot Sneed to protect herself and the people in the store.

The family disputes that claim. Sneed Jr. said that, when his son was shot multiple times he wasn’t attacking Michael, but rather was being held down.

Following that incident, Michael was awarded a medal of valor by then-Sheriff Mike Sharp.

“That she was given a medal of valor was almost insulting to the family,” said the family’s attorney, Jermaine Wooten.

Forté, the current sheriff, declined to comment on the Sneed case in light of the charges Wednesday.

The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Jackson County Circuit Court that names Michael as a defendant. The lawsuit claims Michael’s actions were “unjustified, willful and reckless.”

It is scheduled to go to trial in June.

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Glenn E. Rice covers crime, courts and breaking news for The Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 1988. Rice is a Kansas City native and a graduate of the University of Central Missouri.
Katie Bernard covers Kansas crime, cops and courts for the Kansas City Star. She joined the Star in May of 2019. Katie studied journalism and political science at the University of Kansas.
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