Prosecutor’s letter details fatal KC police shooting, why case went to grand jury

The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office has released a letter detailing the investigation into a Kansas City police officer who shot and killed a man earlier this year. It explained why the case was ultimately presented to a grand jury.

The prosecutor’s office announced on Thursday that it had released its letter earlier this week.

While the letter states the officer believed Terrance M. Bridges Jr. to be armed at the time of the incident based on witness statements, an investigation found that the 30-year-old Kansas City resident didn’t have a gun on him when he was shot and killed.

The prosecutor’s office decided to present the case to a grand jury, which ruled last month that no charges would be filed.

The shooting

The incident happened in the early hours of May 26 in the 7000 block of Bellefontaine Avenue in Kansas City.

A police officer, identified in police records as Dylan Pifer, fatally shot 30-year-old Bridges while responding to a report of a domestic disturbance and carjacking. At the time, the police department stated Bridges was a suspect, and officers were told an armed confrontation had occurred between the suspect and a witness. Police said Bridges allegedly ran away, resisted arrest and an officer shot him during a struggle.

The officer later stated in an interview that Bridges was located around the corner of a home on Bellefontaine, “waiting for me with his hands in his front hoodie pocket.” The officer states Bridges walked toward him and pulled his hands out of his pocket. Believing Bridges had a gun, the officer said he fired one shot.

In the moments immediately following the shooting, the officer’s microphone picked up the exchange.

In the recorded conversation, the officer orders Bridges to “show me your hands.” Bridge says he doesn’t have anything. The officer says, “Get on the ground.”

“You shot me,” Bridges says.

“Why’d you attack me, dude?” the officer asks.

“I didn’t attack you,” Bridges replies.

Bridges was taken to a hospital, but later died from his injury. He had a gunshot wound to the chest.

An investigation later found that Bridges was not armed when he was killed and no gun was located in the area, according to the letter from Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.

Grand jury decision

According to the prosecutor’s office, a committee that examined the case determined there was “insufficient established facts” to support the filing of criminal charges.

No video captured the shooting and no other witnesses saw what happened.

When asked to explain what he meant by “attack” in his exchange with Bridges, the officer stated he asked the question out of “instinct” after the shooting.

Under Missouri law, a police officer can use force that may cause serious injuries or death when the officer “reasonably believes that the person being arrested is attempting to escape by using a deadly weapon or when the person being arrested may endanger life or inflict serious physical injury unless arrested without further delay,” Baker wrote.

“This Office’s ethical obligation is to file charges only where there is evidence to support a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt,” Baker states in her letter. “We now know that the Civilian was not armed at the time of the shooting, but the officer’s mistaken belief that he was armed was reasonable given the information provided to him by witnesses.”

The committee opted to forward the case to a grand jury.

According to previous reporting in The Star, for decades, Jackson County prosecutors took every fatal officer-involved shooting to a grand jury, letting civilians judge the facts and determine if charges were warranted. But the use of grand juries, as Baker was quoted in a 2015 article, can’t “offer people transparency.” That’s because state law requires the proceedings to remain secret.

Baker had changed the office policy in 2011 and the decision to involve a grand jury is currently decided on a case-by-case basis. She told The Star in 2015 she changed the policy to allow public explanation in cases that do not merit charges.

Baker wrote in her letter this week that prosecutors had presented grand jurors with proposed charges of voluntary manslaughter and armed criminal action and that prosecutors were ready to present different or lesser charges if requested.

In October, the prosecutor’s office announced the grand jury determined that no charges would be filed against the officer who shot Bridges.

“The Grand Jurors do not bind this office, but, because, under the facts of this case, the decision to charge depends on a credibility determination that is best made by jurors, we will honor their decision,” Baker wrote.

Baker said the decision to turn the case over to a grand jury was not an easy choice.

“The Committee understood that confidentiality was a specific limitation to using the Grand Jury, but we also believed it was appropriate for a Grand Jury to weigh the credibility of the officer’s statement, as ultimately a petit jury would, if charged,” Baker wrote. “The Committee believed that the Grand Jury should also determine whether enough credible facts support the filing of a charge against the Officer.”

In a September news conference with the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, Bridges’ family had contended with the police department’s version of the events. They said Bridges did not pose a threat to the officer and was not armed when he was shot.

Bridges’ parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the police officer in August. The lawsuit is still pending in Jackson County Circuit Court.

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Kaitlyn Schwers covers breaking news and crime at night for The Kansas City Star. Originally from Willard, Mo., she spent nearly three years reporting in Arkansas and Illinois before returning to Missouri and joining The Star in 2017.