Editorials

Judge finds KC firefighter not guilty, though witnesses confirm N-word at Hooters

One patron at an Overland Park Hooters said he heard Kansas City firefighter Jeremy Skeen yell the N-word at the 3-year-old and his grandfather. Another said he heard Skeen twice threaten the grandfather with guns.
One patron at an Overland Park Hooters said he heard Kansas City firefighter Jeremy Skeen yell the N-word at the 3-year-old and his grandfather. Another said he heard Skeen twice threaten the grandfather with guns. AP

A defense attorney for Jeremy Skeen, the Kansas City firefighter charged with spitting on and calling a 3-year-old the N-word in an Overland Park Hooters, argued in court on Wednesday that it couldn’t have gone down that way because “he has no tolerance for racism, and one of the reasons is that Mr. Skeen is openly gay.”

We didn’t know that gayness, open or otherwise, precluded use of the N-word, but duly noted, counselor.

Far more convincing were the two Hooters patrons — total strangers to the child’s family — who testified. One said he heard Skeen yell that word at the child and his grandfather. Another said he heard Skeen twice threaten the grandfather with guns.

Judge Cynthia Cornwell still found Skeen not guilty, saying that the witness statements were incomplete and contradictory, and that the charges had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

And we have to admit, Skeen’s attorney, Tom Bath, did put on quite a show. He accused Overland Park cops of caving to media pressure, because Skeen was charged with assault, battery and disorderly conduct before they’d reviewed the security video from Hooters, which doesn’t show the defendant at all.

He questioned how much anyone could have heard in a noisy bar. He suggested that Skeen had been the one who was intimidated. He tried to badger the child’s grandfather, Raymond Harris, into saying he’d had more than one beer that night. (“Is that you with a drink in your hand?”)

He also played snippets of video that showed Harris was mistaken when he told police that he’d carried the child back to their table after he had words with Skeen. (Nope, there he is, not in Harris’s arms but scrambling on his own.)

He may even have caught Harris improving on his story in testifying that he’d wiped spit off the child’s hair. That wasn’t in either of his statements to police.

“I was an emotional madman!” that night, Harris cried when pressed on what were not major inconsistencies.

Carried or crawling, damp hair or not, one beer or more, strangers still testified that they saw and heard Skeen do what Harris said he had.

Harris testified that the child — “we call him Mr. Handsome” — had crawled away from the table where their family was celebrating his son’s 18-year-old’s birthday. When Harris caught up with the young Mr., a woman seated nearby said the firefighter had spit on the child.

When he asked Skeen about it, Harris testified, “He said pick up that f--ing (N-word) girl and take her back to the other side. … I’ll shoot you, you f--ing (N-word).”

A regular named James Berger said he heard Skeen say, “Get that (N-word) kid up off the ground.” And the way Skeen moved, he said, “looked like the physical motion of someone spitting.”

Berger walked away, he said, made uncomfortable by the slur and by the treatment of the child, and he later apologized to a member of the family, telling them that Skeen’s comments did not reflect “the general consensus of people in the area.”

Another customer, Jared Cross, said that when Harris first approached Skeen, he seemed to be trying to apologize for his grandchild. But what he heard Skeen say was that the child had been “rude, disrespectful.” And Cross said Skeen also told Harris, “‘I’ve got guns. I’ll take care of it.’ The African-American gentleman walked off. I started eating faster.”

When Overland Park police officer Shawn Fernandez testified that Berger also told him he’d heard Skeen say to the child that he was “going to beat your little black a--,” a female relative of the boy’s screamed, “Oh, God!” and ran out of the courtroom.

The Overland Park prosecutor was out-lawyered, but the not guilty verdict didn’t convince us beyond a reasonable doubt that Skeen should remain on the city payroll. Or, unfortunately, that he’d run into a burning building to save a black 3-year-old.

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