Editorials

KC police slammed handcuffed suspect’s face into the ground. Was it excessive force?

Police forcibly arrest a person on a Kansas City sidewalk

Roderick Reed, 52, shot video of the May 24 arrest of a person identified by police as Bryan E. Hill, 30, of Kansas City. Hill was arrested on suspicion of trespassing, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
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Roderick Reed, 52, shot video of the May 24 arrest of a person identified by police as Bryan E. Hill, 30, of Kansas City. Hill was arrested on suspicion of trespassing, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

The video footage is painful to watch. With a suspect pinned on the ground, two Kansas City police officers violently slam the person’s face into the pavement.

For multiple minutes, the officers inflict obvious pain, prompting anguished cries for help from the suspect. While police contend this was a case of resisting arrest, the aggressive tactics continue long after the suspect, who was accused only of misdemeanor offenses, appears subdued.

A passerby, Roderick Reed, recorded the May 24 incident, capturing the arrest of a person identified in the police report as 30-year-old Bryan E. Hill, an African American from Kansas City. In the nearly four-minute video, each officer can first be seen with a knee planted squarely on Hill’s lower back and neck as they try to place Hill’s arms into handcuffs.

The technique is known as a prone restraint, which involves forcing a suspect face-down onto the floor or ground, cuffing their hands behind their back and then putting pressure on the torso, shoulders or neck. Once on the ground, Hill does not appear to be resisting the officers.

Then, the officer with a knee on the Hill’s neck moves as the other keeps Hill restrained by the arm. With each officer in control of an arm, Hill’s head is slammed into the pavement face-first. Another knee to Hill’s face follows.

The officers, who are white, finally get Hill handcuffed, twisting Hill’s arms from the back while the suspect is face-down on the hot concrete. Hill, who is writhing on the ground, bellows out in pain.

“Oh, my God,” Hill can be heard saying on video. “Help me. My neck hurts. Please, help me.”

Another minute rolls by before the officer’s knee is removed from Hill’s neck.

By then, Hill is bleeding. But officers failed to render aid, and no ambulance was called to the scene.

Melissa Moon Brown, executive director of the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project, said she was disgusted by the scene that plays out in the video.

While an investigation has not yet been completed, the video raises serious questions about the officers’ conduct and about excessive use of force — actions that should have consequences.

Hill, who could not be reached for comment, was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct, trespassing and resisting arrest — all misdemeanor charges. A Municipal Court date has been set for July 19.

Charles Stephenson, a former FBI agent and use-of-force expert, said officers can kneel on the back or neck of a non-compliant person to make an arrest. But the police actions in the video appear excessive.

“Once they handcuffed (Hill) and kept (Hill’s) arm in a rigid position, that seemed unnecessary to me,” said Stephenson, who was provided a copy of the video by The Star. “That is a pain compliance method. The suspect had ceased resisting, and there was no struggle at all.”

Although Reed, who shared the video with The Star, did not witness or record the initial interaction between police and Hill, the police report suggests Hill refused to leave a store near Brush Creek Boulevard and Virginia Avenue and struggled with officers when accosted.

A police dashboard camera captured audio of the incident but did not capture the physical altercation with Hill, Kansas City police say. Neither officer was wearing a body camera.

But one officer suggested otherwise, telling Reed that they were recording the incident after Reed informed them he was taking video of the arrest, a constitutionally protected right. Reed was cited for failure to obey a lawful order and blocking traffic — questionable citations that appear retaliatory and without merit.

Police say an internal review will determine if proper procedure was followed in Hill’s arrest. Meanwhile, the officers involved are still patrolling the streets.

Admittedly, the video may not tell the entire story. There are questions still to be answered by the investigation.

But the video footage does show the officers’ basic disregard for the well-being of a human being. And that should deeply trouble us all.

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