Kansas City police officer Dylan Pifer shot and killed an unarmed black man and then claimed he’d been attacked — even though evidence suggests there was no physical altercation.
Now, Pifer is back on patrol. And he very well may face no legal consequences for his indefensible actions.
Pifer, who is white, shot Terrance Bridges, a 30-year-old unarmed African American man, in May after a brief foot pursuit near 70th Street and Bellefontaine Avenue. Bridges died of a single gunshot wound to the chest.
A short exchange between the men after the shooting was caught on audio.
“Show me your hands,” Pifer says, according to a court transcript. The incident was not captured on the officer’s dashboard camera.
“I ain’t got nothin’,” Bridges says.
“Get on the ground,” the officer replies.
Bridges says: “You shot me.”
“Why’d you attack me, dude?” Pifer says.
“I didn’t attack you,” Bridges said. Seconds later, he died.
In Missouri, officers are legally allowed to use lethal force to make a lawful arrest if there is a reasonable belief that the person being arrested is attempting to escape by the use of a deadly weapon or if that person poses a threat to an officer or others.
But Bridges didn’t have a gun, and according to court documents, there was no visible evidence that Pifer had been attacked.
Bridges was unarmed
Police responded to a call of an armed carjacking shortly after midnight on May 26. But as it turns out, there was no robbery — and no firearm.
Bridges and his girlfriend, Roshanda Wallace, had gotten into an alcohol-fueled fight. Bridges punched his girlfriend, kicked in a neighbor’s door and assaulted the male resident, according to court documents.
After Bridges left the scene in Wallace’s car, neighbors called police. Pifer was one of three police officers who responded to the call. While two officers left to locate Wallace’s vehicle, Pifer stayed behind.
Bridges returned to the scene on foot, and a brief chase ensued. Within 30 seconds, the Chicago native was mortally wounded.
Pifer pursued Bridges in the dead of night, never identified himself as a police officer, and didn’t give verbal commands until after firing his service weapon, according to court documents.
Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith and the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners haven’t explained why Pifer is still on KCPD’s payroll.
After nine days of paid administrative leave, Pifer is back patrolling the streets of Kansas City. An internal review is ongoing, said Nathan Garrett, president of the police board.
“We won’t protect any officer from the consequences of wrongdoing, and certainly won’t sit still in a demonstrably unjustified shooting,” he said. “The grand jury made an independent determination, and now, internal affairs will do the same.”
Smith declined to comment.
Why no criminal charges?
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker recently announced that a grand jury had declined to bring charges against Pifer. The proceedings are secret, so why the grand jury decided against an indictment is unknown.
As prosecutor, Baker had the option to file a criminal complaint against Pifer. A jury could have determined Pifer’s guilt or innocence in open court.
“When facts and evidence are not as strong as the prosecutor would like, a safe decision is to submit it to the grand jury and see what they say,” said Ken Novak, a professor of criminal justice and criminology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Baker said more concrete video evidence existed in the case of the non-fatal shooting of the Marine. She said she followed the letter of the law.
But too often, the law doesn’t afford even basic protections to African American men like Bridges. Pifer should have arrested Bridges — not shot him.
Officers should not be allowed to simply claim they feared for their lives or thought the person had a gun — Pifer made both of those assertions — to justify murdering men of color with no legal consequences.
Did the police officer lie about a dead man?
In an interview with Kansas City Police homicide detectives, investigators asked Pifer why he claimed that Bridges had attacked him. There was no physical interaction between the men, according to court documents.
“It was just instinct,” Pifer said.
Attempting to justify shooting an unarmed man as he takes his last breath is reprehensible. Worse, Pifer failed to administer first aid after Bridges was wounded, showing a total disregard for the man’s life.
An investigation revealed that Bridges did not possess and was never in possession of a gun, and no carjacking occurred. So, what was Pifer fearful of? And why did he say Bridges attacked him?
All evidence suggests that Pifer lied about a dead man to save himself. If he shot and killed an unarmed black man and then falsely claimed he was attacked, he is unfit to serve the community as a police officer.
Baker let him off the hook by bringing the case to a grand jury unlikely to indict. But internal affairs still has the opportunity to uncover the truth and ensure that there are serious consequences for Pifer’s actions.
What does it say about the criminal justice system when a police officer can legally execute an unarmed black man?
As Bridges’ mother, Rotanya McGee, says, “The criminal justice system sucks.”