Prosecutors drop assault case for Kansas City cop who pepper-sprayed teen at George Floyd protest

Tribune Content Agency

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker’s office has dropped a criminal assault charge against a Kansas City police officer who was seen in a viral video pepper-spraying a teenager in the face at close range during the George Floyd demonstrations in Kansas City in 2020.

Officer Nicholas McQuillen, charged with misdemeanor assault two years ago, will have the misdemeanor assault charge dismissed.

Mike Mansur, a spokesman for Baker, said the decision was made to dismiss after the office consulted with McQuillen’s attorney and the attorney for the teen and her father.

“We think this is the best outcome,” Mansur said.

Molly Hastings, the attorney for McQuillen, declined to comment.

On May 30, 2020, a 15-year-old girl, identified as N.M. in court documents, was with her father Tarence Maddox in the Country Club Plaza as they joined in the protest of Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police.

At one point, Maddox, who is currently serving as the leader of the NAACP in Kansas City, Kansas, is heard yelling about police brutality. Six officers approach and grab him from a line of protesters on 47th Street, pulling him into the roadway as his daughter is doused with the chemical agent.

Maddox was taken into police custody but was not charged with a crime.

Caught on video and shared over social media, the incident received widespread criticism nationally. Then-KCPD Police Chief Rick Smith defended the actions of his officers, saying the use of force was reasonable and necessary.

Months afterward, McQuillen — one of the officers in that group — was indicted by a Jackson County grand jury on a charge of fourth-degree misdemeanor assault.

The assault charge is classified as a Class A Misdemeanor under Missouri law. Jail time is rare for first-time offenders, though the alleged crime carries a penalty of up to one year behind bars. Those convicted also face a maximum fine of $2,000.

At the time, Baker said she was forced to go through the secretive grand jury process because KCPD chose to investigate itself and refused to issue a probable cause statement — a foundational document in criminal cases — recommending charges for McQuillen.

Baker referenced the case in the context of police officers being held to the same standard of law as all citizens whenever Kansas City police investigate criminal activity and allegations.

McQuillen is currently assigned to the patrol bureau.

“My client is disappointed in the prosecutor’s decision but relieved that this matter is over,” said Tom Porto, an attorney for the teen and her father. “Throughout this process, she exhibited genuine empathy — rather than anger — towards the officer. I could not be more proud to have represented her.”

The protest incident led to a civil case against McQuillen and KCPD, which described the conduct of police as a “kidnapping” of Maddox and an excessive use of force against his daughter who “in no way” hindered the ability of officers to make an arrest. In 2022, the police department agreed to settle the case brought on behalf of the teenager for $110,000.

The civil case was not the only one brought against Kansas City police for officer conduct amid the Plaza protests. Another man sued KCPD and was awarded a $200,000 legal settlement after he was injured by a tear gas canister fired by police.

“It is disappointing that the criminal charges were dismissed but as a community, we really need to re-evaluate why we have different standards for what happens to Black teenagers versus what happens to white teenagers,” said Lora McDonald, executive director for the Metropolitan Organization for Racial and Economic Equality or MORE2.

“It feels like there is a double standard in this community. If we look at a 15-year-old girl being pepper sprayed and ask if that was warranted, then the answer has to be no,” McDonald said.

Following public outcry, KCPD also announced a reform package dubbed the “First Amendment Protected Activities Policy.” Among the changes were stricter limits on the use of less-lethal weapons like tear gas to disperse protestors considered to be unruly by officers.

McQuillen was one of five KCPD officers who were charged criminally with either involuntary manslaughter or assault against Black Kansas City residents.

Detective Eric DeValkenaere was convicted in November 2021 in the fatal shooting of Cameron Lamb, a Black man who was his pickup truck backing into the garage in the rear of his house.

DeValkenaere, who was allowed to resign after the trial, testified during a bench trial that he saw Lamb point a handgun at his partner and opened fire. But prosecutors said DeValkenaere’s actions were “reckless and violated the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs found DeValkenaere guilty of second-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action and sentenced him to nine years in prison. DeValkenaere is currently appealing the judge’s ruling.

KCPD officers Matthew Brummett and Charles Prichard each pleaded guilty to third-degree assault after they were captured on video slamming a woman’s head onto the sidewalk outside of a beauty supply store at 1319 Brush Creek Parkway in Kansas City on May 24, 2019. Both officers later resigned from the police department and were placed on three years probation.

A fourth officer, Sgt. Matthew T. Neal pleaded guilty in Jackson County Circuit Court to a third-degree assault charge for smashing the face of a 15-year-old boy in the parking lot of a fast food chicken restaurant in October.

The encounter happened on Nov. 14, 2019 at the Go Chicken Go incident at 51st Street and Troost Avenue. The teen was a passenger in a car that fled as police tried to pull it over. The car pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot. The driver and the teen got out of the car and got on their hands and knees with their hands raised.

The teen did not resist, but Neal pressed his knee onto the teen’s head and neck, pinning his face into the pavement. The teen pleaded, “I can’t breathe,” prosecutors said.

By pleading guilty, Neal avoided time in prison and was placed on four years probation and had to surrender his law enforcement license.