Are the Police Responsible for Kasandra Perkins’ Death?
Earlier this week, the Kansas City Star released a report that could potentially lead to future liability for some of the actors involved in the Belcher-Perkins murder-suicide. It is still early in the investigation and the details will likely change within the coming weeks.
According to reports, Belcher was out Saturday night partying at Power and Light and apparently drinking. Shortly after getting in an argument with Perkins, around 1am, Belcher drove to an apartment complex on Armour Boulevard. There, he fell asleep in his car, reportedly “waiting for his girlfriend.”
Around 2:50am the police received a call about a suspicious vehicle with its lights on. Officers responded to the call and found Belcher sleeping in his vehicle. Police spokesman Darin Snapp told the Star that Belcher “may have consumed alcohol but did not appear inebriated.” However, an alleged witness named Brianna Donovan said that Belcher was “drunk, obviously drunk.”
KCTV 5 reports that the in-camera video of the stop has been released, and it shows that the car was still running – which is enough to provide the officer with probable cause that Jovan was driving the vehicle. According to the transcript, it also appears that officers were aware that Jovan had been drinking and that he was in no condition to drive:
Officer: “Upstairs in this building? OK, so you’re not going to be driving anywhere?”
Officer: “Look dude. You live right here. You just need to go upstairs dude.”
Officer: “You live right here? You just need to go upstairs. OK? That’s going to be your best bet.”
Officer: “We’re trying to cut you a break here. Let’s just (static) Roll up your stuff there. Actually, if you could step out brother, I will roll up the windows, OK.”
Belcher: “Yeah. Yeah.”
Officer: “You know you got a lot riding on it. You know you got a lot to lose, right?”
Officer: “I know your car is running and you’re passed out inside. You weren’t driving. You are correct on that.”
Belcher: “I wasn’t. I was upstairs.”
Officer: “I hear ya. That’s why going upstairs is going to be a good place for you to go back to. You understand right?”
Belcher: “I appreciate that.”
Officer: “All right. Well, I appreciate you not putting this thing in drive and taking off. You got your key? I want to make sure … it’s like voice control and high speed buttons.”
Belcher: “It’s a $200,000 car.”
Officer: “I’ll make that in like three years.”
Officer: “I guess the lights will shut off I guess.”
Officer: “You gonna call the girl and head back upstairs for a while.”
Officer: “I’d say we probably stay up there for the night. I wouldn’t be driving anywhere.”
Officer: “That sound cool? You stay up there for the night?”
Belcher: “Naw, y’all don’t understand this. I got a deal with another girl man.”
Officer: “Well, I understand how that’s working.”
Officer: “I understand how that’s working but you’re crashing out in the car out in front of an apartment building. It ain’t looking good for the player.”
Belcher: “I wasn’t driving.”
Officer: “I understand you weren’t driving, but you’re inside the car and the car’s running.”
Belcher: “All right, I appreciate it.”
Officer: “All right, well I appreciate you being cooperative … not putting it in drive and taking off. I hate these Crown Vics … are embarrassing.”
Belcher: “There’s no way.”
Belcher: “That cost too much. Oh man. Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate it. I really do. You boys have a good one.”
Officer: “All right man.”
Officer: “See you later dude.”
To me, the transcript screams: 1) the officers were star struck, 2) the officers knew they could have made an arrest, 3) the officers cut Jovan a “break,” and 4) Jovan knew he got away with it.
The first serious question that must be asked is whether the officers should have arrested Belcher for suspicion of driving under the influence. The officers never gave Jovan a field sobriety test, or, according to the transcript, even asked if he’d been drinking.
Giving the police officers the benefit of the doubt, it appears they determined that Belcher had not violated the law, and he was not illegally impaired.
Now putting on my plaintiff’s lawyer’s cap, the analysis changes and the question is whether the officers were negligent in their investigation of Belcher. In other words, could the Estate of Kasandra Perkins sue the investigating officers and the Kansas City Police Department for failing to restrain and arrest Belcher?
The majority of lawsuits brought against municipalities and officers under this theory have been dismissed. The normal case involves an allegation that the officer failed to arrest an intoxicated party, the intoxicated party is subsequently involved in a deadly car accident, and a family member files a wrongful death suit.
A hypothetical-Perkins’ lawsuit would be even more difficult to win because the death involved a non-vehicle fatality (i.e. a shooting).
Police officers only owe a duty to the public generally, and they do not owe a legal duty to specific individuals unless a “special relationship” can be established. A special relationship can be shown if the officer, that allegedly failed to make an arrest, knew the victim and was aware that the victim could be injured.
In other words, Perkins’ family would have to prove, inter alia, that the police officer had knowledge that Jovan Belcher was going to murder, or had plans to murder, Perkins. Short of this, though, the officers would not have owed a duty to Perkins, and thus would not be held liable for her death.
Some will argue that the murder-suicide could have been prevented if the officers simply had done their job. Obviously that is a speculative line of reasoning but it does have some merit. The problem, however, is that it shifts the blame to the cops, when the blame should solely lie with the person that pulled the trigger 9 times: Jovan Belcher.
We’ll never know what caused Jovan to engage in those horrendous acts of violence. Unfortunately two lives were lost and a little girl will never get to know how much her parents loved her.
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