Kansas City cop pleads not guilty to assaulting Black teen

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City police sergeant accused of injuring a Black 15-year-old by forcing his head into the pavement and kneeling on him last year pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a third-degree felony assault charge.

Sgt. Matthew Neal appeared via video during a brief arraignment hearing in Jackson County Court. His next court date was scheduled for Nov. 19, KSHB-TV reported.

A grand jury indicted Neal in August after reviewing evidence from the November 2019 arrest. The teenager and a man were stopped by another officer who thought a robbery might occur, according to charging documents.

Prosecutors say the 15-year-old was in handcuffs and on the ground when Neal slammed his face into the pavement and kneeled on his head, while the teen repeatedly said “I can't breathe.”

Several of the teen’s teeth were broken and he required stitches. No charges were filed against him.

The case shares similarities with what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, a Black man who was handcuffed and face-down, died May 25 after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for several minutes despite Floyd's pleas for air.

Although the confrontation involving Neal happened last November, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters-Baker said her office wasn't aware of it until a private attorney brought it to her office's attention in the late spring. And she has complained that the police department has resisted providing her office with charging documents or evidence in cases involving its officers.

Kansas City's police chief, Rick Smith, has said that after his department reviewed what happened, it sent information to federal prosecutors, the FBI and Baker’s office.

The case is one of several that civil rights activists have cited in protests this year against the police department, including calls for Smith to be fired or resign, which he said he doesn't plan to do.

Neal, an 18-year veteran of the police force, was placed on administrative leave and will remain on leave pending the outcome of the case, police said.

The Kansas City police union said in August that it believed Neal's actions were justified and that he will be exonerated.