KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Family members and a woman who was in a relationship with a Kansas City, Kansas, man who died after a traffic stop have filed federal lawsuits accusing police of wrongdoing.
Craig J. McKinnis, 44, died in May 2014 after police stopped his then-girlfriend, Phyllis Salazar, for a traffic violation. Police said he tried to flee and then died after a brief struggle. They said officers realized he was unresponsive and tried to help him before he died.
His relatives and Salazar have filed two separate federal lawsuits accusing police of violating his civil rights. The lawsuits, which were filed in 2015 in Kansas City, Kansas, together list several defendants, including the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, Kansas City, and the Police Department, the Lawrence Journal-World reported (http://j.mp/2djVDxh ).
Salazar is identified in her lawsuit as McKinnis’ common-law wife. Her lawsuit says she watched as officers tackled him to the ground. She didn’t see what happened next because she said police had ordered her to sit on a curb.
“I can’t breathe,” Salazar heard McKinnis cry, according to court documents.
While being questioned later at the Police Department, Salazar learned McKinnis had died, the lawsuit says.
Salazar is seeking a jury trial, compensation for suffering and punitive damages. McKinnis’ relatives are seeking a jury trial, compensation for suffering and damages “in an amount sufficient to make an example of those defendants and to deter future misconduct.”
Henry Couchman, a lawyer representing most of the defendants, denied the lawsuits’ claims in court filings, noting the defendants believed their use of force to be necessary to arrest McKinnis and to “defend themselves from bodily harm.”
Attorneys for both Salazar and McKinnis’ family members declined comment.
Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com