KC man reported a break-in. Instead of investigating, cops harassed him, lawsuit says




  • In US
  • 2022-08-15 22:58:12Z
  • By Kansas City Star

Daniel Fox felt he needed to tell someone what had just happened.

So on the morning of July 15, he took out his phone and recorded a video from his Kansas City home in the 5300 block of Rockhill Road, detailing a break-in next door that he had reported to police.

Their response, he said: "Our hands are tied."

As Fox recounted in the video, and later to lawyers and to The Star, he repeatedly called police about the break-in, only for them to do nothing.

Then, he alleges, he faced harassment and intimidation from members of the department. This included a voicemail from a police captain explaining a new department policy.

Officers could not investigate the break-in without a warrant because of the recent conviction of police detective Eric DeValkenaere in the fatal shooting of a Black man at his home, Capt. James Gottstein explained in the voicemail.

"You posted something on Twitter begging for attention," Gottstein began. "So I was calling you back to try to explain to you our procedures our limitations that have been placed upon us since the 4th amendment ruling concerning Eric DeValkenaere that was passed down like last year that strictly limited out ability to go on private property without owner consent or without vast vast knowledge on something happening like someone screaming for help inside," the voicemail began.

In a lawsuit filed Friday in the U.S. Court for the Western District of Missouri, Fox accused the Kansas City Police Department of retaliating against him for publicizing the incident. He also accused the officers of violating his free speech.

Daniel Fox, shown in a provided image, filed a lawsuit against members of the Kansas City Police Department after he said they harassed him for complaining publicly about the department’s handling of a 911 call he made in July 2022.
Daniel Fox, shown in a provided image, filed a lawsuit against members of the Kansas City Police Department after he said they harassed him for complaining publicly about the department’s handling of a 911 call he made in July 2022.  

The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, Capt. James Gottstein and Sgt. Williams Majors are named as defendants.

When contacted Monday afternoon, Officer Donna Drake, a spokesperson for the department, said police officials could not comment publicly on pending litigation.

"And we want the citizens of Kansas City to feel safe in bringing any concerns about an officer's conduct to our attention, whether it is done through the Office of Community Complaints or brought directly to our department," Drake said in a statement.

When asked about the policy described in the voicemail, a KCPD spokesperson referred to a department policy that is, in part, redacted.

'Unsafe and unprotected'

Fox, who lives with his wife and two young children, first became aware of the break-in shortly after 1 a.m. that July morning.

He heard a loud noise. When he got up to investigate, he saw the neighbor's door kicked in and a light on in the house, which is usually occupied by students during the semester. The neighborhood is near the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Rockhurst University.

Fox, fearing that an active break-in was happening yards from his home, called 911. Police soon showed up.

But after about 10 minutes, and without ever entering the home or closing the front door, the officers drove away, leaving Fox confused, he said.

About 1:45 a.m., Fox called police again to ask why nothing was done. An officer told Fox it was because "their hands were tied," according to court filings.

"It felt like a strange response from police," he told The Star. "It just felt really alarming to me that they were unwilling to investigate."

Fox didn't go back to bed that night. Instead he kept watch from his couch, worried that the burglar might come for his home next.

About 8:30 a.m., after a sleepless night, Fox posted a video to Twitter detailing how, after contacting police, he was left feeling "unsafe and unprotected," according to the suit.

Fox told The Star that while he has previously been neutral in his feelings toward KCPD, his video that morning was critical of them.

What followed, he says, was harassment and intimidation by three officers.

Just before 10 p.m. that night, two armed KCPD officers parked outside Fox's home, their lights flashing. Though Fox, his wife and his kids were already in bed, his wife answered their knock at the door.

Fox told The Star that the officers asked to speak with him, relaying to his wife that it was regarding a video he posted on Twitter that morning. They handed her a business card and asked that Fox contact them when he could.

She went back up to bed and relayed the message to her husband, at which point Fox said he noticed a voicemail on his phone left earlier that evening.

It was a message from the KCPD captain, Gottstein, who said police policy had changed because of the DeValkenaere case, according to the lawsuit.

Fox v. BOPC Et Al Western District of Missouri by The Kansas City Star on Scribd

In March, DeValkenaere, a former Kansas City police detective, was sentenced to six years in prison in the 2019 killing of Cameron Lamb. Lamb, 26, was backing his pickup truck into his own garage when DeValkenaere fired several shots, killing him. DeValkenaere claimed Lamb was armed, but prosecutors say the gun found near him was planted. The former detective was ultimately found guilty of second-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action.

"That ruling had a direct impact on what we can do, which is affecting you and I don't agree with it, because we should be able to meet your need," Gottstein said in the voicemail.

"I'm sorry you had that experience, but many citizens are going to have that same experience, and it's kind of out of the police's hands at this point until that judgment is overturned on appeal so that we can go back to our business to keep citizens safe."

In the lawsuit, Fox said the voicemail seemed contentious and threatening.

He deleted his tweet and video a short time later, out of fear of retaliation from KCPD.

KCPD 'grossly' misinterpreted decision: attorneys

When asked about their current policy for responding to calls on private property, a spokesperson for the department pointed to a policy dated July 13.

"For information regarding forcing entry into premises, members should refer to the current written directive entitled, 'Patrol Procedures,' [ REDACTED ]," the policy reads.

The department's document on patrol procedures outlines how police should respond to 911 calls. On page five, a section labeled "responding to calls for service" includes five redacted passages.

In court filings, Fox's attorneys said the police board and captain "grossly misinterpret" the court's decision in the DeValkenaere case. The attorneys argue that nothing should stop an officer from going into a home when a crime is actively happening.

The lawsuit accused KCPD of adopting a policy in which officers will not investigate or respond to crimes on private property, even when the matter is a pressing one, without a warrant.

Since the DeValkenaere decision, dozens more people have likely had experiences similar to Fox's, his attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.

Mackenzie Hopkins homicide

While not mentioned in this court filing, the family of Mackenzie Hopkins, a woman killed in Kansas City in January, has made similar concerns public.

Hopkins was found beaten to death 12 hours after a 911 call was placed from her phone in January. Her 4-year-old daughter was also found critically injured.

The woman's family told FOX4 at the time that KCPD said they could not immediately enter the house when they arrived because of the DeValkenaere decision.

"The possibility of irreparable harm to (Fox) and community is clear and present if this practice continues," Fox's lawsuit reads. "It is quite literally a matter of life or death in some cases, and in all cases it is a matter of general public safety and peace of mind in appropriate police response to situations of dangerous criminal activity."

Fox in the court filing is asking that KCPD adopt a written policy instructing officers on the appropriate way to respond to criticism on social media, specifically excluding any retaliation.

"My objectives really is to hopefully help people be brave enough to come forward and talk about their experience," Fox said.

He is also asking that the department return to its pre-DeValkenaere policy regarding entering personal property without a warrant "when justified by probable cause or exigent circumstances."

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