By Jeff Lehr
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A special prosecutor has been appointed for the misdemeanor cases of a father and son arising from a family member’s suicide in March and a resulting imbroglio with Joplin police and paramedics.
Kevin Russell, 44, and Brant Russell, 22, had been scheduled for trial Thursday in Joplin Municipal Court on counts of assault, obstruction and peace disturbance.
City Prosecutor Tricia Gould recently recused herself from the case, necessitating the appointment of a special prosecutor, and the Russells switched attorneys. The trial consequently was postponed and will be rescheduled sometime next year. Municipal Judge Chuck Brown has set Jan. 2 for a status hearing on the cases.
The Russells’ new attorney, William Fleischaker, said Thursday that nothing has changed with respect to his clients’ intentions.
“He (Kevin Russell) says he’s not guilty of anything and his son’s not guilty of anything, and that’s our position,” Fleischaker said.
He said the Russells will have to wait to see what the special prosecutor decides to do. Fleischaker said he’s sure that Kevin Russell’s primary concern is protecting his son in whatever the family decides.
Lamar attorney James Nichols was appointed special prosecutor when Gould stepped aside. Gould told the Globe that she decided to recuse herself “in light of everything (Kevin Russell) has been saying in regards to the Police Department, to myself and the city.”
Gould said that having someone independent of the city evaluate the case and handle the prosecution from this point on seemed to be the fair and prudent way to proceed.
At issue is what happened the night of March 17 after 16-year-old Brooke Russell shot herself in Roanoke Park. The family members found her bleeding from a head wound on the steps of the tennis court and set out for a hospital with the girl in their SUV, calling 911 as they went and getting directed to meet an ambulance at the downtown intersection of Third Street and Virginia Avenue.
The father and son carried the girl to the back of the ambulance waiting there and laid her down on a gurney. Moments later, she fell to the pavement. Words were being exchanged with the paramedics when the first police officer on the scene, Cpl. Austin Wolf, pepper-sprayed the father and son, and arrested them for peace disturbance.
The girl died about two hours later at Freeman Hospital West while her father and brother were still in police custody.
The Russells, who have been outspoken in their criticism of police online and to local media, maintain that they were pepper-sprayed and arrested without cause. Police reports on the incident are not public record while the cases remain pending. Kevin Russell, who obtained them through his attorney, claims they contain “outrageous lies.”
A police spokesman has said the Russells were sprayed by Wolf because they continued advancing on him after being told to step back. The use-of-force incident was reviewed by an internal board of the Police Department, and the officer was found not to have been at fault.
THERE IS NO VIDEO FOOTAGE of the incident involving Kevin and Brant Russell and Joplin police and METS ambulance service paramedics. The officer’s dashboard camera was not pointed in the direction of the action when he pulled up to the scene, according to the Joplin Police Department.