Family members of a teenage girl whose suicide a year ago brought them into conflict with police officers and emergency medical technicians are suing the city and the Joplin Police Department.
Kevin and Julissa Russell and their son, Brant Russell, are the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in Jasper County Circuit Court. The action filed on the Russells’ behalf by Kansas City attorney Andrew Protzman names the city, the Police Department and Officers Austin Wolf and Tyler Christensen as defendants.
The lawsuit concerns the arrest of Kevin and Brant Russell the night of March 17, 2013, when family members met an ambulance crew in downtown Joplin after 16-year-old Brooke Russell shot herself in the head in Roanoke Park. They were attempting to get the girl to a hospital before she died. But she fell off a gurney onto the street at the back of the ambulance, and the father and son wound up getting pepper sprayed and arrested.
The lawsuit alleges false arrest, excessive force, battery, negligent training and supervision of officers, malicious prosecution and interference with Brant Russell’s status in the Army National Guard, and harm to his business prospects.
Police maintain that the father and son were interfering with the ambulance crew’s efforts to do its job and would not stand back as directed by Officer Wolf. An internal board that reviews use-of-force incidents found no fault with Wolf’s use of pepper spray in the incident.
Misdemeanor charges of assault, obstruction and peace disturbance filed on Kevin and Brant Russell eventually were dismissed by a special prosecutor.
The lawsuit claims that when the family met the ambulance at Third Street and Virginia Avenue in downtown Joplin, Kevin and Brant Russell carried the girl from their vehicle to the back of the waiting ambulance and placed her on a gurney. They then stepped back and pleaded with the ambulance attendants to get her to the hospital, the document states.
The emergency medical technicians “instead left Brooke unattended on the gurney and began to question the Russells about what happened, becoming confrontational about the Russells’ agitation with the delay in getting treatment for Brooke.” The wounded girl fell from the gurney as the Russells were pleading for the EMTs to do their job, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit contends that the father and son never assaulted or obstructed any of the EMTs in the performance of their jobs and never violated any laws or ordinances. The document maintains that one of the EMTs became physically aggressive toward Kevin Russell, threatening and yelling at him while the girl was still on the ground.
Wolf and Christensen then assaulted the father and son by spraying them with Mace and placing them in handcuffs, the lawsuit alleges.
Lt. Matt Stewart of the Joplin Police Department declined comment on the lawsuit Friday, citing policy with respect to pending litigation. City Attorney Brian Head also declined comment for the same reason.
The lawsuit plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages.
National Guard call
The Russell family’s lawsuit maintains that Brant Russell’s military career was cut short when a call from a Joplin police officer to the National Guard resulted in his discharge.
Former police Chief Lane Roberts has said that the detective meant to alert the Guard to the loss of his sister by suicide in the hope that the young man would receive appropriately sensitive treatment from his superiors. The lawsuit maintains the call was derogatory with respect to Brant Russell’s role in the incident downtown and that it cost him his military career.