Within minutes, Deputy Lauren Michael found the 25-year-old woman, Brittany Simek, sitting on a stoop several blocks away. Simek stood up to approach her.
And that’s when everything spiraled out of control, leading to criminal charges for Michael, a dire trip to the hospital for Simek — and a renewed investigation into a separate fatal police shooting for which Michael earned a medal of valor.
On Wednesday, Michael, 29, was charged with felony first-degree assault and armed criminal action in Simek’s near-fatal shooting after forensic evidence cast serious doubt on the officer’s version of events. Michael had claimed that after she Tasered Simek in the stomach, the woman managed to gain control of her Taser and zap her in the leg, according to the probable cause statement. Michael claimed she feared the woman would try to grab her gun next ― so she decided to fire.
But the deputy’s story not only struck investigators as implausible based on the evidence. It was also familiar: It turns out Michael had offered a strikingly similar version of events when explaining why she shot and killed a man in a Walmart parking lot in 2017 while he was resisting arrest.
Now, because of the similarities, the Jackson County prosecuting attorney revealed Thursday that investigators are taking a second look at the Walmart shooting.
For now, Michael has been placed on unpaid leave, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office said. Attorneys for Michael could not immediately be reached for comment early Friday morning.
“Laws that protect law enforcement’s actions are a high hurdle for prosecutors to overcome. We believe, however, this case will meet that high bar,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said in a statement, referring to the scooter incident. “In this case, we do not find the actions of this officer to be reasonable or lawful. The actions of the deputy were not lawful to effect the arrest of this civilian, and we do not find the officer’s actions to be reasonable to protect against a perceived physical threat against the officer."
By contrast, Michael was rewarded for her actions in the fatal shooting of 31-year-old Donald Sneed III — an accolade that has disturbed Sneed’s family.
In May 2017, Michael was working an extra job as a security guard at a Walmart in Raytown, Mo., when she recognized a man caught shoplifting as a wanted suspect with open felony warrants, who had allegedly fled police just a few days earlier.
So as Sneed exited, Michael and the loss-prevention officer tried to apprehend him.
Soon, Michael, the civilian officer and Sneed were wrestling on the pavement in the middle of the parking lot, according to surveillance footage obtained by the Kansas City Star on Thursday. They rolled around and swung their limbs wildly, as the officers couldn’t gain control of Sneed, who was unarmed.
Michael tried to use her Taser on him, according to the sheriff’s office’s news release for her medal of valor. She claimed it didn’t work ― and then, she said, Sneed tried to grab the stun gun from her. Just as in the most recent case, Michael claimed that Sneed succeeded and stunned her in the face. (The footage does not clearly show what happened.)
So, Michael took a step back and fired at him multiple times, killing him. The sheriff’s announcement awarding her the medal of valor for killing Sneed during the struggle says nothing of his death.
“She’s using the same story line. Again. It just makes your blood boil,” Deneta Smashey-Sneed, Sneed’s stepmom, told KCTV News of the most recent case.
Sneed’s family, which has already filed a wrongful-death suit against Michael, is calling for charges to be filed in his death and for Michael to permanently lose her badge. “Now we’ve got another lady shot, and that cop doesn’t even belong on the force,” his father, Donald Sneed Jr., told the Kansas City Star. “She’s trigger-happy and she’s gonna kill more.”
David Smith, an attorney for Simek, told KSHB that his client is traumatized. Smith said she was struck four times in the back and buttocks, an experience that has left her “shattered” as she continues to recover.
Simek’s version of events is also supported by evidence, according to court documents.
Simek, a retired U.S. Coast Guard service member, told investigators that while she was sitting on the stoop, Michael got out of her car with her Taser already drawn and told her to get on the ground. “For what?” Simek asked. Simek said Michael still did not tell her.
Michael’s dash-cam footage captured glimpses of the escalation, even as Michael and Simek remained mostly out of view: Michael, at 11:15 p.m., grabbing Simek by the hair and throwing her to the ground. Simek’s legs, a minute later, twitching uncontrollably, then standing upright and running.
And then finally the smoke, seconds later, drifting through the dash-cam’s periphery. That’s when Michael fired at the unarmed woman as she ran away.
She felt the first bullet pierce her back.
“Only a coward shoots a woman in the back and then lies about it,” Smith told KSHB. “That’s what happened here.
Crime scene investigators with the Kansas City Police Department would soon find five spent .40 caliber cartridge cases and bullet damage to vehicles in the direction that Simek said she ran, evidence that she was shot from behind while fleeing, according to court documents.
The Taser was also examined, showing that both cartridges were deployed within three seconds — the key evidence casting doubt on Michael’s claim that Simek stunned her in the leg. “Given the limited amount of time,” investigators wrote in the probable cause statement, “this does not support Deputy Michael’s statement that after she tased [Simek], [Simek] fought Deputy Michael for the Taser and then tased Deputy Michael.”
Immediately after the shooting, when a sergeant arrived on scene, Michael appeared to reference the Sneed case, according to the charging document.
She told the sergeant, “I am not as comfortable with this one as the last one."