Blood ran into his eyes, and he says he may have briefly passed out. Soon, more strangers arrived, a nightmare playing out on the second floor of Harter’s home in Kansas City, Kan., on a weekend night in 2018.
Had he more time to react, he may have called the police. But, as he says he soon learned, they were already there, trespassing in his house as one beat him for no apparent reason.
Harter’s allegations are laid out in a lawsuit filed last week in federal court, the documents recounting frightening accusations of police misconduct that unfolded early on the Sunday before Halloween.
The 43-year-old’s night began typically. He went to a party, returned home and went to sleep. But it ended, Harter alleges, in injury, a hospital visit, a trip to jail — where he was charged with battery of a law enforcement officer — and, finally, a journey back to his house after he posted bail. Without a car or money, Harter had to walk.
“I’ve seen a fair amount of police misconduct in Kansas City, Kansas,” Bill Dunn, Harter’s attorney, told The Washington Post. “But I’ve never seen something so inexplicable, something just so out of the blue. I can’t see any reason for it. It’s just bizarre.”
The suit names as defendants the officer who allegedly attacked Harter, police chief Terry Ziegler, a group of as yet unknown police officers and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., the body that runs the city of 150,000, which neighbors the larger Missouri municipality of the same name. The filing claims Harter was the victim of illegal entry, battery, false imprisonment and excessive force.
The police department did not respond to a request for comment, and a spokesman for the unified government said the agencies could not discuss the case, but are “confidently preparing for a full airing of the facts in court.” The police officer accused of leading the attack is still on the force, the spokesman said.
Even though the allegations are nearly a year old, the peculiar nature of the case means little else is currently known about what happened in Harter’s room. In January, the charges against him were dropped, Dunn said, and he hasn’t yet received a police report from that night. The case was then sent to the Wyandotte County district attorney’s office, which later decided against filing additional charges — against Harter or the police officers.
Dunn and his client are still trying to figure out what led the officers to the home and why they decided to walk inside.
“That’s the sixty-four-dollar question,” Dunn said. “I really don’t know, but I can tell you this: It wasn’t because my client was involved in any criminal activity.”
Dunn said the altercation doesn’t appear to have been the result of an address mix-up — which has resulted in chilling close calls with police elsewhere — but he also said the officers hadn’t targeted Harter. As far as he knew, Dunn said, his client didn’t know the officers personally.
Kansas law states that civilians cannot resist even an illegal arrest. But, Dunn said, people do have the right to self-defense.
“When excessive force is being used against you by a stranger in your bedroom when it’s dark, you react,” he said.
Harter hopes to cover legal and medical fees and is suing for $4 million in damages. He still experiences “anxiety, nightmares and general mental distress,” the lawsuit says.
“He’s still traumatized by this,” Dunn said. “It’s got to make you feel a little funny when you turn the lights out every night. It’s got to make you wonder: What’s going to happen tonight?”