A trial was scheduled to begin Monday in a wrongful death lawsuit against a Kansas City police officer who aggressively tackled a shoplifting suspect in a Walmart, causing fatal injuries.
Surveillance video obtained by The Star showed Officer Chris Viesselman take Brian Prince, 45, to the ground in the September 2017 incident at the Walmart Supercenter at 1701 W. 133rd St.
Prince landed with enough force that one of his shoes flew off, landing several feet away. Blood poured out of his head almost immediately after slamming against the tile floor.
Brian Prince’s parents sued Viesselman in December 2018, saying he used unreasonably excessive force when he tackled their son.
The lawsuit also alleges a count of battery against Viesselman. Prince’s parents say Viesselman’s use of force demonstrated indifference toward their son’s safety and well-being. They argue that he didn’t commit a crime when he was taken down and didn’t present a threat of death or serious injury to Viesselman.
In response, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, which represents Viesselman in the case, asked to dismiss the lawsuit. The office acknowledged that Viesselman caused injuries that killed Prince but said Prince was not violently “slammed” to the ground.
Instead, Viesselman tackled Prince because he ran from him, he was in a struggle with another officer and he feared other officers and Prince could be hurt by moving cars if the foot chase continued outside the store, Viesselman’s lawyer wrote in court records.
Viesselman also argued in his response to the suit that he was trained to use tackling as a “safe technique” to bring someone down. He didn’t think it would cause serious injury to Prince and “did not intend for Prince to land as he did on the floor,” he wrote in his response.
He said he planned to arrest Prince for property damage and resisting arrest.
The Kansas City Police Department, which investigated the incident, did not notify the public or news media of Prince’s death. The Star learned about the incident while analyzing use of force data obtained through a Sunshine Law request.
Merchandise worth $523
It was a week after the Sept. 2, 2017 incident at Walmart that Prince’s family found out their son was in Research Medical Center, where doctors told them they planned to take him off life support. They sat by his bedside each day, but his condition continued to deteriorate. Prince had staples across his bruised face and pneumonia. Eventually, he was placed in hospice and died five days later.
The family still didn’t know what had happened to him. They had only been told that police were involved and an investigation was ongoing. So the Princes hired a lawyer, and the police department later released information revealing an officer had tackled Brian Prince.
Prince was accused of trying to steal $523 in merchandise from the Walmart that day. He was seen on live surveillance cameras walking through the store with a loaded shopping cart, removing security devices. Two officers stopped him when he was using a pry bar from store shelves to open packages.
Viesselman shouted something like “Hey bud” and “Don’t run” to Prince before Prince backed away and fled, Viesselman said in a recorded interview with a sergeant after the incident. He chased Prince, who moved toward the store’s south exit. Viesselman’s partner, Officer Judith Harris, moved to try to flank Prince.
When Viesselman turned a corner, he saw Prince trying to break away from Harris. He went in for a tackle.
Officers called an ambulance. For a few minutes, Viesselman can be seen resting on Prince’s backside as Prince lay motionless, apart from breathing. One customer passing by with her shopping cart appeared to gasp, wincing and bringing her hand toward her face as she caught a glimpse. Other onlookers sidestepped the area until the doorway was shut down by Walmart staff.
“Why did that police officer feel that he needed to throw him head first into the concrete floor and kill him?” Don Prince said during a 2021 interview with The Star. “I don’t get that. I’ll never understand that.”
Prince’s parents said they want to see justice for their son and changes in the police department, which has been plagued by allegations of excessive force, including the deaths of several unarmed men.