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Could Mays have been derailed in Belton?

The ever-quickening pace of world, and even local, events often leaves us stunned. We’ve lost track of the fast-changing course of events within an hour, and within a day or a week, we’re grossly misinformed if we have any sort of life at all and can’t keep a moment-by-moment tally of the revised narratives.

The Super Bowl parade shooting at Union Station is the typical example of this relatively new phenomenon. Our media is now dominated by instantaneous reporting, which by its very nature fails miserably when it comes to accuracy and proper perspective.

At one point during the week after the shooting, when competitive Kansas City media outlets were doing their best to be first to report the background of the suspects, information consumers were left, undoubtedly, with the impression that Belton authorities were less than serious in their pursuit of justice against Lyndell Mays, who in April of 2021 was involved in a disturbance involving a gun at High Blue Wellness Center.

Mays, of course, is one of two defendants being held in connection with the Union Station shooting.

The end result of the Belton incident turned out to be a disorderly conduct finding in Municipal Court and a five-day jail sentence.

It’s no secret there were problems under the leadership of the former Belton police chief, both in terms of leadership and investigative organization and clearance rate. When a case was cleared, there were at times disturbing errors that threatened to derail prosecution. If it was frustrating to those outside the department, imagine the outright anger felt by the majority inside the department, many of whom are still there under the new administration, operating within a more efficient, less political environment.

So a quick mention on the TV news of the High Blue case automatically causes knowing eye-rolls, and possibly anger that the earlier case wasn’t more effectively dealt with. Maybe, some thought, the parade shooting could have been avoided? We shake our heads and move on quickly to the next fast-developing crisis.

We have to take our time occasionally, and really get to the bottom of a situation. This was as good as any to do that with.

Lt. Mary Bruegge, a veteran of the department, now counts among her many roles that of Public Information Officer, and her perspective and history makes her perfect for that role. When I asked her last week for reports on the April 21, 2021, incident at High Blue, she knew exactly what I was looking for and why, and had them retrieved and waiting for me by the end of the day. In reading the report, I was able to see that detectives had initially filed their report with two violations listed, Unlawful Use of a Weapon as well as Disorderly Conduct. The former can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, and the latter is only a misdemeanor.

But detectives, who arrived at the scene after Mays had left with his weapon, spoke with numerous witnesses and viewed video of the incident and were convinced the suspect should be charged with a felony. It seems there was a dispute over which team would take on the winner of the just-ended basketball game, the suspect felt the need to make his point more convincingly, went to his backpack and pulled out his gun, pointing it at the ceiling while waving it around.

Not surprisingly, this ended the afternoon of basketball, as players scattered, heading for the main exit, the emergency exit, whichever was closer. As is sometimes the case, there was a hero. A college basketball player, home on vacation from school, was able to calm the situation down by talking to the suspect and others, while allowing others to scatter. The situation quickly defused.

In the days that followed, Belton detectives worked the case doggedly, identifying Mays, charging him and interviewing every potential witness in an attempt to convince someone, anyone, to testify that it was a gun Mays had pulled, threatening others. No dice. Not one single individual would take the stand. Is that shocking? It shouldn’t be, to those that understand the threat that comes with “being a snitch” on today’s streets. It’s a legitimate fear, and it takes someone willing to sacrifice any feeling of security for themselves and their families.

As a result, without a witness willing to take the stand, prosecutors face the difficult decision to walk away from a case.

While that ended up being the result of any felony charges against Mays for the High Blue incident, city prosecuting attorney Bill Marshall was willing to take the misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge before Municipal Judge Ross Nigro without live witnesses in hopes of salvaging something, anything, from the case.

And that’s how Marshall gained his first-ever conviction with only video evidence. The defendant argued he was holding a cell phone, not a gun, and that the video wasn’t clear enough to show the difference. But, Marshall argued and Nigro agreed, 15-20 basketball players wouldn’t have scattered in fear at the sight of a waving cell phone. Bruegge chuckled a bit when she told that story, but it didn’t ease the irritation that comes from knowing why the more serious charge wasn’t accepted for prosecution – and hearing only the abbreviated “slap on the wrist” snippet on the news attached to the community of Belton.


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