JOPLIN, MO — A tragic situation went from awful to worse as two family members were arrested by police in the process of trying to save a teen girl’s life after a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A father tells of how he missed the final hours of his daughter’s life because he was handcuffed to a bench in a police station, his face still raw from being pepper-sprayed. Now he and his son face criminal charges that have not been dropped, six months later.
On the evening of March 17th, the Russell family made the gut-wrenching discovery that their beloved Brooke, age 16, had shot herself in the head in a suicide attempt behind their Joplin home. Brooke did not immediately die from her wound, and her parents, Julissa and Kevin Russell, along with their son, Brant, desperately rushed her to seek medical care in an attempt to save her life.
As they drove speeding to the hospital, they dialed 9-1-1. The dispatcher told them to instead go to the police station, where an ambulance would meet them and begin caring for Brooke. They followed the advice and raced to the police station.
They arrived and were met with police and an ambulance waiting in the parking lot. The family was frantic. There was no time to lose. They began transferring Brooke to the ambulance.
“To me, time was everything. I was going, ‘Let’s go, get her to the hospital, hurry up, hurry up,’” father Kevin Russell remembered saying to the EMT, according to KSPR.
The situation took a turn for the worse when an EMT let Brooke’s body fall off the gurney, in the rush to save her. Her father says this happened when the EMT turned away to ask what had happened.
Overcome with emotion, Kevin lost his cool. “I started screaming and said, ‘Do your f-ing job, get her to the hospital,’ and the EMT put his finger in my face and said, ‘Calm down, sir.’ I was screaming, ‘”‘Please get her to the hospital.’ “ Kevin continued, “And right about that time a police officer ran up on the sidewalk and I saw Brant go down.”
Brooke’s older brother, Brant, age 22, had been blasted with pepper-spray in the face. “My son was standing next to me, being quiet and not moving,” Kevin explained. Brant “was doing nothing except standing next to me and crying,” Kevin said according to the Daily Mail.
Recalling the situation, Brant described: “I was on the pavement, I couldn’t breathe and another officer put a knee in my back and told me to get up and he said if I didn’t get up he was going to Tase me.”
Kevin was pepper sprayed as well. “I heard someone tell me to calm down or they would pepper-spray me, and then I saw the spray shoot out. I turned my head to the left and felt it land against the back of my head,” he explained. “The fumes made it hard to breath. I turned around, still screaming to get my daughter to the hospital, and then another stream of pepper spray hit me right in the eyes.”
Both he and his son were dragged into the police station and handcuffed to a bench. They were initially told that they would be released in 20 minutes and charged with disturbing the peace, Kevin wrote on Facebook.
“I had been thinking, ‘They’re going to save her, everything always works out, she’s going to be okay,’” Kevin emotionally told KSPR.
But instead of being released in 20 minutes, Kevin and his son were detained for 3.5 hours, covered with chemical irritant, while Brooke’s life was quickly fading away. Finally, after what must have been an arduous wait, Kevin and Brant were released, and raced to the hospital.
“I ran down the hall to the door. I opened the door to the small consultation room,” Kevin wrote. “There was a police chaplain, a very nice woman from the hospital, my mother-in-law, father-in-law and brother-in-law. I looked at Julissa and cried. ‘Is she alive?’ I said, and she shook her head no. I ran to her and started screaming.”
Because of charges he claims are illegitimate, Kevin and his son missed their chance to be with Brooke as she passed away. “My daughter died at the hospital while my son and I were chained to a bench,” Kevin recalled. “My wife was there alone” when it Brooke passed away. She was also denied a ride with Brooke in the ambulance.
The family’s ordeal would be dragged on for months, thanks to the legal struggles incurred by the public servants at the scene.
“I was in a forgiving mood the next morning from the Joplin Police [Department's] mistakes, but then I read the police reports 3 weeks later and literally started shaking as to what they said,” Kevin candidly wrote. “Not only that, I then learned that the police called my son’s recruiting sergeant and told him that my son was unfit to serve.” Kevin went on to explain that the officer told him it was standard procedure to do report police encounters to military recruiters, but Police Chief Lane Roberts later revealed that this was not true.
The “crazy reports,” as described by Kevin, included claims that he believed were inserted just to justify the mistakes of the EMT and the overreaction by police. According to Kevin, the reports would blame Kevin for knocking Brooke off the gurney, fabricated accounts of aggression and blocking the ambulance door, and other wild accusations. He explained:
I’m not looking at the reports but the EMT report has the gall to say I knocked Brooke off the gurney. You can imagine how that felt to read. He reported that I blocked the ambulance doors from being open. He reported that I ran up behind him and it appeared I was going to hit him so he had to turn toward me and defend himself. The police officer reported he came on scene and it appeared Brant was trying to get an adrenaline rush, that Brant started jumping up and down trying to get pumped up (????) and then Brant went toward the officer and wouldn’t stop. The officer wrote he kept telling Brant to stop but he kept advancing and he feared for his safety and further violence so he pepper sprayed him. There is a lot more of that kind of crap in their reports. The reports are not only disgusting they are ridiculous. Then they start taking it further. And in my opinion, JPD starts to try and discredit our credibility by saying we didn’t remember what happened because we were in a high emotional state and they call the Army to tell them Brant is unfit to serve. Yes I, we were in a very high emotional state but I remember what happened and what did not happen. So does Brant and so does Julissa. Brant is mentally fit to serve, he acted w/ valor that night and kept his head. I did not block the doors, Brant and I held Brooke and waited for them to open the doors, telling them to hurry up, I did not run up behind the EMT and try to hit him, that’s just stupid. I DID NOT knock Brooke of the gurney. When she fell off she was behind the EMTs we were in front of the EMTs BECAUSE their backs were to her, they weren’t doing their jobs. Brant did not jump up and down and he did not take a step toward the officer.
“I thought for sure everything would be dropped since I only screamed,” Kevin said. “It’s been 6 months and the prosecutor now wants to charge me w/ assault and take anger management counseling. I do not have anger issues.”
Kevin and Brant were both charged with 3 misdemeanors each; assault, obstruction of an EMT, and disturbing the peace. He says the prosecutor offered them each a deferment on 2 charges if they plead guilty to assaulting a police officer. Kevin refused to plead guilty to something he says he didn’t do, and plans to go to trial.
“I would just like the charges to go away,” Kevin told KSPR. “I want the reports reported correctly. I know they’re not going to do that but I hate that there’s something in formal writing that says things that we did that we didn’t do on the worst night of our life.”
View KSPR’s coverage of the story here:
Jasper County Prosecutor: (417) 625-4314
Newton County Prosecutor: (417) 451-8212