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Theodore W. White, Jr. vs. The City of Lee’s Summit

Theodore W. White, Jr. vs. The City of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Richard McKinley and Tina McKinley 

FACTS:

Ted White and Tina McKinley had been married for seven years. Ted was an entrepreneur and had dreamed of building a company that he could take public someday. He was a workaholic. He ultimately succeeded and built a professional employment organization that went public. Ted and his wife, Tina received a half-million dollars-worth of the publicly-held company. An odd provision of the ownership of the stock certificate said that a felon couldn’t hold the stock. Ted thought nothing of it, until after his nightmarish story unfolded. Over a period of over 10 years in the criminal justice system, Ted went from desperation to exoneration of a crime he did not commit, all at the hands of an evil wife out to get him and a dirty cop who was her secret lover.

While Ted’s story sounds like a best-selling novel, Ted’s story is real. In March 1998, his wife accused him of the worst possible crime: the molestation of his step-daughter. Ted was innocent and he professed his innocence all the way through trial in 1999 for the charges of molesting a child. True or not, the mere accusation is itself a scarlet letter on the forehead of the accused. But because the Lee’s Summit, Missouri cop assigned to the case, Richard McKinley, failed to disclose his affair with Ted’s wife – which had begun in the fall of 1997 before the allegations in March 1998 – Ted was convicted. Like Harrison Ford in the movie, “The Fugitive,” Ted fled the United States to find the truth before his sentencing for the crime he didn’t commit.

What he didn’t know is that in Missouri, an escaped felon loses all his rights to appeal the verdict, wrongful or not, under Missouri’s “escape rule.” He went to Costa Rica and sold real estate under an assumed name and a deceased man’s passport. He appeared on the popular TV show, “America’s Most Wanted” at the same time Osama Bin Laden appeared on the same show. One of Ted’s own clients recognized him on the show and turned him in. Ted would spend the next year – one of 6 “gringos” in the Mexican prison – fighting for his life. He paid gang members in the prison with the money his parents sent him to keep him alive. Five of the 6 gringo’s died in that prison. But Ted made it out alive after an unbelievable revelation that came to light while he was there.

While Ted was fighting for his freedom and his life in the Mexican prison, an anonymous tip came to the attention of prosecutors in Ted’s original trial. A long-time employee of UPS told prosecutors and judges that he had seen Ted’s story on the television news and in the newspapers. He recognized Ted’s wife. He worked beside her at UPS and saw that she wore an Army jacket with the name, “McKinley” sewn on the pocket. The “McKinley” on the pocket was Detective Richard McKinley of the Lee’s Summit Police Department. And the affair between the lead detective in the molestation case and Tina came to light, something the jury in the criminal trial never knew. Amazingly, during Ted’s criminal trial in which he was wrongfully convicted, Detective McKinley and Ted’s ex-wife, Tina, were planning their wedding, yet didn’t tell prosecutors.

And while Ted was in the Mexican prison, McKinley and Tina concocted a plan to sell the stock of the company Ted had built and took public. That pesky clause that prohibited a felon from holding the stock was the key to McKinley’s and Tina’s financial security, since Ted had wrongfully been found guilty of child molestation. They made off with $500,000 from the sale of the stock.

Ted would spend the next several years fighting for an appeal of the wrongful verdict and, after 5 ½ years in prison, a court of appeals in Missouri waiving Missouri’s “escape” rule and 2 more criminal jury trials, Ted was finally found not guilty of the crime and was finally exonerated. But prison had left its mark on Ted. He suffered many attacks with home-made knives in prison. A padlock in a tube sock was used like a modern-day medieval ball and chain, swung at Ted’s head, leaving him partially blinded and crushing his eye socket. But a woman named Mother Opal would leave the most important mark on Ted. She was a volunteer at the prison and was 84 years old. Mother Opal taught him the power of prayer and forgiveness. When Ted started praying and forgiving, door after door after door was opened, including the front doors of the Missouri State Penitentiary, which had confined him for 3 years.

He then sued his ex-wife, the former detective, the police chief and the city of Lee’s Summit based upon their lies.

THE LAWSUIT AND TRIAL:

Ted White turned to The McCallister Law Firm for help and, before the end of his third criminal trial, Brian McCallister was visiting with Ted in the Clay County Jail where Ted was confined before his second and third criminal trials. Brian’s early involvement in Ted’s case would prove to be crucial and gave him a head start in preparing Ted’s offense. And in 2005, Brian McCallister filed a 10-count lawsuit on Ted’s behalf in federal court in Kansas City against the City of Lee’s Summit, Missouri; Richard McKinley; Police Chief Kenneth Conlee; and Tina.

During the litigation, in 2006, Lee’s Summit agreed to pay “any compensatory verdict” against its detective, Richard McKinley, in exchange for being dismissed from the lawsuit.

FEDERAL LAW PROHIBIS LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS FROM WITHHOLDING EVIDENCE FROM THE PROSECUTORS IN A CRIMINAL TRIAL

In 1963, federal law was made clear to law enforcement officers that they are not allowed to withhold evidence from the prosecutor in a case that may tend to show the innocence of the accused. It goes without saying that McKinley’s affair with Ted’s wife was just that kind of evidence, yet Detective McKinley withheld his affair with the child’s mother from prosecutors.

Federal law allows the victim – here, Ted White – to seek compensation from the corrupt law enforcement officer, but they are some of the most difficult cases to win. Cops are imbued with immunity that must be proven inapplicable due to the cop’s bad faith and ill will toward the accused. At trial, the jury in the civil rights trial must find that the evidence was withheld by the cop from the prosecutor; the evidence was material to the accused’s defense; and that had the evidence been disclosed to the prosecutor and, ultimately, the jury in the criminal trial, the outcome would likely have been different.

THE VERDICT

After a 2-week trial in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri on August 29, 2008, the federal jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Ted White: $16,000,000. Included in the $16,000,000 verdict were 2 separate, $1,000,000 punitive damage verdicts against Richard McKinley and Tina.

But McKinley and his former employer drug out the lawsuit three more years. After the verdict, they appealed the verdict to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. In 2010, the verdict was upheld, but the same day it was upheld, Lee’s Summit issued a press release saying it would not pay the $14,000,000 it owed Ted White. For the next year, The McCallister Law Firm fought to force Lee’s Summit to pay as it had promised to do. In 2011, Lee’s Summit agreed to settle the case for $15,500,000.

TED WHITE’S JOURNEY

Unbelievably, Ted White’s journey through the criminal and civil justice system spanned 13 years from start to finish. He withstood unbelievable odds. Dozens and dozens of people stood by Ted through all of it, not the least of whom was his Mother and Father, Myrna White and Ted White, Sr. Without them by his side, Ted would likely have been found dead in the Mexican prison. Only a few weeks after Ted’s settlement with Lee’s Summit, Ted White, Sr. died of heart failure.

Of his Father, Ted said, “My Mom and Dad always believed in me and my innocence. They were always there for me through this horrible time in my life. Dad was able to see the last chapter of the story written when Lee’s Summit agreed to settle, which they should have done years before. I am so grateful for my Dad’s support and love.”

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