Family Blames Kansas City Chiefs for Linebacker's Murder-Suicide
INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (CN) - Effects of multiple concussions caused a Kansas City Chiefs linebacker him to kill his girlfriend and himself in December 2012, the player's family claims in court.
Jovan Belcher played for the Chiefs for four years before he killed himself in the team's parking lot in front of then-head coach Romeo Crennel and other staff members.
Belcher's mother, Cheryl Shepherd, and a conservator for the estate of Belcher's daughter sued the Kansas City Chiefs in similar but separate lawsuits in Jackson County Court. Citations in this article are taken from Shepherd's lawsuit.
"Over the course of a four-year career in the National Football League, Jovan unknowingly sacrificed his brain in order to provide for his family," the complaint states. "Tragically, the defendant's wrongful conduct destroyed multiple lives, tore apart families and ultimately caused or contributed to cause Jovan's death."
Belcher's mother claims her son suffered multiple concussions during his career and developed post-concussion syndrome, which affects mood and behavior. She says the repeated head blows gave him traumatic brain injuries, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Belcher's body was exhumed in December 2012 to test his brain for evidence of CTE, according to the Kansas City Star.
CTE, commonly referred to as the punch drunk syndrome in boxers, can be positively diagnosed only after death.
Belcher's mom claims in the lawsuit that 52 former NFL players have been diagnosed with post-mortem CTE, including All-Pro linebacker Junior Seau, who killed himself in 2012.
Belcher's family claims the Chiefs ignored obvious signs of his neurological impairment.
"Defendant micromanaged virtually every aspect of decedent's life when it came to his physical abilities to perform in the workplace, including analyzing his diet, speed, strength and body-mass index," the complaint states. "Yet when it came to monitoring decedent's mental health and neurological capacities, defendant disregarded evidence of impairments and fostered an environment where decedent was required to play through injuries and become exposed to further neurological harm."
Belcher's family claims the Chiefs failed to give him time to recover from concussions in 2009 and 2012. They say Belcher felt he had to play to keep his job.
"Before and after November 18, 2012, defendant's coaching staff and management engaged in a systematic campaign of mental abuse to 'motivate' decedent to play through his injuries," the complaint states. "General Manager Scott Pioli and other agents of defendant Kansas City Chiefs often berated decedent, telling him numerous occasions, that 'he was just an accident and they would get rid of him.' The defendant's constant bullying pressure and stress coupled with decedent's occupational neurological impairments caused or contributed to cause decedent to become insane."
Belcher's family claims his head injuries drove him to kill his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, on Dec. 1, 2012, before driving to the Chiefs' facility, where he killed himself.
The family claims the Chiefs have tried to downplay the affects of Belcher's head trauma by calling him "a player who had not had a long concussion history."
Symptoms of CTE include depression, poor impulse control and violent mood swings.
"Upon information and belief, decedent experienced clinical symptoms consistent with neurologic dysfunction," the complaint states. "Yet, defendant never, inter alia, warned decedent about the risks of PCS [post concussion syndrome], CTE or CTE-like syndromes. To the contrary, defendant affirmatively misrepresented to decedent that his symptoms were not the result of PCS and/or neurodegenerative diseases caused by repetitive head trauma."
The lawsuit names eight former NFL players who have committed suicide in the past three years who are believed to have suffered from CTE.
The Kansas City Chiefs told the Star that it is aware of the lawsuits but has no comment.
The plaintiffs seek actual and punitive damages for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment and wrongful death.
Shepherd is represented by Gregory Leyh of Gladstone, Mo.
Belcher's daughter is represented by Kenneth B. McClain, with Humphrey, Farrington & McClain, of Independence.
Thousands of former players have sued the NFL, claiming the league failed to warn them about the affects of repeated head injuries.
On Dec. 31, two former Chiefs filed separate but related lawsuits against the team. On the same day, former players filed similar lawsuits in St. Louis City Court against the Rams and Cardinals.