Feb 14, 2020 8:00 AM

Judge: KC police officer justified in death of unarmed man

Posted Feb 14, 2020 8:00 AM

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri police officer used reasonable force when he fatally shot an unarmed man in 2013 because the officer believed the man was armed and posed a threat, a federal judge determined.

Kansas City police Officer William Thompson shot and killed 24-year-old Ryan Stokes in July 2013 during a foot chase. Stokes, who was black, was falsely accused of stealing a cellphone. Thompson, who is biracial, shot him twice in the back even though Stokes was following another officer's commands.

Stokes' mother, Narene Stokes, filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit in 2016 against Thompson and the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, alleging that the shooting was not justified.

U.S. District Judge Brian C. Wimes ruled Tuesday that Thompson has immunity.

“Using the applicable factors to determine objective reasonableness, Officer Thompson believed Stokes was armed and turned to ambush the pursuing officers, and Officer Thompson discharged his weapon to protect the approaching officers,” Wimes wrote in his 15-page opinion.

“The fact that Stokes was not, in reality, holding a gun when Officer Thompson shot him is not relevant,” Wimes continued. “Under these circumstances, Officer Thompson relied on his observations to conclude Stokes posed a threat of death or serious physical injury to other officers such that Officer Thompson’s use of deadly force cannot be said to violate a clearly established constitutional right of which a reasonable officer would have known.”

Stokes' death happened the same year that the Black Lives Matter movement took off after the 2013 acquittal of a neighborhood watch volunteer who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. However, Stokes' name hasn’t resonated with the movement nationally.

Narene Stokes told KCUR radio in Kansas City that she was disappointed and disgusted by the judge’s decision.

“What kind of judge is this? What kind of man is this?” she said.

Her attorney, Cyndy Short, said she plans to appeal.

Kansas City police spokesman Sgt. Jake Becchina said the department respects the court's ruling.

"The result of the events is terribly tragic for the family members and all involved," he said. “We are sorry for the pain that Mr. Stokes' family experienced.”