Kansas City police are investigating whether the bullet that struck an Independence police officer in the head during a robbery call came from a fellow officer’s gun, authorities said Thursday.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker charged four men in the home invasion robbery that led to the shooting Wednesday of Independence Police Officer Thomas Wagstaff, who is in critical condition with a severe head wound.
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When asked at a news conference Thursday afternoon if Wagstaff, 42, was hit by fellow officer’s bullet, she said she expected the question and that it was possible.
“It is possible that through some kind of freakish event or some kind of one-in-a-million scenario that could not be expected and certainly could not be replicated in a lab if you tried to repeat it, that that incident could have happened at this scene,” Baker said.
But, she said, the four charged are responsible for Wagstaff’s injuries.
“I hold them accountable in every possible way for his injuries, and I will continue to do so,” she said. “We are still investigating, but I have the individuals responsible.”
Baker said authorities also have a person of interest “we continue to look at.”
Ronar Santiago-Torres, 27, and Joseph E. Wyatt, 28, were charged Thursday morning with committing the crime around 9:45 a.m. Wednesday in the 3600 block of South Delaware Avenue. They were arrested minutes later after allegedly attempting to flee in the victim’s SUV.
Later Thursday, prosecutors charged Donald E. Nussbaum, 51, and James McChan, 56, in their alleged roles in taking Wyatt and Santiago-Torres to commit the crime.
Wagstaff, a 15-year veteran with the Police Department, remained in critical condition Thursday after undergoing hours-long life-saving surgery soon after he was shot in the head. Family members, his church pastor and other police officers are continuing a vigil at the hospital.
As his pastor, the Rev. Orin Cummings, spoke to and prayed for him Thursday morning, Wagstaff raised a hand three times, Cummings said. But doctors do not believe those movements were voluntary responses, Cummings later learned. Wagstaff’s father, mother-in-law and aunt were in the room at the time.
“We’ve been praying for a miracle in this situation,” said Cummings, a Lutheran pastor who also serves Wagstaff’s Episcopal church, St. Matthew’s in Raytown. “The opinion is that his condition remains critical. Nevertheless, we remain hopeful. …
“There is a vibrant vigil at the hospital comprised of his family, law enforcement, church and friends. It has and continues to be my prayer that our strength would transfer to Tom and with God’s blessings he will pull through.”
St. Matthew’s activated its prayer chain Wednesday for the officer and his family, wife Stacy and teen sons, 16-year-old Jordan and13-year-old Alex. Police officers, residents and community leaders gathered for a prayer vigil later Wednesday in Raytown. And on Thursday, Bishop Martin Field of the Diocese of West Missouri sent out a diocesan email newsletter asking for prayers.
Baker, the prosecutor, said she was praying, too.
“Though I’m going to continue to pray for Officer Wagstaff, I’m also asking for prayers for this Police Department,” Baker said. “They are under an incredible strain today. They are feeling the pressure and the demands and the burden of this job.”
But, she said, “they do not carry this burden alone. We carry it with them, all of us, this entire community.”
A GoFundMe.com page was set up Thursday to raise funds to help the Wagstaff family with medical bills.
Prosecutors charged Santiago-Torres and Wyatt with robbery, burglary, kidnapping, armed criminal action and first-degree assault.
Nussbaum and McChan were charged with all of the same counts except the assault charge.
Nussbaum was the son of the robbery victim’s girlfriend, and McChan also knew the victim, according to court records. The victim’s son said in an interview with a Star reporter Thursday that the woman was a friend, not girlfriend.
Prosecutors requested $500,000 cash bonds for each of them. No court hearing has been scheduled, according to court records.
All four of the defendants live in Kansas City, according to court records. The Kansas City violent crimes unit is leading the investigation.
The court documents released Thursday do not mention the circumstances of how Wagstaff was shot. Police said Wednesday that moments after officers arrived, the burglars opened fire while trying to escape. Police immediately returned fire.
According to the documents:
Two men knocked on the door and told the homeowner they were looking for a lost dog. They also offered to clean the gutters.
The victim told them to leave, but minutes later, one of the men knocked on the door again. When the victim answered, one of the men brandished a black semi-automatic handgun with a long barrel. He warned the man that he had a silencer on the gun, so he could shoot the victim without anyone hearing it.
The men forced their way into the house and threw the victim against a sliding glass door, where they began beating him. They tied his hands in the front with zip ties and demanded to know where the victim’s safe was located inside the house.
One of the men held the victim at gunpoint while the other ransacked the house. After finding the safe, one of the intruders demanded the combination. When the victim said he didn’t know it, the men beat him again and warned that they would kill him.
During the robbery, the victim’s girlfriend saw what was happening on a remote video feed from the victim’s home and called police, according to court records.
Police located the men inside the residence. After refusing to obey police commands, the men drove the victim’s car through a closed garage door.
Wyatt reportedly was armed with a handgun when police arrested him. Investigators traced the weapon back to the victim.
Santiago-Torres later allegedly told Kansas City detectives that he went to the home to rob the victim and said they restrained and held the victim at gunpoint while searching his house. They repeatedly hit the victim with a handgun, and when they heard sirens approaching the house, the men stole the victim’s SUV and sped away, the documents say.
Wyatt reportedly told investigators he went to the home with Santiago-Torres, who was armed. Wyatt allegedly told them he took a handgun from the victim and stole $1,200 to $1,500. When police arrived, Wyatt said, he got into the driver’s seat while Santiago-Torres got into the passenger seat. Wyatt reportedly said he drove through the closed garage door to flee from police who had “bright white lights.”
Investigators later found a black pellet gun that was a black semi-automatic replica with a replica suppressor on it inside the victim’s garage.
The robbers sped away in the stolen SUV and led police on a chase to the area of East 23rd Street and South Cedar Avenue. One armed man bailed out of the vehicle and tried to run away but was quickly arrested. A second person was also arrested.
According to court documents, Santiago-Torres told police that the robbery was McChan’s “lick,” but neither man could go inside the house because they knew the victim.
John Wyatt, whose father adopted Joesph Wyatt, doesn’t believe his brother would have shot a police officer. He’s not been in any major trouble before, “nothing more than stealing a candy bar,” said John Wyatt, who thought his brother was out of town and was surprised to hear he had been arrested in Independence on Wednesday.
“This is something I would never expect from him,” John Wyatt said. “He was raised good. … He wouldn’t shoot a cop, that’s for damn sure. He wouldn’t shoot anyone. The only thing he’s ever shot was a deer. But … he was hanging out with a rough crowd.”
Though he lived in Kansas City as a small boy, Joseph Wyatt grew up in rural Oak Grove riding four-wheelers and graduated from Oak Grove High School, his brother said. He has a young son, works construction jobs and lists on his Facebook page being a member of the Roofers Local Union 20.
John Wyatt said he is praying for Wagstaff and his family.
“Send them my best condolences,” he said.
The robbery victim’s son also said his family’s thoughts and prayers were going to the officer and his family.
“We’re pretty appreciative of all of the Independence police work and Kansas City and all of the officers that were involved in helping out our family,” he said. Regarding his father, he added, “He’s out of the hospital, he’s sore and he has some injuries but optimistic on a quick recovery. He’s out of the hospital, and he’s still in shock by a lot of this.”
Baker described Wagstaff as “my hero today.”
“I want to offer my most sincere condolences,” Baker said. “This officer is fighting for his life.”
But, she said, Wagstaff is not uncommon.
“He’s just the kind of hero we expect from an individual who wears a blue uniform,” she said.
Santiago-Torres formerly lived in West Virginia. In 2015, he was charged with receiving or transferring stolen property, according to West Virginia court records.
The case involved a stolen laptop. The computer’s owner called police after someone contacted the owner and offered to sell the computer back to that person. Santiago-Torres was arrested when he showed up to make the transaction.
He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in that case. He served nine days in jail and was ordered to pay $160 in court costs, according to the records.
Nussbaum is on probation in Missouri in a forgery case.
McChan has a criminal record dating back to the late 1970s and is currently on parole, according to Missouri Department of Corrections records.
McChan has also spent time in prison for robbery, according to Kansas Department of Corrections records.