Four men charged in a home invasion that led to the shooting this week of Independence Police Officer Thomas Wagstaff appeared Friday in a Jackson County courtroom, where a judge ordered them held in lieu of $500,000 bonds each.
Wagstaff, a 15-year veteran officer, remained hospitalized in critical condition with a head wound suffered Wednesday after responding to the home invasion robbery in the 3600 block of South Delaware Avenue.
According to court documents, two of the men forced their way into the house, tied up the homeowner and beat him while trying to gain access to a safe. The two men fled in the victim’s SUV by driving out his closed garage door.
Before the SUV broke through that door, officers outside the home fired toward the door, one officer fell to the pavement and others pulled him to safety, according to what the 911 caller told a television station Thursday night. The caller, a woman, said she had turned on her TV to check on her boyfriend through his home surveillance system and saw two men in bandanas and stocking caps beating him.
Since then, her son has been named as one of the four men charged in the case.
The homeowner required hospital treatment but has improved, his granddaughter-in-law wrote Thursday night on Facebook.
“He is cut up and bruised but is going to be ok,” she wrote. “We are incredibly thankful for Officer Wagstaff and the Independence Police Department for all they have done for us. We were dangerously close to losing Grandpa yesterday. … Officer Wagstaff and his family have never left our thoughts and we will continue to pray for his recovery.”
Jackson County prosecutors charged Ronar Santiago-Torres, 27, and Joseph E. Wyatt, 28, with robbery, burglary, kidnapping, armed criminal action and assault for allegedly being the two home invaders. Police arrested them after a chase.
Prosecutors also charged Donald E. Nussbaum, 51, and James McChan, 56, with all the same counts, except the assault charge, for allegedly taking Wyatt and Santiago-Torres to commit the crime. All four reside in Kansas City, according to court documents. At least three of the men have lived in Independence, including Nussbaum, whose mother called police.
During a brief court hearing Friday, Jackson County Circuit Judge Charles McKenzie entered automatic not-guilty pleas for all four defendants, as is usual in criminal cases. The men said little but answered questions, “Yes, sir.” Their next court appearances were set for May 1.
So far, court documents filed in the men’s cases have not mentioned the shooting of Wagstaff.
On Thursday, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said it was possible Wagstaff was hit accidentally by another officer’s bullet. Kansas City police are investigating the robbery and the shooting on behalf of Independence police.
Nussbaum and McChan have known each other for years through McChan’s sister, who has been in a long-term relationship with Nussbaum, according to McChan’s former wife.
Santiago-Torres told police after his arrest that it was McChan’s idea to commit the robbery, the court documents say.
McChan has a lengthy criminal record and has been in and out of federal and state prisons since 1978. His Missouri convictions include theft and attempting to obtain a controlled substance by fraud, according to court records.
In 1994, he was convicted in the armed robbery of a Lenexa pharmacy. He was convicted again in 2011 of attempted robbery of a Merriam pharmacy, and he also served time in federal prison for distribution of drugs.
At McChan’s sentencing in the federal case, a judge recommended that he be sent to a facility where he could participate in an intensive drug treatment program, according to court records.
His former wife, Carol McClain, said he has struggled with substance abuse for years.
“Drugs rule him,” she said. “He’s not completely a bad guy. He’s had a tough life.”
Her brief marriage to him was a “wake up in Vegas kind of thing,” she said, and that they got divorced after he once again went to prison.
Nussbaum has only a minimal criminal record. He is on probation in Missouri for forgery, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections.
He also has gotten involved in drugs in recent years, according to McClain, as has Wyatt, whom she said had “fallen into heroin.”
“His life has just disintegrated,” she said.
McClain said she had met Santiago-Torres but did not know him well.
He, too, seems to have a minimal criminal record. He was convicted in 2015 of a misdemeanor crime related to the theft of a laptop computer in West Virginia.
McClain said she was “stunned and shocked” by news of the crime and the officer’s shooting.
“I don’t know what they were thinking,” she said. “I’m appalled and embarrassed.”
She said she was praying for the officer.
“I hope he pulls through,” McClain said.
The victim’s family told The Star that the woman who called 911 to report the home invasion was just a friend, but not girlfriend. But Nussbaum’s mother told Fox4 that she called 911 after turning on her TV to check her boyfriend’s security cameras.
When a Star reporter went to her Independence house Friday, he saw a note posted on her front door that said, “No press. No comment. Please do not disturb!!! Thank you for under standing (sic).”
Independence police asked Friday for continued prayers for Wagstaff.
Fund for Wagstaff family
A fund has been set up to help the family of Officer Thomas Wagstaff, Independence police announced Friday. Wagstaff, 42, is the married father of two teenage sons. He wife teaches elementary school art in the Raytown School District.
Anyone wishing to donate can drop off checks or cash to the attention of Officer L. Virgil at the Independence Police Department, 223 N. Memorial Drive.
Donations also can be made at the Greater KC Public Safety Credit Union, 19341 E. U.S. 40. Checks can be made out to “Answering The Call.” Officials said all donations will go directly to the officer’s family.