The Kansas City Police Department on Monday rescinded a certificate of commendation that had been awarded to two officers involved in a 2014 fatal shooting that is the subject of a federal lawsuit.
The Board of Police Commissioners voted to take back the commendation after deciding that the award included inaccurate language describing the shooting of an unarmed 24-year-old man, according to board president Nathan Garrett.
The award described Officer William Thompson shooting a suspect armed with a handgun. However, the man who was killed, Ryan Stokes, did not have a gun when he died, as police have acknowledged.
Garrett was appointed to the police board in 2017, three years after the award was issued. He said he acted on the commendation discrepancy when it was brought to his attention.
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“I can’t answer the question of why not until now,” Garrett said. “When matters come before me, I’m going to deal with them.”
Garrett said the board’s decision on the award had no bearing on the legality of the shooting, which will be litigated in court.
Another officer who was at the scene of the shooting, Tamara Jones, also received a commendation, which also was rescinded Monday.
Thompson shot Stokes at the conclusion of a foot chase near the Power & Light District about 3 a.m. on July 28, 2013.
At the time Stokes died, he was unarmed. Thompson said he thought he saw a gun in Stokes’ hand when the two crossed paths in a parking lot near 12th and McGee streets. After the shooting, police found a gun in a car next to Stokes’ body.
Stokes’ mother, Narene Stokes-James, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Police Department. That case is pending in federal court. No criminal charges were filed in the shooting.
Stokes-James had previously complained to the Police Department about the inaccuracy of the language in the commendation.
On Monday, she issued a statement saying the awards have caused her family “tremendous pain.”
“Today the Police Department has taken the first step to admitting they lied about my son,” the statement read. “(Officer) Thompson shot my unarmed son in the back and his actions can never be justified.”
Stokes-James said she had not been told in advance of the announcement by the police board.
“I am sad that they did not think enough of me or of my son to invite me to attend this meeting.”
Police have said the shooting was deemed reasonable because Stokes was fleeing from police and Thompson thought he saw a gun in Stokes’ hand.
Witnesses told police they saw Stokes toss away a gun moments before the shooting. Investigators concluded that Stokes put the gun in the car just before he was shot.
A grand jury declined to indict Thompson, and a police shooting panel that reviewed the incident made no recommendations for training or department policy changes.
Cynthia Short, a lawyer who is representing Stokes-James in the suit, said the officers involved in the incident had been working in administrative roles and were not prepared for their assignment that night working in “hot spot” locations such as the Power & Light District.
Short said the Police Department lied about what happened.
“Virtually everything they said that happened in that parking lot was untrue,” Short said. “From the very first moment that they had an opportunity to speak to this community, they have been telling lies about what happened there that night, and lies about Ryan.”
Community leaders have called for more accountability, transparency and reforms in the Police Department.
Some have proposed creating a safer foot-pursuit policy and appointing a victim advocate team that would reach out to survivors of police shootings and families of those killed.
Relatives of Stokes and community leaders have made a habit of attending monthly police board meetings, asking police commissioners to rescind the award, clear Stokes’ name and implement their reforms.
Among the community leaders speaking out about the Stokes shooting has been the Rev. Vernon Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City.
“As a civil rights organization, our interest is the victim’s (Mr. Stokes’) rights. To the extent this rescinding assists in reversing the false and very unfair public criminalization of Mr. Stokes then this decision is good,” Howard said Monday.
“However, the narrative that Mr. Stokes was a threat is untrue and still needs addressing.”
“This young African American male was a noble and positive contributor to his daughter, family, church, and community. To our knowledge his daughter and family have yet to receive a proper and full restorative response,” Howard said.