By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – These days, all Narene Stokes wants to do is clear her son’s name and gain some closure. In the two years since Kansas City, Mo. Police Department officer William Thompson ended Ryan Stokes’ life with four bullets, both media and police reports have described Ryan as a thief and an armed suspect.
“At first…we got asked a lot, ‘Well, did he have a gun? You know, was he down there stealing?’” recalled Narene. “Ryan did nothing of the sort of what they put in their story. I could see he was going to be a great man, a father, an uncle, a true brother. Ryan was a good guy.”
Ryan, 24, was enjoying the nightlife with friends at Kansas City’s Power & Light entertainment district. As the bars began to close, people flowed into the streets. Police officers were already in place, attempting to disperse the crowd.
A group of young White men stepped into the crowd, and one discovered his phone was missing. He accused Ryan Stokes’ childhood friend, standing nearby, of stealing it. A scuffle ensued, and a bystander captured part of it on video. In the video, Ryan seemed to be separating the men – until a tear gas canister was fired into the crowd.
People scattered, and the men pointed Ryan out to a police officer. Meanwhile, Ryan’s designated driver had caught a faceful of the gas. He handed Ryan his car keys to get the car.
There are different accounts of what happened next.
According to police, Ryan and his childhood friend were chased to the parking lot. The friend was ordered to the ground and handcuffed; at the same time, Ryan pulled a gun on the officers and ignored commands to drop it, forcing Officer Thompson, who is Black, to shoot.
“I have read the police officer’s statements about what happened,” said Cyndy Short, the family’s lawyer. “The investigation as recorded in the report about the shooting is very underwhelming, underdeveloped. Even the officers are inconsistent about whether or not commands were given.”
Short and several witnesses said that police did not get Ryan’s attention – if they did issue commands, he did not seem to hear them. Additionally, an off-duty officer from a nearby suburb saw Ryan walking to the car, and said he neither heard officer commands, nor saw a weapon. Everyone agrees that Ryan’s childhood friend was arrested. According to Narene, he watched Ryan fall to the ground a few feet away, then spent at least a month in jail.
The medical examiner declared Ryan’s death a homicide. Less than a week later, a grand jury ruled it justifiable. A year later, Officer Thompson and his partner Tamara Jones were awarded a certificate of commendation for “ending the threat.”
Ryan, who worked in his father’s dry cleaners, had no criminal record. An autopsy revealed that Ryan was shot in the back and in his side near his back. There were no drugs or alcohol found in his system.
Ryan was unarmed, and – judging from the path of the bullets through his body – likely unaware that he was being pursued.
Narene stated, “I didn’t even know that it was over a cell phone at first. That’s why they killed Ryan. To hear that the first initiation of this was because a man said somebody stole his cell phone….
“Then, you pick out Ryan out of 300 or 400 people down there. Nobody else got shot, nobody else had any bullet fragments, nothing, nothing. And then you get an award for killing this young man.”
Narene arrived on the scene around 4 a.m., when it was still roped off and under investigation. A friend had raced over to her home and informed her and her daughter that Ryan might be in trouble.
“[When] we got there, I believe he was there. I was pretty numb, pretty in shock but my daughter…her vision is better than mine, she kept telling me that she could see her brother,” she said. “But she didn’t want to say that was her brother, she just kept saying, ‘Tell me that’s not my brother laying there.’”
Narene said officers on the scene would not give her any information. Instead they asked her a lot of questions, gave her business cards, took her information, and sent her home.
At home she kept calling Ryan’s phone. It rang and rang. Someone had posted something on social media about Ryan being in danger, and calls from family and friends began to pour in.
After daybreak, the news reported that a 24-year-old Black male had been shot and killed by police at the Kansas City Power & Light District.
Around 5 or 6 p.m., the police called.
“They asked me could I meet them somewhere, instead of saying they would be here, or whatever. And I said no, you can come to my house,” she said. “Finally, they came to my home and told me they had killed Ryan. They said that he wouldn’t put down the gun, that they had to shoot him five times in the chest. Why would they want to make up a story like that? To this day I still don’t get it.”
It’s been two years. That was the first and only communication she has had from the city government.
Narene and her family want justice and answers. In the meantime, they want Ryan to be spoken of and remembered for who he was.
This Friday, July 24, at 8:30 p.m. there will be a candlelight vigil and prayer service at City Hall, just a few blocks from where Ryan was killed. Saturday, July 25 at 11 a.m., the Mary L. Kelly Center will host a basketball tournament in Ryan’s honor, and small fundraiser for his daughter’s education. And on Sunday, July 26 at 3 p.m., Zion Grove Church – Ryan’s lifelong spiritual home – will host a special memorial service.
“Over time I’ve learned from the family that one of the things that has been destructive is the loss of Ryan’s true legacy,” said Short. “The fact that, in the police’s effort to justify a shooting, they also like to muddy up the person they killed. So we began to think about how we can reclaim his name.”
The Stokes family has until 2018 to file a wrongful death suit, if they choose. Narene said any compensation received would be used to raise Ryan’s daughter, Neriah, now 3 years old.
“It’s taken a real bad toll on his dad, more than he tries to admit. Him and his dad were like, [together] every day…they worked together, they watched sports together, they did a lot together. [Neriah’s mother] is doing better, but she is really out of it some days. She misses him crazy,” Narene said.
“My question is just, why? Really, what happened? I am so mad at the whole system. Because this officer has gotten an award for how he handled that night down there at Power & Light. The award you got was for…killing Ryan. You killed a part of me, too.”