Supreme Court rejects appeal in lawsuit brought by Ryan Stokes’ family

Ryan Stokes.
Ryan Stokes.(Stokes family)
Published: Jul. 3, 2023 at 5:29 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - The family of Ryan Stokes has lost their last hope in the wrongful death lawsuit against the Kansas City Police Board of Commissioners.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case and let stand the Eighth Circuit Court’s ruling granting the police officer who shot Stokes qualified immunity.

Ryan Stokes was 24 years old in 2013 when he was shot and killed by police in a parking lot near Power & Light. There was a disturbance between two groups coming out of the bars at closing. A man accused someone in Stokes’ group of stealing his cell phone. Police chased Stokes, but he was raising his arms and surrendering to an officer when another officer shot him in the back. The officer said he thought he had gun. Stokes was holding his keys and a flip phone when he was shot.

Officers involved in the shooting were cleared by a grand jury and never faced criminal charges. The family proceeded to civil court, seeking damages. The Eighth Circuit Court granted the officer qualified immunity because it was not clearly established that the officer used excessive force when he shot Stokes. The family appealed to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor objected to the decision not to hear the case. She wrote in her dissenting opinion that the case “tells a disturbing story.”

“Officers are told ‘that they can shoot first and think later’ because a court will find some detail to excuse their conduct after the fact,” Justice Sotomayor wrote.

She goes on to write, “The public is told ‘that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.’ And surviving family members like Stokes’ daughter are told that their losses are not worthy of remedy.”

Narene Crosby, Ryan Stokes’ mother, released a statement following the high court’s rejection:

Cyndy Short represented the family with Brian McCallister. She told KCTV5 that, while the court denied the suit, the family has accomplished some of what they set out to do after the shooting and will continue to fight for changes.

“Right after the shooting, they gave the two officers commendations for killing Ryan, which really sat wrong with many officers,” said Short. Those commendations were later taken away.

The family also wanted an apology. They got one from the officer Ryan was surrendering to, but not from Officer William Thompson — the officer who fired the fatal shot.

“We have a basketball court in [Ryan’s] honor,” said Short, “which was one of the things we wanted to accomplish.” The court in Harris Park was a restorative justice project and a collaborative effort between Sike Style Industries and Yup Yup Design. It is the same court Ryan played on in his youth.

It is the same court Ryan played on in his youth.
It is the same court Ryan played on in his youth.(KCTV5 News)

Short said her firm made a significant financial investment in the case. The decision by the high court sends a chilling message to other attorneys considering taking on similar cases.

“If the next case comes along, and I know that it’s not going to be treated fairly, then I’m going to be hard pressed to say, ‘Can I afford to help someone whose child has been wrongfully killed?’” said Short. “For people in the position of the Stokes family, it’s going to be very hard for them to get any kind of justice. And, if we can’t pursue these cases, then we can’t change the law.”