Former Kansas City Police Officer Who Refuted Shooting Story Feels Forced Out, Apologizes to Victim's Mother
Ryan Stokes, an African-American man, was gunned down by a Kansas City Police Department officer in the Power & Light District in 2013. Now one of the officers at the scene who refuted the department's version of events has been pushed out.
The first Kansas City Police Department officer to reach a 24-year-old African-American man after he was shot to death in a downtown parking lot — who later gave sworn testimony against the department’s false narrative of that night — has apologized to the young man’s mother.
During a week when the U.S. is transfixed by the Minneapolis case of a black man being killed in the streets by police, former KCPD officer Daniel Straub told KCUR that he felt the need to apologize to the mother of Ryan Stokes because it is part of the integrity of being a law enforcement officer.
"I feel there's something greater that is missing from police departments across the country," Straub said. "That missing trait is empathy and the ability to see the good in everyone and the tragedy in the hurting no matter who they are."
Straub, who resigned under pressure from the department last year, was one of the officers who was chasing Ryan Stokes into a Power & Light District parking lot around 3 a.m. on July 28, 2013, after a drunk white man falsely accused Stokes of stealing his iPhone.
A KCUR investigation revealed that Ryan Stokes didn’t steal the phone, was unarmed and was surrendering to Straub when Stokes was shot from behind by another KCPD officer, William Thompson, who is still on the force.
At the time of the shooting, KCPD promoted a story that Ryan Stokes was a thief with a gun who had engaged in a standoff with police when he refused to drop his weapon. But Straub testified in depositions in June 2017 for a lawsuit filed by Narene Stokes, Ryan’s mother, that in fact, Ryan Stokes didn’t have a gun and was complying with his orders.
Straub, who was a Kansas City police officer for 14 years, says he was pushed out of the department in September 2019 for reasons that still mystify him, though he wonders if it's in retaliation for his testimony in the Stokes case. He reached out to Narene Stokes via Facebook last November and met with her just before Thanksgiving.
A U.S. Army veteran who did two tours of duty in Iraq as a military policeman and is currently a drill sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve, Straub talked to Narene Stokes about the night she lost her son and about losing his own brother to gun violence in 2017.
Straub told Narene Stokes: “I am truly sorry for what happened to Ryan.”
“I was flabbergasted,” said Narene Stokes. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Narene Stokes, who remains in a long court battle with the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, said she sat through depositions in her case in which all of the officers backed up the story KCPD originally spun. At first, she said, she found it hard to believe that Straub came forward and wondered about his motivations, but she changed her mind.
“In depositions, all of them were sticking to their story. None of them came forward like Daniel did,” Narene Stokes said Thursday. “It helped that actually somebody was standing up and saying there was some wrong in there.”
Narene Stokes’ case is on appeal after a federal judge dismissed it in February, saying Thompson, the officer who shot Ryan Stokes, had qualified immunity because he believed Stokes was armed and posed a threat.
Straub, 40, has had a difficult time in the last few years. His 21-year-old brother was killed in August 2017.
Then, in an October 2017 incident in Westport, Straub, who is black, shot at a white man in a car who he believed was trying to run him down. Although the department initially found the shooting to be justified, higher-ups later reversed that decision.
The police union wouldn’t represent him because he wasn’t a member. Facing possible charges from the Jackson County prosecutor, Straub hired a lawyer on advice of Chief Rick Smith. Straub ultimately agreed to a deal on a misdemeanor charge and completed counseling for grief, PTSD and anger management, along with extra firearms training and 100 hours of community service.
In February 2019, he was suspended without pay and his sergeant recommended termination. He says he still doesn’t understand why the shooting lead to that recommendation, but he wonders if the Stokes case or his race were factors.
“There’s no way of me knowing,” Straub said. “The reason that they used for firing me was my shooting incident. But when you look at all the other cases against officers who have done a lot worse and not been fired, it doesn’t line up. It doesn’t make sense.”
Asked for comment on Straub’s case, KCPD Sgt. Jacob Becchina said, “The department became aware of a 2017 incident involving Officer Straub. He subsequently resigned from the department.”
Becchina also said the department’s policy is to provide a “work atmosphere free from discrimination and harassment.”
After leaving KCPD, Straub said he applied to be an officer in Independence, Lenexa, Shawnee and at the University of Kansas Medical Center, but once-promising offers seemed to dry up. He’s currently working as a warehouse manager for a heating, ventilation and air conditioning company.
Losing a 20-year law enforcement career, Straub said, is “definitely a punch to the gut.” After a tough childhood in Florida, where he saw drugs and illegal guns sold in his mother’s living room, Straub said he always saw the police as there to help.
“I had that positive interaction with them growing up,” he said. “I grew up seeing my mom get abused and beaten, and the police would be the saviors, you know? They showed up and they always treated us right.”
Straub has thought about filing a lawsuit against KCPD, but so far decided against it. He doesn’t hold out a lot of hope for another law enforcement job and is grateful for his current job, which is helping support his wife and five-year-old daughter.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said of law enforcement. “I always wanted to serve. It’s always been my heart.”