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Kansas City Area Mothers Who Lost Sons To Police Shootings Say Investigations Must Change

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Sheila Albers, left, and Nahrene Stokes-Smith
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Sheila Albers, left, and Narene Stokes, embrace at KCUR on Tuesday.

Narene Stokes, who lost her son to a shooting by a Kansas City police officer eight years ago, and Sheila Albers, whose son was killed three years ago by an Overland Park police officer, say “this can happen to anyone.”

When Narene Stokes asked for a meeting of mothers who had lost their sons to fatal police shootings, the only white woman who showed up in the Zoom crowd was Sheila Albers.

Albers knew she wanted to be friends with Stokes during that March 2020 call when Stokes introduced herself as the “mama of all these mothers.”

“I believe we all bleed and breathe the same,” Stokes told KCUR’s Steve Kraske on Tuesday. “We just connected as mothers.”

Stokes lost her son, 24-year-old Ryan, eight years ago when a Kansas City police officer shot him in the back. Albers’ son, John, 17, was killed by an Overland Park police officer after police were called to the family’s home on a welfare check.

Still waiting for justice, the two mothers have united to call for a change in how police investigate officer-involved shootings. They're asking for independent probes rather than police doing their own investigations. The women also want a change in how police are trained in firearms, de-escalation and mental health calls.

From that first Zoom meeting, Albers said she was in awe of Stokes' strength.

“The first way she helped me is, she inspired me,” Albers said. “I thought, if she doesn’t give up, I shouldn’t either.”

Sheila Albers, left, and Narene Stokes, who have both lost their sons in fatal shootings by police, speak at the annual memorial for Stokes’ son, Ryan, in Grove Park on July 31.
Peggy Lowe
KCUR 89.3
Sheila Albers, left, and Narene Stokes, who have both lost their sons in fatal shootings by police, speak at the annual memorial for Stokes’ son, Ryan, in Grove Park on July 31.

The two finally met in person in July 2020. A year later, on July 31, 2021, Albers stood by Stokes at the annual memorial the family holds for Ryan at a Kansas City park.

“We’re two Kansas City moms who want to see change to a difficult system that has been slow to change,” Albers said. “We want to show that this can happen to anyone.”

A KCUR investigation found that Kansas City Police floated a false narrative about Ryan Stokes' shooting in 2013, after he was falsely accused of stealing a cell phone in the city’s Power & Light District. Stokes was unarmed and obeying police commands when Officer William Thompson shot him in the back. Stokes’ federal wrongful death lawsuit against Thompson and the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners is on appeal after a judge ruled that Thompson used "reasonable" force. Thompson is still with the police department.

Albers called a 500-page investigation into her son’s shooting released in May by a Johnson County law enforcement agency a “sham.” Overland Park Police Officer Clayton Jenison, who did not identify himself to John Albers as he drove the family’s minivan out of the driveway, shot at the vehicle 13 times. Jenison resigned in 2018 and was paid $70,000 in severance by the city.

Despite the years that have gone by since their sons' shootings, Stoke and Albers said they're still hopeful justice will prevail.

“I see the door open,” Stokes said. “From George Floyd to Breonna Taylor to the others that have been killed. I see a change to come.”

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I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
Chris Young is an Assistant Producer for KCUR’s Up To Date. Contact him at chrisy@kcur.org.
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