Key Points

  • Mother of unarmed Black man shot by KCPD still seeking justice 10 years later
  • Ryan Stokes’ killing by police was ruled as ‘justified’ due to qualified immunity
  • The family and Real Justice Network are pushing to end qualified immunity in Missouri

On the 10-year anniversary of her son dying at the hands of a KCPD Officer, Narene Crosby stood on the steps of police headquarters still searching for justice. 

“We are here to remind the city, the state, and the country that we are still here fighting for Ryan, and we’ll keep fighting as long as it takes,” says Crosby. 

Ryan Stokes was shot in the back by a Kansas City police officer 10 years ago. Despite Stokes being unarmed, his killing was ruled as ‘justified’ by a court due to the officer “fearing for his life.” 

“He was the soul of our family, he was the glue,” says Crosby. “His loss was truly profound not just for our family, they took away a business leader, a community leader, a father and a son.”

Over the past decade the family of Ryan Stokes, including his mother and daughter, have sued in order to seek restitution. Their case seemed to have the facts on their side: Ryan Stokes was unarmed, Officer William Thompson shot him in the back within ten seconds of arriving on the scene, and the KCPD even made a false report stating that they saw Stokes with a gun. 

The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, but the Stokes family has been denied the justice they seek.  They keep running into the same issue: qualified immunity.  

What is Qualified Immunity

The family of Ryan Stokes gathers each year to honor him, but this year they are also pushing to end police qualified immunity. 

“Qualified immunity has allowed police officers to go unchecked for far too long,” says Justice Gatson, director of the Real Justice Network.

Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that protects government employees from being sued. In effect, qualified immunity makes it nearly impossible to hold police officers accountable. If an officer says they ‘feared for their life,’ their actions are then deemed justifiable even when unconscionable. 

The officer in the Ryan Stokes case said he believed that Stokes had a gun, that belief—even though it was inaccurate—coupled with a fear for his life was enough for qualified immunity to protect the officer from repercussions. 

The US Supreme Court decided not to hear Stokes’ case in July, which upholds the lower court’s ruling that the officer who shot Stokes was justified. Justice Sonia Sotomayor gave a blistering dissent to the court’s decision to not hear the case. 

“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. “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.”

Real Justice Network Director Justice Gatson says they are committed to ending qualified immunity.

State Level Law Changes Sought

Gatson says that after the case was rejected by the Supreme Court, the group is exploring ways to end qualified immunity at least in the state of Missouri. There are four states that have at least limited qualified immunity, and they hope to make Missouri the fifth. 

The Stokes family and Real Justice Network are pressuring the state legislature to end the practice, and to make police officers carry  insurance, so that if an officer unjustly kills a citizen, the insurance policy would cover a payout instead of public tax dollars. 

They also want officers who’ve faced discipline and been fired for cause to not be able to work as an officer in another city or as prison guards. 

While the conservative super-majority in the Missouri legislature may be a challenge, the group says they are also exploring a ballot initiative to put qualified immunity to a vote. For more information visit or see the free film screening of “Who is Ryan Stokes?” at the Bluford Library at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 26.