KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office announced on Friday they would not pursue criminal charges against the Kansas City, Kansas, police officer who fatally shot a DoorDash driver during a traffic stop in late April.
Amaree’ya Henderson, 25, was shot and killed on April 29 near the Kansas City, Kansas, 12th Street Bridge. Police have said the shooting unfolded after a “confrontation ensued” between Henderson and the officer.
Jonathan Carter, a spokesman for the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office, explained the decision to not pursue criminal charges in a Friday afternoon statement:
“At the time the officer discharged his weapon, the suspect was driving the car at a high rate of speed while the officer was stuck between the door and the driver’s compartment. While holding on to the moving vehicle the officer told the suspect to stop.”
He said Henderson “refused commands” from the officer to stop and continued to drive at high speeds. Then, the officer discharged his weapon.
The case was investigated by homicide detectives across the state line in Kansas City as part of an agreement for outside agencies to review KCK police deadly use of force. It was forwarded to Wyandotte County prosecutors on May 10 to determine whether the shooting was justified under state law.
Deadly force, under Kansas law, is justifiable if an officer is in immediate danger or at risk of serious bodily harm, the district attorney’s office noted in the explanation of the charging decision.
Meanwhile, family and supporters of Henderson have called for accountability in the fatal police shooting, saying Henderson was unarmed and did not pose a threat to police. That night, he and his girlfriend, Shakira Hill, had recently completed a food delivery in the area when they were stopped.
Pauletta Johnson, Henderson’s mother, was on FaceTime with her son and his girlfriend as Johnson drove to the area where the traffic stop was underway, she previously told The Kansas City Star. Johnson has questioned what led police to shoot her son to death, saying Henderson was not a “street kid” and was an “innocent man.”
Attorneys for the family criticized the decision not to file charges on Friday, saying the district attorney’s office failed to factor in all the surrounding circumstances. They contend KCKPD Officer Austin Schuler was never in danger and instead made dangerous choices that do not align with the department’s own use of force policy.
According to the family’s lawyers, the vehicle Henderson was driving traveled approximately 250 feet before striking a parked vehicle and after Henderson was shot twice at close range. They say the officers failed to deescalate as Henderson feared for his safety, and they believe Henderson started to drive away from the traffic stop in search of a more well-lit location.
The officer who shot Henderson put himself in harm’s way by jumping onto the vehicle, the family’s lawyers said.
“The body cam shows a disgusting display of excessive force, and the unlawful, unnecessary killing of another young, unarmed black man,” Nuru Witherspoon, an attorney representing the family, said in a statement.
The lawyers also called on KCKPD Police Chief Karl Oakman to publicly release the video footage.
“The police department has the ability to release the footage to the public, now that the investigation is closed,” said Kay Harper Williams, another family attorney. “Pauletta Johnson said it best. If there is nothing to hide, then KCKPD should release the full, unredacted video to the public.”
Kansas has one of the strictest laws related to police body camera footage in the country.
According to the law, public agencies in Kansas are not required to disclose anything that is considered a “criminal investigation record.” As of 2016, that includes all footage from police body and vehicle cameras. This means that law enforcement agencies in Kansas, by law, do not need to release body camera footage to the public, but they can choose to do so at their own discretion.
Over the past month, the case — which marks the third police shooting in Kansas City, Kansas in 2023 — has caught the attention of police reform advocates in Wyandotte County. They’ve called for greater transparency from law enforcement.
Nikki Richardson, co-founder of the local advocacy organization Justice for Wyandotte, was surprised that the district attorney’s office reached its decision one month after the shooting.
“The swiftness of this decision is unusual for us since we have been repeatedly told that officer-involved shooting investigations require months,” she said.
The group has filed a request to view the footage and believes the tape should be made public now that the case is closed.
Lora McDonald, executive director for the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity or MORE2, questioned on Friday whether the officer followed the department’s policies and procedures.
“We do not know as no footage has been released to the public,” McDonald said in a statement.
“Are existing policies and procedures sufficient? Law enforcement departments around the nation have recognized that shooting into a moving vehicle does not increase safety, but instead turns the vehicle into a more dangerous weapon to bystanders in the area,” she said.
At an early May rally on the median of Seventh Street and Minnesota Avenue, multiple family members complained about being unable to access the body camera footage.
Tamika Manning and her two daughters, cousins of Henderson, traveled from Colorado to support their Kansas City, Kansas, relatives.
“I’ve already seen Amaree’ya … I want everybody to see what was done to him,” Manning said.
In a statement released at that event, the family said they are “outraged that Amaree’ya’s life was taken through unjustified violence. … If there is nothing to hide, release the footage to the public!”
At the time, they said they had filed an open records request for the footage. Family was given the chance to view footage of Henderson’s fatal shooting in accordance with state law, according to Wyandotte County prosecutors.
Although criminal charges will not be filed, there are civil and administrative matters related to the incident that have yet to be resolved, the district attorney’s statement said.
An internal review of the shooting will determine whether Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department policy was followed by the officer or if any changes will be necessary, now that the case is closed, Nancy Chartrand, a spokeswoman for the department, said in a Friday statement.
(The Star’s Bill Lukitsch contributed to this report.)
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