Prosecutor Releases Photo Contradicting Eyewitness Testimony, But Public Outrage for Leonna Hill is Still Not Unwarranted

KANSAS CITY, MO – In the days since news broke that a 26-year old Black woman was shot multiple times by KCPD, then arrested while laying in a pool of her own blood before receiving medical attention, the viral story seemed to reach nearly every national and international news outlet. 

The first headlines by local outlets following the incident read vaguely; “Suspect Hospitalized Following Officer-involved Shooting in KCMO.” To those unfamiliar with the violent and traumatic history of the Kansas City Police Department, such a headline was likely quickly forgettable. To organizers, journalists and the Black community at large, it immediately launched a series of questions; was the person Black? Were they armed? What was the situation? Why did the police shoot them? Amongst numerous other inquiries. 

A day later, The Kansas City Star released a groundbreaking article with an eyewitness who posited numerous major details such as “The woman exited the car with her hands up” and “the woman told them she was pregnant and couldn’t get down on the ground.” Also notable was the witness’s quote that Leonna “did not pull out a weapon on them…she did not even have a stick in her hand.”

While the testimony of The Star’s key witness appears to contradict the still frame released by the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, the witness testimony was all too familiar to most Black Kansas Citians. The public and media’s reflex to connect Leonna’s case to previous unarmed Black people murdered by KCPD was not unwarranted.

Her narrative was reminiscent of the tragic story of Ryan Stokes, a 24 year old unarmed Black man who was gunned down by KCPD Officer William Thompson in Kansas City’s Power and Light District. Thompson claimed Ryan “was holding a gun in his right hand, and it was bigger than my Glock 23,” he told investigators. His claim was written into the official police report as fact and reported by local news outlets. Video surveillance later showed Ryan with both of his hands empty and never possessing a weapon, but Officer Thompson was still never charged with any crime. 

Image of Ryan Stokes and his baby child

Leonna Hale’s story also reminded us of Cameron Lamb, a 26-year old father of three who was murdered in his own backyard when a KCPD officer illegally entered Lamb’s property without a warrant and opened fire. The official police report and testimony claimed Lamb reached for a gun from his waistband and pointed it towards the cop. The outcome of the case, which ruled in favor of Lamb’s family, confirmed the prosecutor’s allegations that the crime scene was staged and evidence was planted to frame Lamb and justify his murder.

Left: Image of Cameron Lamb’s family holding pictures of him, Right: Cameron Lamb with his children

We were also reminded of the story of Malcolm Johnson, a 31-year old Black man who was murdered by KCPD inside a gas station convenience story on March 25th, 2021. Immediately upon the horrific incident occurring, the police described Johnson as having been armed and engaged in a shootout where he shot one officer in the leg. Again, this was written into the official police report and reported as fact by local media.

Malcolm Johnson in a collared shirt casually leaning against a wall

The Missouri State Highway Patrol was tasked as an “independent agency” to “investigate” the officer-involved shooting. The MSHP findings were identical to the initial police report and described Johnson as having engaged in a shootout. Only later, when two convenience store employees leaked surveillance footage, was the truth illuminated to the public that not only was Johnson unarmed and being physically restrained by 3-4 officers, but that one officer accidentally shot another officer before shooting Johnson twice and killing him. 

Lastly, while speculation still exists on whether or not Leonna is in fact pregnant, if she were, it would not be the first time the Kansas City Police Department has violently assaulted and hospitalized a pregnant Black woman. As recently as 2020, a nine months pregnant Black woman was aggressively thrown to the ground by a KCPD Officer while he proceeded to put his knee into her back with her belly directly pressing against the ground.

Deja Stallings being consoled by Attorney Stacy Shaw

The woman, 26-year-old Deja Stallings, was sent to the NICU and nearly had a miscarriage. It was later revealed that the officer who committed the atrocity, was the same officer who had murdered 47-year-old unarmed Black man Donnie Sanders just months before. Blayne Newton remains on the KC police force to this day. 

This is the historical and cultural context in which Black Kansas Citians relate to the Kansas City Police Department and the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The context is one where police indiscriminately shoot and murder Black people without cause, and later assign the Missouri State Highway Patrol to parrot their lies and coverups with no legal consequences. 

Lora McDonald, Executive Director of MORE2, noted the following;

“The public is right to question everything they hear when an officer involved shooting happens in Kansas City. Historically, this department has lied to the public about the nature of the incident that lead to contact with the person and other critical details of their shooting. Ideally, they would stop shooting people and we wouldn’t have anything to scrutinize. I would add that Missouri Highway Patrol appearing in front of media as soon as they’re ‘investigating’ a shooting and merely offering the media the KCPD version of events is detrimental to their credibility with folks like me.”

Since the story was released, the MSHP and KCPD have attempted to frame Leonna Hale as a suspect in the alleged “carjacking” case. But the victim of the alleged “carjacking” has not brought charges against either Leonna or the male individual who escaped from the police. Leonna is now only being charged with crimes relating to the interaction with police that nearly left her dead, but nothing to do with a “carjacking.”

Why won’t the MSHP or KCPD release bodycam footage for the public to clearly see what happened that day? Why did they leave Leonna in a pool of blood to potentially die, and handcuff her on the ground rather than seeking immediate medical attention?

“I would encourage the police department in light of all of the ongoing distrust… to release the full body camera footage. They should release it so that the community can see for ourselves what actually took place on that day. Taking such action is a great first step in trying to build community trust.” – Gwen Grant, CEO of the Urban League Kansas City

If she was armed as they say, why is it that the police can peacefully apprehend mass murderers like the Buffalo killer, but indiscrimantly shoot a woman who likely had no intentions of using the weapon? Was she holding the weapon in a way that showed aggression? Who are the police officers involved and do they have prior histories of excessive force? 

Until these questions are answered, and given the infamous and untrustworthy history that the KCPD and MSHP have earned themselves, the public is rightful to be highly skeptical of the “official police narrative” even if the aspects of the story which made it viral (i.e. pregnant and unarmed) turn out to not be as clear-cut as previously thought. 

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