KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) — Sean Stearns said he was with his girlfriend on May 30th, the third day of the protests by the Plaza fountain prompted by the police killing of George Floyd.
It was between 11:30 p.m. and midnight , he said, when something hit him in the eye. He didn’t know how bad it was at the time. A lawsuit now claims it was a so called “less lethal” round fired by law enforcement that hit him.
“We were kind of at a distance from the line where protestors and police were,” said Stearns.
He said smoke was already filling the air when he and his girlfriend ran with others. He said she got kneed by someone else running and fell hard. She seemed concussed so he sat her down.
“I assumed that we were in a safe place, so I was crouched, talking to her. She was safe behind a tree,” he described.
Soon after, he was hit in the eye. Included in the lawsuit is a photograph of his face, his left eye swollen shut. The lawsuit indicates his injuries included bone fractures in his eye area and “permanent and complete loss of sight in his left eye.”
Stearns said he tries not to re-live or talk about that night.
“But I get reminded every day just looking in the mirror,” he continued.
Court documents also include a photo of what Sean’s lawyers believe hit him: “a ‘scat pack’ (a.k.a. Multi-Smoke Projectiles) containing 3 separate projectiles which break apart and travel excessive distances at high velocities.”
Sterns’ lawyer, James Thompson, takes issue with such tools being referred to as “less lethal” weapons.
“The whole idea of less lethal or less than lethal, those are to a certain extent oxymorons,” said Thompson. “These weapons kill people and obviously, as you see, they blind people.”
During the course of the several days of protests, police reported being hit with frozen water bottles and pieces of concrete, with one officer getting a lacerated liver. But Sterns notes many people were simply kneeling far from the police line.
The lawsuit alleges it was a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper who fired the round in question. Thompson said the suit is directed at Kansas City because the state troopers were working under mutual aid agreement with the KCPD.
“I don’t think there was sufficient guidance. There wasn’t sufficient directive and coordination with respect to use of force,” posited Thompson.
The lawsuit is seeking monetary damages for Sterns but it’s also asking a judge to order specific policies be enacted and trained on.
Below are just a few:
- Prohibit “shooting projectiles indiscriminately into crowds of people exercising their rights of free speech…”
- Require “badges and badge numbers [be] prominently displayed…”
- Require that officers with the KCPD “(and those under its control) only give orders to disperse when there is imminent danger of harm to persons (not property)”
- Require “adequate time” and room to disperse.
Sterns said he’s conflicted about suing but felt like he had to address what he sees as a bigger picture problem.
“It’s the disproportionate response essentially,” he replied when asked what his biggest concern is. “There has to be a better way.”
The suit names the City of Kansas City Missouri, the Board of Police Commissioners, the police chief and the trooper.
Stearns’ lawyer acknowledged the KCPD has made changes to its use of force policy since the protests but says they haven’t gone far enough.
KCTV5 contacted a representative with the KCPD for their response. We were told they don’t comment on pending lawsuits.