LIBERTY, Mo. -- A Kansas City police officer who shot and killed a Black man last year will not be charged in the death, the Jackson County prosecutor announced.
Donnie Sanders, 47, was shot in an alley on March 12, 2020. The officer, whose name has not been released, told investigators that he thought Sanders was pointing a gun at him. Sanders had a cellphone in his pocket but was not armed, investigators said.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said in a news release Monday that two witnesses corroborated the officer's account; One said Sanders appeared to have a gun and another said Sanders had his arm extended and was moving toward the officer when he was shot.
Peters Baker said evidence in the case doesn't support charges.
Civil rights leaders in Kansas City said the decision tells the city's officers that they can fatally shoot Black people without fear of reprisal.
“The system that exists is not capable of bringing justice to Black people,” said Ryan Sorrell, a leader of Black Rainbow. “I think it's a corrupt and racist institution from its inception and at its root. It's just blatant naked violence without any accountability.”
Sanders' death was one of several fatal shootings of Black people cited during protests against police in 2020. The demonstrations followed years of efforts by civil rights organizations pushing for reforms to improve police accountability and for Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith to resign or be fired .
Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Kansas City blamed a system that gives officers qualified immunity that allows them to kill Black men and women “with impunity.” She said the decision was no surprise.
“It's indicative of a problem with a criminal justice system that provides more protection for law enforcement than it does for civilians," Grant said. "The effect of that is where we see a disproportionate impact on Black lives.”
The police department said it mourns any loss of life, particularly when an officer is involved.
“The Kansas City Missouri Police Department provided the prosecutor with all the facts known in the case, and we respect the judicial process and the outcome,” the department said in a statement.
Court documents said the officer was following Sanders because he believed he was speeding and improperly used his turn signal. The officer did not use his sirens or police lights until just before Sanders stopped his vehicle in an alley and got out.
A video released with Baker's statement shows the officer running past Sanders' vehicle but not the shooting. The officer yells at Sanders to “stop” and “drop it.” Sanders responds but his words are indistinct in the video. Then the officer yells “drop” at least four times before shots are fired.
Baker said she asked the Missouri State Highway Patrol to investigate the shooting and had two other district attorney's offices review the investigation. She said investigators tried to enhance the video and canvassed for more witnesses up until last week.
“These events exact a great toll on our community, a community searching for hope to heal and prevent the staggering high levels of violence in this city,” Baker said. “We continue to search for new partners to address and suppress this violence and begin to heal the resulting trauma and harm for our community.”
Grant and Sorrell said civil rights organizations would not stop fighting for police reform and accountability.
“It is discouraging that more of our civic community has been basically silent but we will not be deterred,” Grant said. “We will continue to press for changes until we see reforms that are necessary.”
Black Rainbow advocates for the reallocation of funds from police and prisons to Black and poor communities.
“We want public officials to ... truly create safe communities where we wouldn’t have to see any more of our brothers and sisters killed by lawless police officers,” Sorrell said.