For Immediate Release
March 1, 2021
Statement from Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker:
My office today is announcing the results of our review of the shooting of Donnie Sanders, a member of our community, who died from his injuries in March 2020. This fatality was caused by a law enforcement officer; therefore, we acknowledge the high public interest in this case and include a detailed finding of our analysis. Our review, however, is limited to the potential filing of criminal charges, which requires the highest possible legal standard in the system. Our review, by law, does not directly touch on other concerns, like policy implications, whether new policy is needed, whether the officer’s employment is impacted or any civil action on the part of the victim’s family or the department.
Upon the submission of this investigation by the KC police department to my office, I asked the Missouri Highway Patrol to review it. As a matter of public policy, I believe that police agencies can no longer review incidents allegedly committed by its own officers. That was why we called the Highway Patrol. Every officer-involved incident must be investigated by outside, independent detectives. I hold myself to this same standard by requesting a judge to select a special prosecutor in overseeing any investigation of alleged criminal misconduct by a member of my office, as well as the review of that conduct for a criminal filing.
In this case, I took additional steps in the review to ensure all evidence was collected, analyzed and reported. We attempted to enhance the audio recordings from the night of the shooting. We repeatedly canvassed the scene of the shooting for more witnesses, as recently as last week. I sought outside reviews by two other district attorney offices that have highly developed use of force teams. We shared the investigation with them and asked for their independent review. Both offices determined no charges should be filed in this matter.
Ultimately, though, it is my office's decision whether to file charges or not. My office's review of the March 12, 2020, fatal police shooting concluded that the evidence collected is insufficient to support charges against the officer. The officer told investigators that Sanders held up his hand toward him "as if he's got a gun." There were two witnesses who stated that they saw the shooting or the moments just before the shooting. Those two civilian witnesses generally corroborated this portion of the officer's account, one saying that it appeared Sanders was pointing a gun at the officer and the other saying Sanders had his arm extended and was moving toward the officer.
The officer stated that he believed that the victim had a weapon and was moving toward him at the time he shot the victim. The evidence showed the victim did not have a weapon. He had a cell phone that was concealed in his pocket. Again, the two civilian witnesses corroborated this portion of the officer’s statement. The witnesses said Sanders was moving toward the officer and had his arm up and extended toward the officer, when the officer, who was backpedaling, shot. One witness said he was “pointing whatever it was” at the officer; in further questioning, the witness said it appeared to be a gun. No other witness stated they saw the shooting or the moments just before the shooting.
Like others in our community, we mourn the loss of the victim. 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. 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.
The prosecutor's office is not expected to make further comment on this review.
Attached here is a copy of the letter to police and to Donnie Sanders' family documenting our decision. Also attached here is the video recording of the incident from police.
For more information, contact:
Director of Communication
Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office
Jean Peters Baker, Prosecutor
Work : (816) 881-3812
Mobile: (816) 674-3954
*Charges are only accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until the defendant is either found guilty or has pleaded.