Man blinded by projectile during plaza 2020 protest discusses lawsuit against city
By Betsy Webster
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KANSAS CITY, Missouri (KCTV, KSMO) – Sean Stearns said he was with his girlfriend on May 30, the third day of the Plaza Fountain protests sparked by the police murder of George Floyd.
It was between 11:30 p.m. and midnight, he said, when something hit his eye. He didn’t know how bad it was at the time. A lawsuit now claims it was a supposedly “less lethal” bullet fired by law enforcement that hit him.
“We were a bit far from the line where the protesters and the police were,” Stearns said.
He said smoke was already filling the air when he and his girlfriend ran with others. He said she was knelt down by someone else running and fell violently. She looked concussed so he sat her down.
“I assumed we were in a safe place, so I was crouching down and talking to him. She was safe behind a tree, ”he described.
Shortly after, he was shot in the eye. The trial includes a photograph of his face, his left eye swollen and closed. The lawsuit says his injuries included broken bones in his eyes and “permanent and complete loss of sight in his left eye.”
Stearns said he tries not to relive or talk about that night.
“But I remember it everyday just looking in the mirror,” he continued.
The court documents also include a photo of what Sean’s lawyers believe hit him: “a ‘scat pack’ (aka Multi-Smoke Projectiles) containing 3 separate projectiles that shatter and travel excessive distances at high speed.”
Sterns’ lawyer, James Thompson, disputes that such tools are qualified as “less lethal” weapons.
“The idea of less lethal or less than lethal is to some extent oxymorons,” Thompson said. “These guns kill people and obviously, as you can see, they blind people.”
During the days of protests, police said they were beaten with frozen water bottles and pieces of concrete, after one officer suffered a laceration in his liver. But Sterns notes that many people were simply kneeling away from the police line.
The lawsuit alleges that it was a soldier from the Missouri State Highway Patrol who fired the bullet in question. Thompson said the lawsuit was directed against Kansas City because state soldiers were working under a mutual aid agreement with the KCPD.
“I don’t think there was enough advice. There was not enough guidance and coordination around the use of force, ”said Thompson.
The lawsuit seeks pecuniary damages for Sterns, but it also asks a judge to order that specific policies be adopted and formed.
Here are just a few:
Prohibit “indiscriminately firing projectiles at crowds of people exercising their right to freedom of expression …” Require “badges and badge numbers [be] in full view… ”Demand that the KCPD agents“ (and those under its control) only give the order to disperse when there is an imminent danger of damage to persons (and not to property) ”Demand “Sufficient time” and space to disperse. Sterns said he was in conflict over taking legal action, but felt he needed to tackle what he saw as a bigger problem.
“This is essentially the disproportionate response,” he replied when asked what his biggest concern was. “There has to be a better way.”
The costume names the town of Kansas City Missouri, the Board of Police Commissioners, the Chief of Police and the Soldier.
Stearns’ attorney admitted that the KCPD had changed its use of force policy since the protests, but said they had not gone far enough.
KCTV5 has contacted a representative of KCPD for their response. We were told they did not comment on the pending lawsuits.
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