Kansas City man hit in eye with projectile at Plaza protests, could lose vision

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Police Department is investigating after a man was hit in the eye with a projectile at Saturday’s protest at the Country Club Plaza.

Sean Sterns said doctors told him he may be blind in one of his eyes.

His girlfriend, Sydney Ragsdale, said they don’t regret their decision to protest.

They joined the gathering Saturday when they heard a number of police cars heading to the Plaza while they were on the lawn of the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. They planned to go on Sunday, but decided to walk over a day early.

“[The protest] just kept growing and growing,” Ragsdale said. “We got really into it, and we made a lot of friends. There was a lot of camaraderie and togetherness.”

The couple went home and came back later in the evening. Ragsdale said when they got back to the park the event had taken on a different feeling from police.

She said they marched and kneeled with a large group on JC Nichols when police started teargassing the crowd.

They ran, and Ragsdale was accidentally kicked in the head by another protester. Stearns pulled her into the park behind a tree, and when she came to, she said everything turned to chaos.

“All of the sudden, he flew backwards and was on his back, and he was screaming that he’d been shot in the face,” Ragsdale said.

Stearns said he was hit by what they believe was a rubber bullet. They don’t believe police intentionally hit Stearns in the eye, but did intend to hit protesters with the projectiles.

He was treated at St. Luke’s Hospital where he underwent surgery, and his doctor told him he may not see again in his eye. They told him he may be able to see shadows and light, and it could heal cosmetically, or eventually he could need to have it removed.

“He said over and over again that it’s nothing compared to what people of color in this country go through,” Ragsdale said. “People lose their lives at the hands of police, and he’s lucky to be alive.”

KCPD Chief Rick Smith responded to the incident in a press conference Tuesday.

“It’s horrible. It’s tragic,” Smith said.

He said the department is aware of the incident, and they are already investigating what happened. 

“No one wanted that to happen, and no one knows how it’s happened yet,” Smith said. “Frankly, we haven’t had time to do anything but plan for the next protest, march. Obviously it’s come up, and it will be reviewed.”

Smith said he understands if Stearns doesn’t want to reach out to them at this time, but they will investigate it fairly like they would for any Kansas Citian.

Ragsdale said she hopes Smith means what he said.

“I think they really need to change the way they approach their job because they should be protecting all of us, and all of us should feel safer when they come around — and that’s not the way it is at all right now,” Ragsdale said.

Ragsdale said they believe in the reason they went to the protest and don’t regret going. She said they plan to attend protests in the future, but not until they’re ready. She said they want to do what they can to change things because “they’re not OK the way they are.”

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