KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A federal court has ruled a Kansas City officer can’t be held liable in the death of an unarmed man he shot and killed in 2013.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth District ruled Tuesday affirmed a 2020 district court decision that determined William Thompson had “qualified and official immunity” in the deadly shooting of Ryan Stokes.

The 24-year-old Stokes was fatally shot twice in the back in the Power & Light District in 2013. He was falsely accused of stealing a cellphone and, according to the officer, believed to have a gun at the time of the shooting.

Neither were true.

The shooting was deemed justifiable. Thompson was never charged criminally; a Jackson County grand jury cleared all the officers involved of any wrongdoing. So Stokes’ family filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

However, in 2020, the district court said Thompson used reasonable force. Stokes’ family appealed the 2020 ruling to the federal appeals court, hoping the judges would reverse the decision or allow a trial in the case.

The appeals court’s ruling says Thompson saw Stokes run into a parking lot. He then turned to face the officer chasing him.

“What happened next is hotly disputed, but the family’s side of the story is what matters at this point,” the court wrote.

The judges said Thompson was standing behind Stokes and saw him raise his hands to his waist. Thompson misinterpreted the gesture as threatening and fired without warning.

The appeals court maintained that Thompson believed Stokes had a gun and was turning toward other officers who were chasing him. The court said Thompson believed he was firing his weapon to protect fellow officers.

“Critical to our decision was the idea that ‘[a]n officer is not constitutionally required to wait until he sets eyes upon the weapon before employing deadly force to protect himself against a fleeing suspect who turns and moves as though to draw a gun,'” the ruling says.

“Thompson faced a similar choice here: use deadly force or face the possibility that Stokes might shoot a fellow officer,” the court wrote in its decision.

The judges also said Stokes’ family did not show that Thompson acted in bad faith or with malice.

The court’s decision could bring the family’s nearly decade-long battle to an end. The only future legal steps are to go back to the appeals court that just rejected their case or push forward to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Attorneys for Stokes’ family were unavailable for comment Wednesday afternoon.

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