Kansas City news outlets, including the Kansas City Star and local TV stations, have come under fire after they rushed to report an unarmed woman was shot by police. But there was just one problem. It wasn’t true.
The woman was shot and wounded last week by Kansas City police officers after she was spotted inside a vehicle that matched the description of one involved in an armed carjacking was holding a gun in her right hand, authorities confirmed.
Media outlets rushed to blame the police for wrongly shooting her. The false reporting went viral and energized anti-police activists as it spread on social media. News organizations even falsely reported she was five months pregnant. A medical report says that is not true.
But then police released body camera footage that backed up their actions and refuted news reports. Leonna Hale, a 26-year-old African-American woman, was seen in the footage holding a handgun, while also pointing the weapon toward officers who tried to arrest her in connection with the reported carjacking, court records now state.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker issued a statement in a press release and repeated her own belief that local media was negligent in their early reporting.
“Some false narratives about what happened last Friday night at 6th and Prospect Avenue, unfortunately, were relied upon by some media and other sources,” Baker said. “Our job, as prosecutors, is to remain neutral and review all evidence. Our review of body cam videos provided the actual accounting of events that night.”
Hale is also now facing other counts that include unlawful possession of a firearm, unlawful use of a weapon, and a misdemeanor for resisting arrest, Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said.
Baker said two Missouri State Highway Patrol officers found Hale and an unidentified male in a Family Dollar parking lot after tracking down a vehicle that matched the description of the one carjacked in the city. The pair attempted to flee upon realizing they were seen by police.
According to the body camera footage, the two officers are heard commanding Hale drop a handgun she is holding. After she refuses to comply and, as stated by police, points her handgun toward the officers, both officers open fire and strike her three times.
“A male driver exited and ran from the scene,” the prosecutor’s office said, citing court records. “[Hale] exited the passenger side and went to the rear of the vehicle. Officers attempted to give her commands. They determined she was armed and stated that she pointed a firearm at them and they discharged their firearms at her.”
Hale was taken to an area hospital for treatment. The driver was not identified, but was also apprehended by police and hospitalized for an unrelated medical issue, according to multiple reports.
The officer-involved shooting quickly sparked outrage among activists, who said that Hale was a victim of excessive police force after an eyewitness claimed she was unarmed.
Baker debunked these claims on Thursday, saying “false narratives” have been reported by various sources and some media outlets about the case.
“Our job, as prosecutors, is to remain neutral and review all evidence,” Baker said. “Our review of body cam videos provided the actual accounting of events that night.”
The prosecutor added that the investigation revealed that Hale “continually displayed a weapon during her encounter with police officers,” and prior to the release of the body camera footage, she had denied having a weapon.
“The two officers stated that she was armed with what they believed to be a handgun,” Baker said. “Body camera footage confirms the officers’ statements that Hale was holding a handgun. Still photos, taken from body cam footage, of this encounter also demonstrate a weapon was present and in the hands of the defendant.”
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas expressed his gratitude on Twitter for the prosecutor’s statement and release of body camera footage. He did not questions the actions of media outlets who, observers say, have a close relationship to him.
“Body cameras have been a positive addition to reaching the truth in public safety investigations,” Lucas wrote. “We will continue to work hard to get the whole truth out on issues as fast as we can.”
Media outlets have not publicly apologized for their earlier reporting or to the statements by Prosecutor Baker.