Susan Leslie Stuckey died violently the morning of March 31, 2010, shot three times by a Prairie Village Police Department sergeant who had forcefully entered her apartment.
The shooting wasn't supposed to happen. Though Stuckey, a 47-year-old woman with a long history of mental illness, had told the police officers outside her apartment that she wanted them to kill her, they planned to pin her against a wall and have her involuntarily committed at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
That plan became difficult after officers abandoned negotiations and had a hard time getting into the apartment, where they encountered a baseball-bat-swinging Stuckey.
Police feared that Stuckey might set her apartment ablaze, a concern escalated by reports that an immobile 90-year-old woman living in a nearby apartment could not quickly evacuate, as other residents of Prairie Village's Kenilworth Apartments had early that morning.
Byron Roberson, a veteran PVPD officer, entered Stuckey's apartment first. He said later that she reached for a knife after he took her baseball bat and, after that, a broomstick.
Fearing for his life, he said, he shot Stuckey.
Bullets entered her neck and back and grazed her right forearm. Stuckey stepped toward a couch. Within moments she was dead.
The shooting made headlines and evening newscasts during the spring of 2010 as the Johnson County multi-jurisdictional Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Team (OISIT), composed of members of neighboring police forces, looked into it. The results of that inquiry went to Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe's office, which was satisfied that none of the officers had acted incorrectly. The ones who responded that day would face no criminal liability under Kansas law.
But Stuckey's family is now seeking remedies under federal law.
Beverly Stewart, Stuckey's mother, has filed a civil lawsuit against the PVPD and several individual officers for their roles in what she says was an unnecessary shooting and a violation of her daughter's constitutional rights.
The federal lawsuit comes after Stewart's attorney, Cheryl Pilate, convinced a Johnson County District Court judge that the PVPD's records of Stuckey's shooting should be open to the public. The police in Prairie Village had sought to keep the Stuckey files sealed.
With Stewart's federal lawsuit in its pretrial phase, the now-unsealed records raise a number of questions about the PVPD's official account of what happened at Kenilworth.
Why did the PVPD rely on two patrol officers, untrained in hostage or barricaded-suspect negotiation, to carry out about two hours' worth of discussions when there were two trained negotiators on the scene not talking to Stuckey?
Why did police abandon negotiations after little more than two hours?
Officers said during the police investigation that Stuckey had threatened to burn the apartment down, but sworn testimony by some of the same officers expressed differing accounts about whether she made those threats and when.
Stewart's attorney has raised the possibility that the 90-year-old neighbor, whose safety was a major pretext for entering Stuckey's apartment without a warrant, was not on the scene.
Prairie Village Police Chief Wes Jordan tells The Pitch that he's unable to discuss the case, citing the lawsuit.
Michael Seck, an Overland Park attorney representing the police, was unavailable for comment but supplied The Pitch with a report from a police expert who reviewed the case and who largely endorses how police handled the situation that day.
In Kansas, many basic records are often off-limits to the public or difficult and costly to obtain. The story that follows, supported by court filings, evidence and police records obtained by The Pitch through an open-records request, is a rare look into the investigation of a local, officer-involved shooting.
Beverly Stewart says she had a special bond with her only daughter.
She was proud of the way a young Susan Stuckey took care of other children around her, loved animals, did well in her studies, and performed as a standout singer and softball player.