Cop Donald Hubbard said he had no choice when he shot and killed firefighter Anthony Bruno last fall. That’s because he’d already made some bad decisions
The evening of November 30 was going the way any couple planning to live the rest of their lives together would have hoped. The family members and friends invited by Anthony and Stephanie Bruno to the Town Pavilion’s rotunda almost overwhelmed the opulent venue. Here were 350 people, all of them eager to toast the newlyweds.
Stephanie Steele, 29, had known Anthony Bruno, 26, since he was a friend of her brother’s in middle school. But it wasn’t until after she’d graduated from the University of Oklahoma’s law school that she really noticed him. Home from college, she was around when her brother invited his tightknit group of friends to hang out at the Steele house.
At first, she didn’t recognize Anthony, who had gone away to the University of Missouri in Columbia and then decided to become a third-generation Kansas City firefighter. He had grown into a 6-foot, 2-inch, good-looking man with a broad smile.
They dated for several years, and the next step seemed obvious — now, Stephanie and Anthony Bruno were married. Earlier in November, they traveled to Islamorada, in the Florida Keys, and made it official. They walked the white-sand beaches, swam together in the turquoise waters off the shore. They talked about their future. They would search together for the perfect house. They would enjoy a year or two alone together. They would start a family.
The couple had left the warm surf behind, and tonight the great hall was theirs from 6:30 to midnight. The bride wore a lace-covered silk dress, her long auburn hair pulled into a loose bun at the nape of her neck. They danced with each other, visited with parents, grandparents, nieces, nephews and old friends. They ate hors d’oeuvres and cakes and cookies and drank champagne.
And then it was midnight. They said their goodbyes and headed to Anthony’s Restaurant, a couple of blocks away, to cap off the night with their best friends. A little before 2 a.m., Stephanie and Anthony agreed that they were ready to head to the Muehlebach Hotel, where a room waited for them.
The couple left with a cousin to catch a cab. The temperature had dropped to about 35 degrees, so Anthony gave his wife his tuxedo jacket to wear over her white wedding gown.
The taxi driver pulled up to the hotel, and the Brunos wanted the driver to take the cousin to his home. The driver balked, and the dispute quickly overheated. Stephanie heard the driver call her a “cunt.” She knew her husband had heard it, too.
Anthony jumped out of the car and stepped fast to the driver’s door, which was open. He hit the driver and then, within eight seconds, broke off. By then, Stephanie had gotten out to stand behind her husband and yell at him to stop. Other taxi drivers had approached.
Anthony Bruno walked away, moved down Wyandotte a short distance and turned into an alley. Stephanie figured he was taking a moment to cool off.
Her wedding night was over. Stephanie Bruno wouldn’t see her husband alive again.
What happened next has been widely reported and, thanks to a bystander’s cellphone footage, seen. Two bullets from off-duty police officer Donald Hubbard’s .40-caliber Glock ended Anthony Bruno’s life a little after 2 a.m. December 1.
Hubbard had been working an overnight security shift at the Marriott Downtown Hotel, at 12th Street and Wyandotte (which shares an owner with the Muehlebach, on the opposite corner), when he was alerted to the taxi scuffle outside. He was on the hotel’s 18th floor with another hotel security guard when the radio went off, he later told Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department investigators. He said someone asked him to check on the disturbance.
Following the department’s inquiry, a grand jury in February cleared Hubbard of criminal wrongdoing. But scrutiny of his actions leading up to the shooting shows that the policeman broke with procedure in several key ways — ways that might have prevented the firefighter’s death.
Experts who have testified in high-profile police-shooting cases nationwide have told The Pitch that videos and documents obtained by this newspaper show that Hubbard should not have found himself one-on-one with Bruno on the street — and that the confrontation did not require lethal force.
The video footage also shows that Bruno, who had been drinking and had struck both Hubbard and the driver in separate encounters, had several opportunities to avoid being shot.
By the time Hubbard arrived outside at the scene of the fare disagreement, Bruno had walked away and turned down that alley. The cab driver told Hubbard that Bruno had punched him. Witnesses indicated to the officer which direction Bruno had gone. Hubbard, against protocol, decided to pursue Bruno.
According to newly enhanced video footage not yet seen by the public, Hubbard caught up with Bruno a block east of the Muehlebach. When Bruno tried to run away, Hubbard grabbed him and forced him down to the ground. Three minutes later, Bruno was dead on the sidewalk, shot twice in the chest.
Several videos that an audio and video forensic expert reviewed and enhanced for The Pitch, along with police documents obtained by this newspaper, indicate that the confrontation likely would have been resolved differently had Hubbard followed police regulations.
The police department’s Internal Affairs investigation determined last March that Hubbard did not have his department-issued radio at the time of the shooting, as required by police personnel policy for off-duty employment. Hubbard also was supposed to have contacted a police dispatcher to give the location of his off-duty assignment. The investigation determined that “there was not an entry by the Communications Unit for MPO [Master Police Officer] Hubbard’s off-duty employment at the Marriott.”
Videos show that several times while Hubbard had Bruno subdued, the cop had opportunities to call for assistance, but he didn’t have a radio. So when Bruno managed to get on top of him, pummeling him in the face and breaking his orbital bone and cheekbone, Hubbard believed that his only option was lethal force.
That’s what Hubbard told investigators later. But he also admitted that he was not carrying his department-issued nonlethal weapons: pepper spray, a Taser, a baton.
The KCPD requires on-duty officers to carry those weapons as alternatives to the use of lethal force. But the department’s policy for off-duty officers does not specifically require them to carry nonlethal weapons. Most officers do carry them to avoid situations like the one Hubbard found himself in, experts say.
In fact, the two men need never have met.
Charles Stephenson, a retired FBI agent who has testified in court cases around the country and owns a local security company, says standard protocol to protect companies from liability prohibits security personnel from leaving the property they are guarding.
Marriott corporate officials did not return phone calls seeking comment on that company’s security procedures.
After Hubbard talked with the cab driver, he should have called police dispatch and asked for a squad car to come find and pick up Bruno, Stephenson says. With Stephanie Bruno still at the scene of the taxicab dispute, and with Anthony Bruno on foot and clad only in a tuxedo shirt and pants on a winter night, rounding up the suspect would not have taken on-duty police very long, had they been summoned.
Instead, Hubbard left the Marriott’s grounds without a radio, looking for Bruno on his own.
David Klinger, a law-enforcement expert who has investigated more than 300 officer-involved shootings across the country, agrees that this decision was a catastrophic error.
Klinger, a former Los Angeles police officer and an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, says many U.S. police forces prohibit officers, at any duty status, from chasing suspects without means of radio communication.
“What a reasonable police officer would have done is determine what happened and called a squad car,” he says. “That is that.”
At The Pitch‘s request, Ed Primeau, an audio and video forensic expert in Michigan who has been involved in several high-profile lawsuits (including the controversial Trayvon Martin case), examined videos that this paper received from the KC police through a Sunshine Law request.
One of the videos comes from a security camera in a garage belonging to One Kansas City Place that was directly across the street from where the fight occurred. That footage is fuzzy and has to be studied closely and repeatedly in order to make out events. Bruno is distinguishable in the video because he is wearing a white shirt.
Primeau enhanced that video as well as one taken with a cellphone by a bystander. The latter was circulated by news outlets earlier this year in raw form.
He also enhanced the voices of Bruno and Hubbard on the cellphone video, clarifying what Hubbard and Bruno said to each other during their confrontation.
The garage video shows that Hubbard knocked Bruno to the ground as Bruno turned and started to run. The men struggled on the sidewalk for about 15 seconds, and then Hubbard kicked Bruno in the head and shoulders four times.
For most of the next 150 seconds, Bruno was on the ground facedown or on his hands and knees, Hubbard standing over him. Bruno asked Hubbard why he’d hit him and asked Hubbard to “be nice.” Hubbard, finding Bruno unable or unwilling to bring his hands together behind his back in order to be handcuffed, drove his knee into Bruno’s head, forcing Bruno’s face into the concrete.
That’s when Bruno grabbed Hubbard, flipped him over and punched him in the face several times.
“Bruno tried to negotiate before he got his head pounded on the ground,” Primeau says. “He went to defend himself.”
The video footage also appears to contradict Hubbard’s official statement to the department’s shooting-investigation team 10 days after Bruno’s death.
When Hubbard was asked by homicide detectives what his police-radio number was the night of the shooting, he responded, “823,” indicating that he had a police radio. But an Internal Affairs investigation several months later found that Hubbard did not have a police-issued radio that night.
Hubbard also told homicide detectives that he had a radio provided by the Marriott, but he believed that he lost it during his struggle with Bruno. No radio is visible in the video footage, though, and the cellphone camera records no effort by Hubbard to reach for a radio or to solicit the couple using the cellphone to contact police.
Because Hubbard, Chief Darryl Forté, the department and the Marriott have declined to comment for this story, it is unclear if Hubbard actually had a radio, if it was ever used, and if a lost radio was later recovered.
During the subsequent Internal Affairs investigation, Hubbard said he didn’t have his department-issued radio when he met Bruno. He also said he wasn’t wearing his bulletproof vest. Both are violations of department policy.
Hubbard also told homicide detectives that, as he dealt with Bruno, he asked the two bystanders using the cellphone to call for help.
“I told those individuals that I was by myself and pleaded for them to call for help,” he said.
The footage, however, indicates that only after Hubbard shot Bruno did he ask them to call 911.
It’s not the first time that an official statement by Hubbard — a traffic cop, a 17-year police veteran and a 25-year National Guardsman with multiple tours of duty — didn’t match what video had recorded.
Six months before the downtown shooting, several dozen stunt-bike riders were creating a traffic hazard on U.S. Highway 40, near Interstate 70. While an on-duty Hubbard was responding in a patrol car, one of the riders popped a wheelie and bumped into the back of Hubbard’s vehicle, which had stopped abruptly.
In Hubbard’s official videotaped statement after that collision, he said he got out of his car and saw that the motorcyclist, Nicholas Rose, was trying to flee on his bike. Hubbard said he was able to stop him by pulling him off the bike. In addition, Hubbard said, Rose tried to hit him with his helmet.
An official report, written by a department detective, said a witness statement corroborated Hubbard’s story. According to that detective’s report, the witness told police that he’d seen Rose swing his helmet multiple times at Hubbard. That information was used to help indict Rose for assault against a law-enforcement officer and resisting arrest.
But the bike riders, including Rose, had GoPro cameras in their helmets. And videos from those cameras seem to detail a different story.
Footage from the helmets shows Hubbard bursting out of his patrol car immediately after being hit and grabbing Rose as the dismounted biker stood behind the patrol car. In the video, Rose was not trying to flee. Hubbard threw Rose to the ground and put him in a chokehold. At no point in the video does Rose attempt to hit Hubbard with his helmet.
And the document that the investigating detective prepared for the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office contained at least one statement that was the opposite of what a witness told investigating officers.
The detective wrote that the witness had seen Rose try to hit Hubbard multiple times with the helmet. But the incident report, prepared by a police officer who took the witness’s statement at the scene, stated: “He did not see the helmet being swung by Rose.”
The assault charge was eventually dropped. A few weeks ago, Rose was found not guilty of resisting arrest.
Police officials would not comment about the video footage or the discrepancies.
The day after Hubbard shot Bruno, some of Bruno’s family went to One Kansas City Place, asking to see video taken by the security camera in the garage across the street from where the fight took place. Detectives had confiscated that video, as well as video from cameras at the Marriott, the Muehlebach and other places. They’d also taken the bystander’s cellphone.
Police also refused to provide copies of the confiscated videos to the family, saying they were evidence in an ongoing investigation, Stephanie Bruno tells The Pitch.
In February, after the grand jury cleared Hubbard, the police said they would provide the media and the Bruno family with the complete case file, including all of the reports generated by detectives and all of the videos.
But what the police gave Stephanie Bruno didn’t include the One Kansas City Place video showing the fight.
Her attorneys filed a Sunshine Law request, but the police department still didn’t provide the video, according to Danny Thomas, one of her lawyers. Police have refused to comment on this failure.
Finally, Thomas called Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who will defend the department if a lawsuit is filed. This unusual duty falls to Koster because Kansas City’s force, unlike any other major police department in the country, is governed by the state though funded by the city, under a law passed in the 1930s to combat corruption.
According to letters and e-mails that a Koster spokeswoman gave to The Pitch, Koster in mid-April told the department to give the family the video. Stephanie Bruno received it several weeks later.
At least two Kansas City media outlets, The Pitch and KSHB Channel 41, experienced similar delays after asking for all of the video footage.
When The Pitch asked Capt. Tye Grant, the department spokesman, for a copy of the video, he insisted for weeks that he had already provided it.
“You already have that video, we have discussed that on several occasions,” Grant wrote in an e-mail July 10. “It was released to everyone in February when all records were released. It was released to you when you picked up the records weeks ago.”
After several more e-mails, Grant relinquished a copy of the missing video to The Pitch on July 11. No explanation was given about why it wasn’t among the materials in what the police had said was a complete file.
It’s that missing video footage, along with the cellphone footage, that gives the most complete possible picture of the fight and the shooting.
The cellphone video was shot by Jason Reinhard, who had just left a bar near the scene. His video is only about a minute long; it misses the first 120 seconds of the altercation, and it’s difficult to understand what Bruno and Hubbard are saying during the struggle.
Audio-video expert Primeau’s enhancements, which were done for The Pitch pro bono and did not remove any data, provide a better context. He positioned the cellphone video to run simultaneously alongside the grainy surveillance footage.
In the surveillance video, taken from One Kansas City Place, Hubbard meets Bruno on the sidewalk on Baltimore Avenue, between 12th and 13th streets. When Bruno, whose blood-alcohol level was .21, starts to run away, Hubbard knocks him to the ground.
Fifteen seconds later, Hubbard kicks Bruno several times in the head and shoulders. Bruno, who is facedown on the pavement, reaches out with his arm, in an effort to stop Hubbard’s leg.
At least two minutes of this footage have passed when the first frame of the cellphone video shows Bruno on his hands and knees with Hubbard standing behind him and leaning over him. The cellphone captures their conversation.
“Why did you hit me?” Bruno asks.
“Put your hands behind your back now,” Hubbard says.
“All right, which … which hand … left, right?”
“Both of them.”
“I can’t drop it. I’m not gonna face-plant,” Bruno says, believing that if he lifts both hands, he will fall forward and hit his head on the pavement.
“Hands behind your back,” Hubbard says.
“Left? Left or right hand?”
Bruno is still on his knees.
“If I didn’t, my hands gonna hit the face,” he says.
Hubbard pulls Bruno’s left arm back, twisting Bruno’s hand, and Bruno rolls onto his right side. While still standing over Bruno, twisting his hand, Hubbard pushes Bruno’s right shoulder down on the pavement. Then the cop stands, no longer touching Bruno.
“I believe you hit …” Bruno says.
About 30 seconds have elapsed since the cellphone began recording.
Hubbard reaches down and grabs Bruno’s left hand again, twisting it backward.
“I just want to tell you,” Bruno starts.
“I got you, you little bitch,” Hubbard says.
“Just please — just please, can you not be nice?” Bruno asks. “All I’m asking is for you to be nice. I got hit for no good reason.”
Had Hubbard been carrying a Taser, pepper spray or other nonlethal weapons, this is when he could have used one of them to keep Bruno subdued.
Had Hubbard left the hotel with a radio, this is when he could have called for backup.
And this is when Bruno could have let his 240-pound body go slack enough to be arrested.
But here, Hubbard — 5 feet 10 inches and 200 pounds — jumps over Bruno and drops his knee onto the firefighter’s head, smashing Bruno’s face into the pavement.
“Hey,” Reinhard, the bystander, yells.
“What did he do?” yells the woman with Reinhard.
Bruno, yielding to pain or panic, now moves to get out from under Hubbard. He does this fast, surprising the cop.
“Do I look like I have help here?” Hubbard calls to Reinhard and the woman.
Bruno flips Hubbard over onto his back and gets one hand on Hubbard’s forehead, the other on his upper chest below his chin. Hubbard’s right hand moves to his gun.
“You wanna get caught, motherfucker,” Bruno says. He hits Hubbard. The first punch hits him in the face. The second appears to miss his face. As Bruno pulls back for a third punch, Reinhard’s camera swerves away as he and the woman yell, “Don’t fight the cop!”
Now it’s Hubbard who is in pain, who may feel panic. He will tell investigators later that in this moment, he feared for his life.
Hubbard tells the couple to call 911.
The woman, a nurse, runs to attempt CPR on Bruno. His face is marred and bruised from hitting the pavement.
The woman later told police investigators that Bruno did not have a strong pulse. She said he was trying to speak. She said he told her, “Don’t let me die.”
As her husband was dying on a nearby street, Stephanie Bruno, a lawyer and former assistant prosecutor, waited for him outside the Muehlebach Hotel, wearing his black tuxedo jacket over her wedding gown.
She overheard that there had been a shooting at a nearby theater. A security guard asked her whether she thought her husband had been involved.
“I just looked at him,” she tells The Pitch. “How could Anthony be involved in something like that?”
About 45 minutes after Anthony Bruno walked away from the taxi, Kansas City homicide Det. John Gordon arrived at the hotel. He was the first officer to get there, and he didn’t tell Stephanie that Anthony was dead. Instead, he asked her for her husband’s name and his birth date.
Police often treat fistfights, like the one between Bruno and the cabbie, as misdemeanors. A uniformed policeman might write a ticket, as he would for a speeder or a jaywalker. Why would a homicide detective show up, she wondered.
She answered Gordon’s questions and then handed him her business card, printed with her name and the name of her law firm.
“Does this mean ‘fuck you’?” Gordon asked.
“No, sir, I didn’t say that,” Stephanie told him.
Gordon left, and Stephanie told a security guard, “This is overkill. This is ridiculous. All for a city ticket.”
Five minutes later, she saw that a firefighter who was a family friend was there. He told Stephanie that Anthony, her husband of two weeks, had been shot.
Several weeks after Bruno’s death, Stephanie Bruno filed a complaint with the Office of Community Complaints. The OCC is a civilian oversight agency that investigates allegations of police abuse or misconduct. She told the OCC that Gordon didn’t inform her that Anthony was dead. She said Gordon had been discourteous and had displayed improper conduct.
When she arrived at OCC for her interview, Bruno learned that she was to meet with two Internal Affairs detectives and a mediation coordinator. She also was told that her attorney could not accompany her.
“It’s unheard of, to not allow an attorney to be present,” Bruno tells The Pitch.
According to David Kenner, Board of Police Commissioners attorney, this is the board’s policy. “They want to make it a less adversarial situation,” he says. He adds that OCC investigators “are darn good at what they do.”
Anthony Bruno’s mother filed a complaint with the OCC against Hubbard, saying he had used excessive and unnecessary force against her son. But the OCC doesn’t handle officer-involved shooting cases — another police-board policy. Only the department’s shooting team investigates.
“The issues of your complaint have been investigated by the Homicide Unit,” wrote Michael L. Walker of the OCC. “This office cannot duplicate an investigation that has previously been conducted.”
The OCC closed both complaints.
The Bruno family also met with Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to ask for an independent investigation and to have a special prosecutor appointed.
“The fact that they [police] investigate themselves is a conflict of interest,” Stephanie Bruno says.
But Peters Baker did not agree.
“She said the police department would investigate fairly,” Bruno says.
Just a week after hundreds of people celebrated Anthony and Stephanie Bruno’s marriage, Stephanie buried her husband.
This time, thousands came. The procession of mourners driving from St. Therese Parish in Parkville to Resurrection Cemetery in Kansas City wound 4 miles.
Police Chief Forté called Stephanie before the funeral to offer her his condolences. He asked if he could attend the funeral. She told him yes. But he didn’t show up, and he never called again.
Editor’s note: As this story was going to press, The Pitch learned that Stephanie Bruno, with Anthony Bruno’s parents, had filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Donald Hubbard, acting in his capacity as a security guard for the Marriott Hotel, Marriott International and the Kansas City Downtown Group.