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Flint, MI– Donald Stokes II was supposed to be a winner.
He got perfect attendance in middle school. He did fifty push-ups every morning. He kept a calendar in his room with a note that said, “if you have no goal, you will get nowhere.”
More than anything, Stokes wanted to get somewhere.
The 19-year-old was an HVAC technician, learning heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, but he was determined to learn plumbing and every other trade he could, too. He was going to start a business doing lawn service in his neighborhood. He was thinking about starting his own clothing line.
He did a lot in his life before he was killed earlier this year, but he had so much more to do.
“Mom, you know I’m your best kid,” he would say to his mother, Kimberly Stokes.
“I know,” she’d say.
“Mom, you know I’m your best-looking boy,” he’d say.
“I know, buddy, I know,” she’d say.
“Mom, you know I’m gonna be rich one day, and when I get there, I’m gonna take care of you,” he said.
His mother believed it would happen. Her ‘Dapper’ was the most thoughtful, organized, dedicated teenager she knew.
But on May 23, after hanging out with his friends, Stokes got dropped off at the wrong house, on the wrong street.
It was dark at that hour, around 4 a.m. He was on Campbell Street, not Crawford, and he walked up to a home that belonged to a stranger, not his brother.
He spent less than two minutes on the property and hadn’t even reached the front door before he was shot three times and killed.
The homeowner said it was self-defense. The family believes it was murder. The Genesee County Prosecutor’s Office is not prosecuting.
May 23, 2021
The couple living at 725 Campbell St. called 911 at around 4:09 a.m. after the husband had already shot Stokes three times and killed him.
According to the incident report from the Michigan State Police, the couple at the home had been lying in bed watching YouTube videos. They saw a man outside their home, “standing by the window for a while” and then “walking towards the front of the house.”
When asked if the man was trying to come in the front door, the wife stated “she was not sure” and that it “happened so fast.”
The husband stated that it all happened in “eight to 15 seconds.” He stated that he saw the man walking near their fence, and his “spider senses kicked in right away.”
The husband told his wife to get his bulletproof vest, and she did. He grabbed his AR rifle and walked to his front door, where the man was approaching the porch.
The husband told police that the man did not have the outside door open, but that “he thinks he was pursuing to open it,” according to the MSP report.
The husband “unlocked the top lock first and, after unlocking the second lock, he opened the door,” according to the report. He said after he opened the door, the man “tried coming in his house,” so he “backed up and fired three shots.”
The husband stated that “it happened so fast,” and he did not know if the man had a gun aimed at him because of a tinted screen on their door. He stated that the man could not see him but that he could see the man.
In the incident report from the Flint Police Department, the husband told police he pulled the trigger twice and “was unsure of how the third shot went off.”
The husband told the Michigan State Police that he “felt like his life was threatened, his wife’s life was threatened, and he did not want to die.” He told the Flint Police that “he was in fear for his life.”
According to the report from the Flint Police Department, the couple was “wearing matching camouflage body armor.”
Stokes had been hanging out with his best friend, Nick Drinkwine, just 15 minutes before Stokes was dead. They were with a group of friends who had just left an old classmate’s party, the first party they’d been to since the pandemic. They decided to hang out at Broome Park instead, after the party got too crowded.
When they decided to leave the park, Drinkwine said their friend, who was the designated driver, couldn’t find his keys. After looking all over for them, they decided to catch rides home with other friends. Down one car meant that Drinkwine and Stokes, who never split up, would have to ride separately to get to their homes.
“We never leave each other. Like that night, for us to leave each other was the first time in history,” Drinkwine said. “Like that’s crazy it even happened. … That just don’t happen.”
Drinkwine went home with one group of friends, and Stokes asked his ride to take him to his brother’s house.
According to the MSP report, Stokes talked to his brother at 4:01 a.m. His brother told police that Stokes called him and asked if he could spend the night at his house, and told him he was walking up the street and would be there in approximately five minutes.
His brother lives on Crawford Street, which is just a couple of streets over from Campbell Street, in a white house nearly identical to the one he walked up to.
When Stokes didn’t arrive, his brother called and texted his phone several times.
The police, in possession of the phone, called back and confirmed Stokes’s identity with his brother, who told the police he had a tattoo of Roman numerals on his arm for his father who was killed three years earlier.
Drinkwine said he heard the sirens that night but didn’t think they could be for his best friend.
“I heard them sirens. I thought it was just sirens, man,” he said. “Everyone said, Donald went home. He went home. He’s safe. He went home. They told me, ‘Hey, he’s safe, he went home. He’s safe.”
Drinkwine said they found the car keys behind the steering wheel the next day.
A good kid
One month before his death, Stokes and Drinkwine found themselves at Clearwater Beach, waiting to go parasailing for the first time.
It was day four of five days they were spending in Florida—a trip brought to them by two extra tickets and, if you ask Drinkwine now, God.
Stokes did not want to go parasailing.
“It looks so high up in the air, bro. You’re trippin’ man, you’re trippin’. They go so high,” Stokes said to Drinkwine. “I’m not doing it.”
“We’re straight. You stay locked in, man. If anything, it’s the water, but you ain’t gonna die or anything,” Drinkwine said.
Stokes wasn’t convinced. Drinkwine called the people in charge of the parasailing operation and asked if he could go with a random person. Not allowed. He had to bring someone.
“Man … you’re putting me in a situation where I have to go now,” Stokes said.
So Stokes agreed to be attached to a parachute and towed by a motorboat, hundreds of feet above the ocean, because his best friend wanted him to.
Drinkwine met Stokes four years ago, when he was 15, and they became fast friends. You’d think they’d known each other since they were in diapers—they were like brothers. They did everything together.
Every morning, Monday through Friday, Stokes would drive over to Drinkwine’s house, pick him up, and go to work together at an HVAC contracting company. After work, they’d come back to Drinkwine’s and play Madden and Black Ops.
Sometimes they’d go roller skating, bowling, hunting, or fishing. They talked about their futures, their goals, their entrepreneurial ideas—a car detailing business for Drinkwine, a clothing line for Stokes. They supported each other.
The day Drinkwine bought his red Cadillac, Stokes rushed over to help hand wash it.
“Mom! Mom! Nick got a Cadillac! Oh man, it’s so nice,” Stokes said to his mom excitedly that day, without a hint of envy. He was just genuinely happy for his friend.
“How the world should be”
They had an hour wait before they could actually parasail after signing up.
Maybe it was anxiety about the impending parasailing escapade, or the fact that it had been just about three years since Stokes lost his dad, or maybe there were other forces at work, but the two best friends started talking about death.
“You can sit there and grieve and cry, but you’re still gonna wake up the next morning. So you have to keep going forward,” Stokes said to Drinkwine.
He went on to talk about how he couldn’t understand how people could disrespect their parents. He might have been throwing a little shade at Drinkwine, but mostly he was talking about how much he loved his mom.
His mom was all he had now, he told Drinkwine. She meant everything to him, he said.
When his father died, Stokes started texting his mom more, just to check in and say ‘I love you,’ every day. On Mother’s Day, Stokes bought his mom a bouquet of flowers and a picture that said “Everyone wishes they had a mom like you.” On an ordinary day, with no special occasion, Kimberly came home and found a plant sitting on the counter. It was from her son, just because.
Off in the distance, the boys spotted a man holding a sign that said “God is still alive, God is good.”
“Let’s go talk to him,” Drinkwine said.
“Alright, come on,” Stokes said without question. They were both serious.
They talked to the man for about half an hour, and asked about why people don’t believe in God, and what he thought God wanted them to do. They talked about how it seems nowadays, people spread more hate than love. Stokes loved being able to have a conversation like that with a stranger.
The boys walked back to the edge of the water, with a little bit of time left to wait before they could parasail. They perched themselves on the sea wall, dangled their feet over the side, and watched the boats float in the blue water before them.
“People are so nice here. You can literally have a conversation with anybody, and they’re not gonna look at you the wrong way,” Drinkwine said.
“Down here it’s more like how the world should be, instead of where we’re living at right now,” Stokes said. “I can’t just go down to the corner store and say ‘Hi,’ to somebody. They’d say ‘I don’t know you, bro’, or give me a dirty look or something.”
Stokes was born in Port Charlotte, Florida, and called himself a “Florida baby,” with pride. He wanted to live in a place where anyone could talk to anyone, and he could just be himself.
“There was nothing inside of him that wanted to be here, with the killings, the robberies, everything that goes along with this city,” Drinkwine said about Flint. “He wanted no part of it. He wasn’t made for this city.”
After an hour of waiting, Drinkwine and Stokes made their way to the boat. They watched the person ahead of them go first, and get launched into the air much faster than anticipated.
“No. No,” Drinkwine said, having a change of heart now that the experience was right in front of him.
“Oh, that’s not that bad,” Stokes said coolly. “Look, it’s not that bad.”
Drinkwine couldn’t even look up at the people parasailing, they were so high, without feeling scared. When the parasailers returned, they called out and said they saw sharks in the water. Sharks just so happen to be Drinkwine’s greatest fear.
“Dude, I’m definitely not getting on now,” Drinkwine said.
“Nah, buddy, you have to get on, man. Come on bro,” Stokes said.
They strapped in, and before being propelled into the sky, they were asked if they wanted to pay $25 to get their pictures taken up in the air. Drinkwine wasn’t sure, but they ultimately decided to do it.
“When are we ever gonna do this again?” Stokes said.
They split the bill, and then they were off.
“Oh my God,” Drinkwine said as they rose higher and higher. He was scared and holding on for dear life. He looked over at Stokes, and saw he had a huge smile on his face, and was taking a video of the two of them on his phone.
“He was having the best time of his life. Like literally the best time of his life,” Drinkwine said.
Drinkwine couldn’t help but smile, too.
That’s how the police report is labeled.
In Michigan, a homicide can be “justifiable” or legal if it was an act of self-defense. The law can be applied two ways.
The first application, known as “Stand Your Ground,” allows an individual to use deadly force against another individual if they “honestly and reasonably believe that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the imminent death of or imminent great bodily harm to himself or herself or to another individual.”
In the police reports, the homeowner said he thought he and his wife’s lives were in danger.
In an email explaining the decision not to prosecute this case, Assistant Prosecutor John Potbury said that it is this law that gave the homeowner the right to protect himself.
“Under Michigan law, if the homeowner in this case had reasonable belief that he or others, in this case his wife who was at home with him, faced an imminent threat, he had a right to protect himself,” Potbury said in an email on June 22. “The fact is that it was four o’clock in the morning and an unknown and uninvited person was attempting to reach for the homeowner’s front door in an apparent attempt to get inside.
“It’s reasonable under the circumstances for the homeowner to believe this person was a threat,” Potbury said. “He didn’t know the intruder’s intentions nor whether this unknown person was armed with a gun or whether there were others with him who might have been lurking and lying in wait.”
Potbury said it wasn’t up to the prosecutor’s office to decide if the homeowner made the right decision or not.
“The question was whether he had a right to shoot if he had a reasonable belief he was facing an imminent threat,” he said. “Apparently, the homeowner felt this intruder, a stranger, posed a threat at 4:00 in the morning by trying to come into his house. Under Michigan law, the homeowner had a right to protect himself and no need to retreat.”
The key word in Michigan’s self-defense act is “imminent,” said Patrick Barone, a criminal defense lawyer and adjunct law professor out of Birmingham, Mich.
“The person has to believe that it’s happening right now. Like they don’t have a choice, they have to take action,” Barone said. “And if that’s true, there’s no duty to flee. You can use deadly force to stop the threat. So long as the person has an honest and reasonable belief that the risk of sexual assault, serious bodily injury or death is imminent.”
If someone was outside of your house and called out that in 30 minutes, they would come inside to kill you, you would not have an imminent threat until minute 29, Barone said. In the meanwhile, you have a duty to retreat.
“If you’re inside your house and the person you’re afraid of is outside the house, then you probably are not going to have a fear that you’re an imminent danger unless…the person is standing there with the Howitzer pointed at your front door,” Barone said. “But if it’s just some scary-looking person, maybe even they’re pounding on your door, that’s not necessarily an imminent threat. They have to have some ability to act on that threat. They have to have some ability to get into your house.”
In Kimberly’s mind, the homeowner couldn’t have felt threatened if he himself opened his front door, wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with a gun.
“Your threat goes away the second you open that door,” Kimberly said about the matter.
Barone said the fact that the homeowner did all these things shows that he clearly felt fear and did feel threatened. But he’s not sure that threat was “imminent.”
“If I have time to go retrieve a bulletproof vest, and think through everything, make sure my weapon is properly loaded, whatever they did before they opened the door, that doesn’t suggest that the potential harm they’re trying to stop is imminent,” Barone said. “Just the opposite. They had time to go do all of this. Imminent means it’s happening, like you don’t have a choice you got to stop the threat.”
But in the second application of Michigan’s self-defense law, an imminent threat is not necessary.
This application is known as the “Castle Doctrine.” It allows an individual to use deadly force on another individual if that individual “is in the process of breaking and entering a dwelling or business premises or committing home invasion.” It also applies to a person who has already committed a home invasion and is still in the premises, or someone trying to “remove another individual from a dwelling, business premises, or occupied vehicle against his or her will.”
In that first section of the Castle Doctrine, the breaking and entering must be objectively happening. In the second section, the law states that it also applies to a person who “reasonably believes that the individual is engaging in conduct” described above.
But that second section hasn’t always held up in court.
In 2016, a jury in Wayne County convicted a man of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, for a very similar situation.
On Nov. 2, 2013, around 4:30 a.m. 19-year-old Renisha McBride began to pound on Theodore Wafer’s door in Dearborn Heights. McBride had just been in a car accident and was highly intoxicated. Wafer shot through his door and killed her, and said he thought she had been trying to break into his home.
Although Wafer couldn’t have known at the time, McBride was not armed or possess any burglary tools.
“That case really turned on, whether or not she was in the process of breaking and entering, and one of the critical facts, according to the judge at least, was that she didn’t have any burglary tools,” Barone said.
This ruling, Barone said, showed that the Castle Doctrine relies on an objective determination, not a subjective one.
“The judge made that determination after the fact, that the person wasn’t in the process of breaking and entering, and therefore Castle Doctrine didn’t apply,” Barone said.
Seeing as Stokes was unarmed, not in possession of burglary tools, and had just made a call to his brother informing him he would be there in a few minutes, Barone said it seems to be objectively clear that he wasn’t trying to break in, even if the homeowners couldn’t have known that.
“So then the question becomes, does the Castle Doctrine apply? And I think maybe the answer to that question would be no,” he said.
Barone said this case would pose a hard decision for a prosecutor to make.
“The prosecuting attorney’s office exists, in part, to protect the interests of victims of crime,” he said. “So they certainly need to take all of this into consideration because there’s a family left behind that’s grieving over the death of this person that they love. …And that’s not something to take lightly, or certainly not something to ignore.”
But he said the same is true for charging someone with a crime they may not have committed.
“Well, that’s going to create emotional carnage on the part of the homeowner who presumably is a lawful citizen, that’s trying to protect themselves in their home,” Barone said. “If I’m a prosecutor, it’s like, OK, so whose interests are more important? … It would be hard on the prosecutor. This the kind of case that would keep me up at night.”
Potbury said the case was “a very tragic set of circumstances.”
“We are very sorry for the family’s loss,” Potbury said.
That’s not enough for Stokes’s family. Until something changes, they’re going to keep fighting.
On a recent August evening, Danny Drinkwine, Nick’s father, set up his laptop and speaker on the porch to listen to the 911 call, and watch the security footage from the night Stokes died.
He already knows what happens in every second of the video, so he hits the pause button every so often and says, “look for this,” “watch this,” and “remember this.”
Holly Drinkwine, Nick’s mother, says, “Excuse my language,” every time she talks about the night. She’s mad. She wants the prosecutor to tell it to her face how this death could be justified. She wants the law changed if it is.
Kimberly isn’t looking at the laptop. She holds a cigarette to her lips and stares off outside. She’s seen the video enough times to know what happens. She’s seen the blood-spattered porch and the bullet holes in her son’s body in person already.
Kimberly had been struggling with the police. She felt like every time she asked a question or asked for something, the detectives were annoyed with her and pushed back. The first time she requested photos of the scene and her son from the police, she said the police gave her a blank CD. She eventually got the pictures after complaining that they had not given her anything, but only because she was persistent.
She had prepared to be let down. If it turned out that the police didn’t have photos of her son, she made sure that she would have them.
At the morgue, Kimberly turned her son’s dead body over to take pictures of his front and back side to make sure the bullet holes were documented before he was cremated.
“I don’t know a lot about bullets, but people are telling me that they go in small, and they come out big,” she said, widening the circle she made with her fingers and her thumb.
She noticed the holes on her son’s front side were larger than the ones on the back.
“If they shot him in the back, that’s illegal,” she said. She wanted to have proof that her son wasn’t charging forward– he was trying to get away.
Danny said taking those pictures was the smartest thing she could have done.
“She’s really strong. If my kid was laying in the morgue like that, I don’t know if I could turn them over and take them pictures,” Danny said. “But to this day, that was the smartest thing she did. I know that was devastating, but that was the smartest thing she did, because that was a big chunk of the evidence that Donald was shot in the back.”
Kimberly wakes up at 4:30 a.m for work, and gets off at 3:30 p.m. She took a little time off from work at first, until they needed her back. She needed it too, she said. It gives her something else to do, even though her son is still always on her mind.
After she gets off, she has about half an hour to herself before she heads over to the Drinkwines’ home to do work on their case until around 10 p.m. Sometimes she can sleep afterward, but sometimes it’s nearly impossible.
They’ve talked to detectives, police, and lawyers. They’ve done research about Michigan law and submitted FOIAs for the police reports and 911 calls and pictures.
Kimberly has called and asked questions about the autopsy report over and over. She requested her son’s belongings at the police station and was given a pack of gum, thirty-something dollars, and a cross necklace that belonged to her son’s father.
“I want his clothes,” she told the police. She was asking for a blood-soaked white t-shirt, tan shorts, and black Nike slides.
“Why would you want those?” she said they asked her.
“That’s all I have left of my son,” she said. “I want them.”
Kimberly goes to a group therapy program with Nick Drinkwine on the last Tuesday of each month. She’s learned from other families about what kinds of coping mechanisms they use to deal with the loss of a loved one. After hearing one lady say she wrote letters to her son every day, Kimberly tried that.
“I was like, wow, it does make me feel like I’m talking to him, although I might not be getting a response. It still gets it out of here, so it’s not building up here,” she said, pointing to her heart.
Some days are better than others, she said. For Nick Drinkwine, his days don’t even feel like days.
It’s hard to describe, he said, but the days just don’t make sense without Stokes in them.
“My day is not fulfilled. My day is not … my day is not just a typical, normal day anymore. I’m just stuck in my thoughts,” he said.
Danny Drinkwine said Nick has woken up and told his father he didn’t know what to do.
“I usually get a hold of Donald first thing,” Nick Drinkwine would say to him.
Danny would usually tell him some variation of, “We all miss him but we have to keep pushing forward,” until Nick Drinkwine broke down one day, and asked him not to tell him that anymore.
“I don’t know what to do. You know, that was like, his bestest friend, and they looked up to each other,” Danny said.
Nick Drinkwine finds himself wondering about how Stokes would feel about all this. Would he be angry? Would he be OK? What would he want them to do?
He thinks about the fact that the life Stokes lived is all he’ll have ever lived. Everything he’s ever said, everything he’s ever done, every place he’s ever gone, every girl he’s ever talked to, every food he’s ever tried, that’s it. He’ll never be 21. They’ll never go parasailing again.
“When I look back at that trip and think about the things we talked about, it feels like God was preparing me, like the way Donald told me…” Nick Drinkwine started to say, before being cut off by his own tears.
Friends and family have gathered outside the Prosecutor’s Office and Genesee County Jail from time to time to protest the lack of prosecution in the case and started a Facebook page to post about when they’ll be protesting. On Aug. 14, the family hosted a fundraiser for legal fees.
On Aug. 6, the family held the third candlelight vigil for Stokes, where friends and family walked from Broome Park down to the house where he died on Campbell Street, just under one mile away.
Holly put the tiny tea candles into small cups and passed them out to people to hold as they walked. Danny spoke into the microphone and told the streets what happened to his nephew the night he died.
“He was a good kid,” he said into the microphone. “He made a simple mistake. He thought it was his brother’s house. He never even touched the door. They killed him.”
Kimberly had two banners made for these events that members of the crowd held as they walked.
“Always on our minds. Forever in our hearts. Donald Stokes II,” the first one reads. It’s green, with a picture of Stokes and an illustration of his arm with the Roman numeral tattoos. It also has his birth and death dates: 05-03-2002 — 05-23-2021.
The second is light blue, and says “Justice for Donald AKA Nephew.” Nephew was his nickname among his friends, although Kimberly calls him “Dapper,” an extension of his father’s nickname, “Dap.”
“Aren’t these bad?” she said proudly, pulling them out of her car. “I miss him so much.”
At Kimberly’s request, Danny played “See you again,” by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth, on repeat, from a portable speaker as they walked, and twice again when they made their stop in front of the house.
Running on three hours of sleep, Kimberly sang every word the whole way.
In some moments, Kimberly smiled as she looked at the crowd walking with her, wearing t-shirts with her son’s face, holding balloons, candles, flowers, and banners. In other moments, she cried.
Kimberly said she doesn’t know how she keeps going sometimes. Then she took it back.
“It’s Donald,” she said. “He’s working through me.”
As the sun started to set, the crowd made their way back toward the park. Friends of Stokes stayed at the park once they returned, talking and hanging out. Kimberly, Danny, and Holly went back home to view the pictures from the police they had finally gotten for the first time.
“I don’t want to do it,” Kimberly said. “But I have to.”