Kendrick Stephens of Delray Beach, who had been a police officer in Maryland, died when he fell and fractured his skull while teaching a class.

DELRAY BEACH — Kendrick Stephens could take anybody out — but was too kind a man to do that.


The Delray Beach resident was intimidating at first glance. He was a blackbelt in jiu jitsu. He had been a police sergeant and a SWAT team leader in Maryland.


But the 47-year-old would rather make peace than use force. He talked down people who had taken hostages. He taught martial arts to anyone who wanted to learn. He tried to make the world a safer place, said his friend, Delray Beach police Detective Noel Rusczyk.


Stephens died last week doing so, but in a way no one expected.


On Aug. 2, while teaching a class in Richmond, Virginia, Stephens suffered a "medical issue" that caused him to fall and hit his head, Rusczyk said. He fractured his skull, which caused internal bleeding.


Stephens was taken in critical condition to Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. He died Friday evening.


Out of all people, Stephens was the one who was supposed to survive, Ruscyzk said.


"When anybody hears this they say, ‘No way, this couldn’t happen to Ken’, " Ruscyzk said.


Stephens started teaching martial arts in his teens and naturally gravitated towards law enforcement after that.


Nobody was too new or too experienced for Stephens to teach, Ruscyzk said. He trained everybody from children to police officers.


"He was also the most humble person you’d ever meet," Ruscyzk said.


Stephens had a distinguished career in law enforcement as well. One instance, during his time at the Montgomery County Police Department, was in 2010, when he eliminated an armed threat who held three hostages at the Discovery Channel Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.


During his time, Stephens introduced tactics that still are used today, said Lt. Brian Dillman, a longtime colleague and supervisor of Stephens from Maryland.


"He was highly skilled, was a consistent professional and team player," Dillman said. "He was a very forward thinker."


Dillman met Stephens during SWAT training in 1997. He said even back then, it was evident that Stephens was special, but he always made an effort to joke around and make everyone feel valued.


Stephens retired in 2013 and moved to Delray Beach, Dillman said. He taught "ladies first" martial arts classes, where he would instruct women on how to protect themselves, and he also helped train various local SWAT teams, including Boca Raton’s this past winter.


Stephens lived with his wife and two dogs, Ruscyzk said. His death rattled Dillman, Ruscyzk and everyone who knew him.


"None of us would've imagined knowing Kendrick how physically fit, mentally sharp that at 47-year-old he would be passing," Dillman said.


As of Tuesday, an online fundraising page to cover Stephens’ medical expenses and other costs had raised more than $29,000. It had set a goal for $30,000.


Dillman and other Montgomery SWAT team members visited Stephens on Wednesday when he was still on life support.


Even then, Dillman said, Stephens was still teaching - in this case, that life can be taken away at any unexpected moment, he said.


"He was too strong of a person for this to happen," Rusczyk said.


dcassidy@pbpost.com


@danacassidy_