Katie Stancombe for www.theindianalawyer.com
A federal judge has ruled in favor of several parties, including a Hendricks County sheriff’s deputy, after a mentally ill man was fatally shot during a welfare check.
At the time of his death, then-29-year-old Brad King suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. He took medication and received treatment for his mental illness but still experienced “good and bad days,” the latter of which often left him confused and quiet with a “glazed-over look” in his eyes, according to court documents.
King also had a fixation with knives — a common symptom of his condition — and slept with one under his pillow. He also tended to call 911 when he was having a “bad day.” His parents, with whom he lived at the time, had concerns that police might misinterpret symptoms of mental illness as threats and told Kin to not call police, but a family member instead.
While his parents were at work one day in November 2016, Brad called 911 and asked someone to come to his home because he was “going through a little psycho phase.” Deputies were dispatched to conduct a welfare check, but no one answered the door when they arrived.
King then called 911 several more times after they left, hanging up each call. Later in the day, Deputy Jason Hays, who conducted the initial welfare check, returned with another deputy. As they checked out the property, the deputies noticed King walking toward them staring straight ahead with his hands “awkwardly” in his pockets.
When King complied with the deputies’ request to show his hands, they noticed he was holding a carving knife. King did not drop the knife as ordered and proceeded toward the deputies, whose guns were drawn.
He then raised his hands to ear level, holding the knife with the blade pointing toward the deputies. King allegedly turned his head quickly between them, and, according to the deputies, began a “very hard charge, full-out sprint, leaning, lunging motion” toward Hays.
Hays then fired one fatal shot, killing King on the scene. But the parties disputed the facts of what happened, as the only witnesses were the two deputies present at King’s death.
On behalf of his son’s estate and individually, Matthew King alleged federal and state civil-rights and tort claims against the Hendricks County Commissioners, the Hendricks County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Brett Clark in his official capacity, and Hays in his official and individual capacities.
The Kings argued that their son “was probably super confused,” but “wouldn’t react in a violent manner” and “wouldn’t have charged [the deputies] with a knife.”
Thus, the question was raised: Would inconsistencies between the deputies’ testimony and other known facts permit a jury to find that King, among other things, was not holding a knife and did not charge Hays?
In reviewing the case, Southern District Court Judge James R. Sweeney II noted that while many courts have denied summary judgment where physical evidence plainly contradicts the defendant-officers’ self-serving testimony, they have not “found genuine factual disputes based on ambiguities, minor inconsistencies, or speculation.”
The district court therefore concluded that the second officer’s testimony was consistent with Hays’ account of the shooting, and that the Kings’ arguments, conjecture, and speculation did not create a genuine dispute of any material fact.
Specifically, Sweeney found that a lack of fingerprint evidence on the knife’s handle did not contradict the deputies’ testimony, but rather failed to corroborate it further. The court also rejected the Kings’ assertions regarding their son’s preferences and tendencies, including the fact that he wouldn’t carry a 10-inch knife in place of his favorite, smaller knife, or that he carried it in his left hand instead of his right.
“Brad’s preference for a different knife does not create a genuine dispute of material fact,” Sweeney noted. “And while carrying a ten-inch knife in one’s pocket is odd, it is fully consistent with Deputy Thomas’s testimony that Brad had his hands in his front pockets ‘very awkwardly.’”
The district court further rejected arguments that the bullet’s trajectory was inconsistent with Hays’ testimony regarding the shooting, concluding King had been crouched down when struck and that Hays’ use of deadly force was constitutionally reasonable.
“Brad’s parents have suffered a great loss. But on this summary judgment record, a jury could not reasonably find that their loss resulted from an unconstitutional use of deadly force,” Sweeney wrote. “Defendant Deputy Hays is therefore entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff’s § 1983 claim.”
The district court likewise found the defendants entitled to judgment under the King’s Monell and ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims. It therefore dismissed the Kings’ federal claims in King v. Hendricks County Comissioners et al., 17-cv-04412, likewise dismissing their state claims without prejudice.