RICHMOND — A retired physician and his wife have filed a federal lawsuit against former Madison County Sheriff Nelson O'Donnell, a current deputy and the sheriff's department over a Jan. 2 incident in which the doctor was arrested after he fired a shotgun to stop a neighbor's dog from barking.
The lawsuit filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Lexington by Dr. William Grise and his wife, Mary, alleges false arrest, malicious prosecution, abuse of criminal process, unlawful search, invasion of privacy and a failure by the department to properly train and supervise employees.
O'Donnell said Wednesday that he isn't sure why the suit names him as a defendant because his term ended Dec. 31, but the suit says O'Donnell's term ended Jan. 3 and that his successor, Jerry Combs, then took office. Deputy Todd Allen and Combs could not be immediately reached Wednesday for comment.
"I had already turned in my keys, car, radio, everything, and he (Combs) was already moving in," O'Donnell said.
Grise, 82, was charged with alcohol intoxication in a public place, fourth-degree assault and carrying a concealed deadly weapon. In March the charges were dismissed as long as there were no further offenses, and Grise was to have no possession of firearms except for a shotgun that was not to be discharged except in self-defense, according to Madison District Court records.
In the suit, Grise says he fired the shotgun twice into the ground on his property in order to silence a neighbor's dog that "had become an annoyance." When Grise saw a car's lights coming up his driveway, he put a pistol in his pocket because he'd confronted "vagrants" and trespassers who had been threatening, and his house has been broken into, the suit says.
Deputy Sheriff Allen stepped out of the car and asked if Grise had fired a shotgun. Grise said he had, turned around and walked back into his house.
Allen followed and asked if he could enter. Grise refused and told Allen he had no warrant to do so. Allen instructed Grise to "come out here" and told Grise it was dangerous to discharge the shotgun because "there were children over there," the suit says.
Grise responded that he had "broken no law." The suit says Grise "never, at any time" uttered "any offensive words whatsoever."
However, in his report in the Madison District Court files, Allen said Grise was "cursing loudly" and also that Grise was "cursing toward me." The suit says Grise had had a half glass of wine that evening, but Allen's report said Grise "had a strong odor of alcohol, slurred speech and was unsteady on his feet while in the road in front of his residence." Grise's suit said he was not in a public place but was, at all times, on his private property.
The deputy and Grise's accounts also differ on what happened next.
The suit says Mary Grise, 77, who was weak, scared and unsure of herself on her feet after suffering a stroke two years ago, stepped back and fell down as Grise "tried to slide inside the partly open" front door. But Allen's account in court records says he saw Grise "push his wife down and then fall on top of her."
The suit says Allen grabbed Grise's arm and pulled, yelling "Come out here!" The suit says Allen told Grise "You are under arrest," but never told Grise why he was under arrest. Allen informed Grise that he had a gun in his pocket, the suit says, and adds that Grise "had never touched the gun in his pocket or even moved his hand in the direction to do so."
Allen, however, said in his account that "I asked if he (Grise) had a gun and he said 'Yes, in my pocket.' He then went to put his hand in his pocket but I beat him to it." The .38-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol was fully loaded, but Grise did not have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, Allen wrote.
The suit says Allen, "without any warrant or any justification whatsoever ... unlawfully entered and searched" the Grise home, but "found nothing in his warrantless search." The suit says Allen "fabricated the charges against" Grise "as well as his report of the incident."
The suit says "there was absolutely no probable cause to charge and arrest" Grise. The charge of alcohol intoxication in a public place" was groundless because Grise was not intoxicated and was on his own private property, the suit says. The fourth-degree assault charge was groundless because Mary Grise "fell due to her own illness, weakness and fright and was not physically injured," the suit says.
And Grise carried the pistol "only to defend himself, his wife and his property in his own house from the fast approach of an automobile, the identity of which could not be discerned by him given the darkness and bright headlights that shined directly at" him, the suit says.
The suit says the Grises "have suffered the expenditure of funds for counsel fees and costs, public ridicule, the loss of personal reputation, the tainting of plaintiff's medical license, and plaintiffs have suffered humiliation and extreme and several emotional distress."
The Grises seek a jury trial and the award of compensatory and punitive damages.