Grand jury declines to indict Lexington firefighter in shooting of Harlan man

Mark Sawaf
Mark Sawaf

A grand jury in Harlan County declined Monday to charge any officers in the Aug. 11 shooting death of a man under federal indictment for making and possessing illegal explosive devices.

Federal authorities had arrested Mark Sawaf, 39, in June after a trail camera with explosive material in it blew up and tore multiple fingers from a man’s hand.

Sawaf later told police he had put several other booby-trapped cameras in the wooded hills around Harlan. He offered to help state and federal authorities find other cameras, but he tried to escape during the search, police said.

Police said that when they caught Sawaf, who was wearing handcuffs, he got his hand on one officer’s pistol and tried to take it. During the struggle over the weapon, Capt. Brad Dobrzynski of the Lexington Fire Department, who was helping search for explosive devices, shot and killed Sawaf.

Dobrzynski has been a Lexington firefighter since 2000 and is an arson investigator. He was trained in the use of firearms just as Lexington police officers are, according to Susan Straub, spokeswoman for the city.

State police investigated the shooting and presented evidence to a grand jury, which is routine practice in cases in which officers fatally shoot people.

The grand jury returned a no true bill, meaning the panel declined to indict anyone, according to state police and Harlan Circuit Clerk Wendy Flanary’s office.

Friends and relatives of Sawaf had argued that police used excessive force.

However, state police concluded through their investigation that the use of deadly force against Sawaf was justified, and the grand jury agreed, said Trooper Shane Jacobs, spokesman for the state police post in Harlan.

“We take every case seriously,” Jacobs said Monday. “With any investigation, we take all the findings we get and we present all those findings, whether they’re good or whether they’re bad, to a grand jury.”

The grand jury made no comment on the case.

Sawaf was a mental-health and substance-abuse counselor who worked in Harlan and Lexington. His father said Sawaf, who loved to hunt, had put very small amounts of explosives in trail cameras to deter thieves.

Police, however, said cameras they think were linked to Sawaf not only blew off part of one man’s hand but injured two other people.

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