Man sues city and police officers, alleging harassment, rights violations

A man who was found not guilty last year of attacking and robbing a Lexington police officer's daughter has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and several officers, citing an alleged conspiracy of police harassment and civil rights violations.

Pleas Lucian Kavanaugh, 32, is seeking an undetermined amount of punitive and compensatory damages from the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government; police Chief Ronnie Bastin; Officers Elizabeth Adams and William Persley; and other unnamed officers.

The complaint, which was filed March 21, accuses police of using "improper investigative techniques and illegal witness identification procedures" to peg Kavanaugh as the person who attacked Persley's daughter on High Street on Oct. 24, 2009.

There was no physical evidence linking Kavanaugh to the crime. He was identified when Adams presented the victim with a photo lineup, according to court documents. A judge later ruled that the lineup could not be presented at trial after defense attorneys argued it was too suggestive.

Adams and Persley, both of whom were detectives in the robbery-homicide unit when the crime occurred, have since been reassigned to the Division of Planning and Analysis and the Division of Patrol respectively, though it was unclear why.

Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts deferred comment on the case to city spokeswoman Susan Straub, who said she could not comment on open lawsuits.

Adams and Persley could not be reached for comment Tuesday. However both filed responses to the lawsuit Monday denying accusations of wrongdoing and asking that the lawsuit be dismissed.

Their responses followed a response from the city filed April 6; in it, the LFUCG and Chief Bastin denied wrongdoing or liability, citing several legal principles that they said should negate the lawsuit.

"The damages about which the Plaintiff complains, if any there were, were the result of intentional and/or negligent acts on the part of other individuals over whom these Defendants had no control," the document said.

Kavanaugh, a writer and blogger who is now living in Costa Rica, said his problems with Lexington police began when he was charged by Adams in 2004 with sexually assaulting a college classmate. A jury found him not guilty, according to court documents, which prompted Kavanaugh to file a federal lawsuit in 2006. That lawsuit was ultimately dismissed.

Since filing the initial lawsuit, Kavanaugh has consistently been harassed by police, he said. He said he has been subjected to racial profiling and wrongful stops and searches. Most of the criminal charges he has faced since then have resulted in a dismissal or acquittal in court, according to court documents.

In the most recent case, the lawsuit said, "unknown officers openly discussed the possibility of violating him physically in order to coerce a confession" from him.

Kavanaugh, when reached by phone, said he could only speculate on the cause of the alleged hostility from police, specifically Adams.

"I can't speak to motive, but I can only surmise that (Adams) assumes that I got away with something, and they're going to put me behind bars one way or another," he said.

The case involving Persley's daughter was the most recent case involving the former detectives and Kavanaugh.

On May 10, 2010, Kavanaugh was indicted by a grand jury on charges of first-degree robbery and first-degree unlawful imprisonment.

The charges stemmed from two unrelated incidents in 2009, according to court documents. The robbery charge stemmed from the alleged attack and robbery of Persley's daughter. The reported crime that led to the unlawful imprisonment charge allegedly happened two months later, when a pregnant woman claimed she was held at knifepoint at the Lexington transit center.

Neither case produced any physical evidence linking Kavanaugh to the reported crimes, or any eyewitnesses other than the victims. Both victims said they didn't know their attackers, and both described the attackers as light-skinned black men.

In December 2009, both victims picked Kavanaugh out of a "six-pack," a photo lineup of six men, according to statements from Adams in court documents. But the lineup was too suggestive, defense attorneys said, because only Kavanaugh and one other man in the lineup could be considered light-skinned.

"Nobody would ever consider the other four men in that lineup to be light-skinned black men," said public defender Chris Tracy, one of Kavanaugh's attorneys in the case.

There was also some question among defense attorneys of whether Adams showed the victims a single photo of Kavanaugh, a practice universally regarded as unduly suggestive, Tracy said.

Kavanaugh said Adams told him during an initial interview that the victims identified him after being shown a single photo, and only mentioned the lineup during court hearings. When defense attorneys requested the video of that interview, Adams said the video could not be found.

"We asked for the video, and it didn't exist," Tracy said. "That's unusual. We always ask for interrogation videos and we never have a problem getting it."

Judge Ernesto Scorsone ultimately ruled that identification procedures could not be discussed at trial, and jurors were left with only testimony from Persley's daughter to tie Kavanaugh to the robbery charge. After defense attorneys pointed out several inconsistencies in the woman's story, jurors found Kavanaugh not guilty after deliberating about an hour.

Following the not-guilty verdict on the robbery charge, the unlawful imprisonment charge was dismissed, according to court documents. The unlawful imprisonment charge was set to be tried separately.

Kavanaugh said he left Lexington shortly after the verdict in part to get away from what he felt would be increased harassment or retaliation. He is working on a movie script and trying to find a job teaching English as a second language.

He said he constantly thinks about what could have happened if the charges had stuck.

"I could have went to jail for like 25 years for those crimes. They know I didn't do it," he said. "That's tantamount to murder. Personally, I would rather be killed."