A Kentucky sheriff told his deputy to shoot a man without provocation, then did not provide first aid or call an ambulance as the man bled to death on the floor of his apartment, according to a federal wrongful death lawsuit filed by the man's children and estate.
The lawsuit also alleges that Owsley County Sheriff Kelly Shouse had been having an affair with the girlfriend of the man who was shot, Charles Harris.
The lawsuit was filed after a grand jury declined to indict the Owsley deputy, Michael Havicus, in the March 2017 death of Harris, 42. That deputy was sued previously for using excessive force in another case and settled.
Kentucky State Police said Harris was armed with a knife, but the children, both in their teens, and apartment building manager were there and say in the lawsuit that he never opened the pocket knife he allegedly had in his hands. The apartment, the family says in the suit, was rearranged and "staged" after Harris was shot to influence the subsequent investigation.
In addition to suing Havicus and Shouse, the lawsuit names the county and Owsley County Fiscal Court as defendants. The apartment manager, Vickie Hacker, also is a plaintiff suing in part because she says her hearing was permanently damaged when the deputy's gun went off near her head.
Shouse, a Democrat, is seeking re-election in the primary this month.
In a statement, Jeffrey C. Mando, an attorney for Shouse and Havicus, said, "My clients will vigorously defend the lawsuit and flatly reject any suggestion that the force used by Deputy Havicus was anything other than reasonable. In fact, the facts show it was consistent with all governing law enforcement standards."
The plaintiffs accuse Havicus and Shouse of excessive force, failure to protect; illegal search and seizure; assault and battery; wrongful death; and negligence. The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages for emotional distress, damage to reputation and loss of future income.
The confrontation occurred after Harris' girlfriend, Janice Alexander, called Shouse or Havicus alleging she and Harris had an altercation at her house, the lawsuit says. Alexander was having an affair with Shouse, the plaintiffs claim.
About an hour after the phone call, the sheriff and his deputy arrived at Harris' Booneville apartment complex, where Harris was with his minor daughter and son, according to the court documents.
Hacker told the two men that they needed a warrant in order for her to let them into the apartment, according to the lawsuit. Shouse and Havicus allegedly ordered Hacker to knock on the door and ask Harris to talk to them.
Harris responded to Hacker by opening the door slightly; Shouse and Havicus "pushed through the door and entered the residence without an arrest warrant, search warrant, exigent circumstances, probable cause, or any legal principle that would allow them to make entry without a warrant," the lawsuit states.
Harris told the two to leave his apartment and went to his bedroom in order to limit his contact, the lawsuit states. Havicus followed him and kicked the bedroom door off its hinges, according to court documents. Havicus and Shouse ordered Harris to come out of the bedroom, and Harris complied by walking down the hallway with his hands held out from his body.
When Harris entered the living room, Shouse "verbally encouraged" Havicus to shoot him, the lawsuit says. Havicus fired his weapon at Harris' abdomen or chest without giving him a command, according to the lawsuit.
"At no time did Mr. Harris open the pocket knife that he is alleged to have had in his hands, nor did Mr. Harris make any sort of movement toward defendants at the time he was shot," the suit alleges.
Mando, the attorney for Harris and Shouse, offered a different account.
He said the two "responded to a domestic violence call at Booneville Home Apartments having been informed that Charles Harris had assaulted his mother. Upon arrival, the officers attempted to investigate and diffuse the situation but observed that Mr. Harris appeared to be under the influence of drugs, was belligerent and making threats.
"When Mr. Harris escalated the situation by raising a knife, Deputy Havicus gave repeated commands for him to drop it," Mando said in his statement. "Sheriff Shouse also attempted to deescalate the situation. When Mr. Harris ignored those commands and advanced on Deputy Havicus with the raised knife, he fired one shot to protect himself, Sheriff Shouse and the other persons in the apartment. Mr. Harris gave Deputy Havicus no other choice."
Both of Harris' children, as well as Hacker, were close to Harris when he was shot, according to the court documents. Hacker was close enough to the firearm that it damaged her hearing and "left powder burns on her face, mouth, ear and neck," the complaint alleges.
Harris did not receive any form of first aid from Havicus or Shouse, nor was an ambulance called for him, according to the lawsuit.
"Instead, they watched as Mr. Harris bled to death on the floor of his apartment after taking Mr. Harris into custody and cuffing him," the lawsuit alleges.
The children and Hacker were ordered out of the apartment; Harris' son was allegedly shoved against the wall with a gun put into the middle of his back. (At the time the estate was probated a few months later in October 2017, the son and daughter were 17 and 15 years old, respectively.)
Hacker was told by Havicus and Shouse to not call state police, the complaint said. Havicus and Shouse tampered with the scene by moving items and Harris' body, the lawsuit alleges. KSP arrived later to investigate the shooting.
Following the state police's investigation, a grand jury was presented the case and did not indict, state police spokesperson Robert Purdy said. Prosecutors could not be reached for comment on why the grand jury made its decision.
"Just because it didn't rise to the level of a criminal violation, it could still rise to the level of a constitutional violation," said Tom Pugh, attorney for the plaintiffs. Pugh told the plaintiffs not to talk about the case, a standard procedure.
According to recent court records in an unrelated case, Havicus was employed by the Lee Adjustment Center, a private prison, as of January. It could not be confirmed if he was still employed by the sheriff's office.
An official response to the lawsuit has not yet been filed in court by Jeff Mando, the attorney for Shouse, Havicus and the county.
Pugh said the lawsuit could be involved and lengthy. "We're looking at one to two years of litigation," he said.
Court records show no felony criminal charges against Harris in Owsley County, but he'd had some brushes with the law, including charges of fourth-degree assault, disorderly conduct and driving under the influence. There also were two domestic violence complaints against him, most recently in 2013 when a woman alleged Harris told her if she left him "he would make my life a living hell," according to court documents.
Deputy Havicus was previously sued for alleged unjustified violence against a man whose eye socket and nose were broken.
John Adkins, an Ohio resident, said in the complaint that he was at an October 2010 concert at the Owsley County Saddle Club grounds when Havicus and another officer came to investigate a report of a drunk woman.
The band stopped while police were there. Adkins, who was not drunk, asked “quietly and calmly” that the band be allowed to continue playing, the lawsuit said.
Adkins alleged that Havicus then hit him in the face with an expandable baton, knocking him to the ground; jumped on his back; jerked his arms behind him to restrain him; sprayed a chemical in his eyes; and hit him at least two more times with the baton.
Adkins said he did not resist and did nothing to provoke the attack. Officers did not charge Adkins with any crime, the complaint said.
The lawsuit, which sought an unspecified amount of damages, said Adkins was later treated for blurred vision, headaches and memory loss. Havicus denied the allegations.
The two sides reached a settlement in April 2012. The order dismissing the case did not include details of the settlement.