Killed with his own gun

Clay City police chief Randy Lacy was shot and killed with one of his own guns, according to the Powell County coroner.

Lacy, who was shot in his police cruiser after making a DUI arrest on Wednesday, had two guns in the car, according to coroner Carl Wells.

One gun was found in Lacy’s holster after the shooting. Lacy was found slumped over the steering wheel of his cruiser, which had crashed into a street sign near Main Street and Ninth Avenue in Clay City.The other gun was found at the scene.

It’s unclear how James H. Barnett — who has been charged with murder — got the second gun.

The fatal shot to the back of Lacy’s head came through the wire and hard-plastic barrier that separates the back seat of the cruiser from the front, Wells said. Barnett was in the back seat.

Wells said one theory is that the second gun had fallen under the seat of the cruiser, making it possible for Barnett to grab it.

Barnett, 37, is scheduled to make his first court appearance this morning, at 8:45 in the Powell County Courthouse. Barnett has a long police record, with more than 30 arrests on at least 59 counts since 1993. Those charges covered a variety of incidents in Powell, Clark and Fayette counties, though most of the charges were related to drugs and alcohol.

In 1994, he was found guilty of aggravated assault against a police officer and received a two-year conditional discharge, court records show.

Police have said that Lacy, 55, handcuffed Barnett with his hands in front of his body instead of behind, and that Lacy was taking Barnett to the Powell County Detention Center at the time of the shooting.

Those who know Lacy said he often handcuffed people he knew with their hands in front, and sometimes wouldn’t handcuff them at all. Family members have said that Lacy had arrested Barnett several times before.

The incident is the second in the state this month in which someone has died after a suspect was handcuffed with his hands in front. On June 1, Billy Phillips, 53, was charged with drunken driving and taken to the Adair County jail. He had his hands cuffed in front of his body, and once inside the jail lunged at a state trooper several times, according to state police.

State police said Trooper B.J. Burton struck Phillips, who hit his head against the wall or floor as he fell. Phillips died three days later at the University of Kentucky hospital.

Experts say officers are trained to handcuff suspects with their hands behind their back, palms facing out. “There’s so many things you can still do with your hands handcuffed in front of you,” said Timothy Dimoff, a retired Akron, Ohio, police officer and certified instructor on police tactics. “You can punch people. You can choke them.”

With hands in front, a suspect can retrieve a hidden weapon or get rid of hidden drugs.

An officer might handcuff in the front if the suspect is severely handicapped, said Lindsay Hughes, who supervises the physical training at the Department of Criminal Justice Training at Eastern Kentucky University. But the situation would have to be extreme.

Hughes noted that different departments have different policies, and some may call for officers to handcuff in the front in certain situations. The center trains officers to handcuff in the back but encourages all officers it trains to follow local department procedures.

The center trains all police officers in the state, except for those who work for Lexington, Louisville and the Kentucky State Police, which have their own training centers.

As for the presence of two guns in Lacy’s cruiser, it’s common for officers who work alone, as Lacy did, to carry more than one gun, said Dimoff. But the extra gun shouldn’t be readily accessible.

“If you’re going to carry a backup gun, the rule is you make sure it’s secured,” Dimoff said. “You don’t want to get in the middle of a fight and it’s falling out.”

If the gun is in a cruiser, it should be secured to the officer’s body. Otherwise, it could fall between the seats or slide under them. Or, if the officer is in an accident, it could fly through the air.

Lacy’s death is a grim reminder of why officers should follow procedures, Dimoff said.

“Officers should not ever feel comfortable deviating from standard safety procedures,” he said. “It always ends in a tragedy like this.”

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