Bardstown, Mattingly sued for July 2016 suicide response

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By Forrest Berkshire, Editor

 The City of Bardstown is facing a federal lawsuit from the John Royalty-era in response to actions by his former interim police chief.

The suit stems from a controversial decision by Bardstown Police to toss a pepper spray bomb into a vehicle with a suicidal person in July 2016.

Kourtney Wahl Lewis filed the wrongful death lawsuit against the city and former Bardstown Police Officers McKenzie Mattingly and Brad Gillock, on behalf of herself and her child.

The case stems from the suicide of Theodore Charles Lewis, who shot himself in the head on July 26, 2016, while sitting in his parked vehicle after Mattingly ordered a pepper spray bomb to be tossed into his vehicle while Lewis was talking with police.

Jason Floyd, Ms. Lewis’ attorney, said all three parties are to blame for the victim’s death.

“We believe the other officer there had Mr. Lewis under control — talked down off the ledge, as they say — and ready and willing to surrender himself alive,” Floyd said.

Floyd said Mattingly is responsible because he issued the order, which other officers present at the time have said was because he did not want to tie up resources any longer.

The city’s culpability lies in hiring Mattingly and promoting him when “he was clearly erratic and violent through the course of his career.”

Floyd said it was “unfortunate” for Gillock to receive the order.

“The order was wrong, and I think Gillock should have known that,” Floyd said.

On the night of July 25, another former Bardstown Police officer, Andrew Eckart, responded to the call of a suicidal subject and negotiated with Lewis for over three hours, trying to get him out of the car. At one point, Eckart convinced Mr. Lewis to remove the magazine from his pistol.

“Give me a chance to help you. I know I can,” Eckart can be heard telling Mr. Lewis on body cam footage from that night. “I’m not giving up on you.”

Mattingly responded to the scene some time during those negotiations.

According to the complaint in the lawsuit, after he had arrived, “Mattingly made radio communications to his officers, making exasperated statements that Lewis was ‘taking too long’ to surrender, that Lewis was ‘using too many law enforcement resources,’ and otherwise making statements intimating that he wanted officers to take Lewis by force, despite the presence of the handgun and his threat of suicide.”

The suit claims Lewis was ready to surrender, but Mattingly grew impatient and ordered Gillock to toss the incendiary device into the vehicle.

“The incendiary device exploded inside of Lewis’ vehicle in surprising and shocking fashion, and Lewis, startled, picked up his gun and in the confusion and chaos, put it to his head and shot himself,” the suit claims.

Much of the description in the lawsuit falls in line with body cam footage from that evening obtained by The Kentucky Standard. In the video, it appears that even Eckart was surprised by the pepper bomb going off.

The suit was filed in December in Nelson Circuit Court, but was removed to the Western District of Kentucky federal court because the suit claims Mr. Lewis’ civil rights were violated.

The city’s attorneys issued a response to the claim Wednesday, but that was sealed in federal court because it included the name of a minor child, and The Standard was unable to obtain copies of the response.

The suit asks for an unspecified amount for compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and punitive damages.