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Stepmother wants police to revive body cams

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By Randy Patrick

Beverly Lewis had never seen the body camera footage of her stepson’s suicide until his widow sued the police and the video was on TV.

Now she believes the interim police chief at the time, McKenzie Mattingly, wasn’t candid, and she’s on a mission to have the Bardstown Police Department reinstate the use of body cameras for its officers.

Charles Lewis, 26, killed himself with a handgun while sitting in his Jeep Cherokee on July 26, 2016, after officers tried for two and a half hours to negotiate with him to let them help him. But after Mattingly ordered Lt. Brad Gillock to drop a pepper gas canister into the vehicle, Lewis shot himself in the head.

The same day, then-Mayor John Royalty recommended to the city’s Safety Committee that it discontinue the use of the cameras. Lewis’ suicide wasn’t mentioned. In fact, it wasn’t until later that anyone publicly questioned police conduct in that night.

Now Lewis’ widow, Kourtney Wahl Lewis, has filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of herself and her baby, with whom she was pregnant at the time. She is suing the city of Bardstown, Mattingly and Gillock.

After seeing the video for the first time when Louisville TV station WDRB reported the lawsuit, Lewis’ father, William, and stepmother, Beverly, are determined to get the police to start using the cameras again — for their own protection as well as the protection of those they encounter.

In a text message to a reporter for The Standard last Friday, Beverly Lewis said that after seeing the video, she and her husband believe they were “lied to” and their son would still be alive if Gillock had not thrown the device into the car. She later consented to an interview.

According to The Standard’s archives, on July 26, 2016, Royalty recommended to the city’s Safety Committee that the use of the cameras by police be suspended until Gillock and Mattingly could find better cameras and a better system for storing and retrieving the video.

“After seeing the video as many times as I have, it kind of makes me think — does he know he was wrong, and was he trying to hide something?” Lewis said, referring to Mattingly.

“I’m very disturbed that our officers are working without the video cams,” she said in the interview Friday.

Days after their son’s death, William and Beverly Lewis met with police to thank them for trying to save Charles’ life and let them know that they didn’t blame them for his death. They were especially appreciative of Officer Andrew Eckart — who is no longer with the department. It was Eckart who talked with Charles for more than two hours, trying to get him to not shoot himself. Former Officer Shannon Hall was also involved in the negotiations. But seeing the video, Mrs. Lewis said, changed their minds about how the police handled the situation.

“I still feel that Officer Eckart did everything possible to save our son’s life, and I feel that he had succeeded … until that was thrown in the vehicle,” she said.

She is convinced from viewing the video that Eckart was close to talking her stepson into getting out of the Jeep.

“I don’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to finish what he started,” she said. “Why did the other two intervene? … If he had given him another five or 10 minutes, I think he would have been out of the car.”

Instead, Mattingly could be heard on the body cam audio telling officers that “we’re not sitting out here all night, tying up all of our resources.”

At Gillock’s suggestion, spikes called stop sticks were placed under the tires of Lewis’ blue Jeep Cherokee before the pepper canister was dropped through a back window. A moment later, the gun’s discharge can be heard.

Lewis had been threatening to kill himself for a few days because he thought his marriage was breaking up and his wife had left with one of his children.

Mattingly said in an interview at the time he didn’t think the pepper bomb was what made Lewis kill himself, and that the situation would have ended the same way no matter how long police negotiated.

But Beverly Lewis disagreed, and said she doubts the police department was adequately trained for such a situation.

“Nobody knows but Charles and God whether he would have made the same choice,” she said.

“We feel it could have been handled differently,” she said, based on what she saw and heard in the video.

“I hate it was on TV and all the heartache it caused, but if it were not on TV, we would have never known,” she said.

And she vowed that they would work to get the body cameras back in use for the protection of other families like hers and the officers themselves.

“That is our main mission,” she said.

Bardstown Police Chief Kim Kraeszig said Tuesday she is interested in getting the body cameras back.

“I do think body cams are a good protection for our officers … and the people in the community,” she said.

However, they are expensive, and she said she wants to make sure the department gets the best cameras it can and can work out issues involving storage. She can’t buy them unless they’re in the budget, she said, and she wants to look into the possibility of getting a grant to pay for them.

“It is definitely on our radar,” she said.

Interim Nelson County Sheriff Mike Newton said the Sheriff’s Office used to have body cams when he was sheriff several years ago, but they weren’t good for anything except the audio because the cameras “bounced around” so much. Until the technology improves, he wouldn’t be in favor of spending the money, but that’s a decision for the next sheriff to make, he said. “It would be something to look into.”