A Kentucky State Police trooper punched and struck a handcuffed mentally ill man at the Warren County Regional Jail and two jail employees deployed stun guns on him while he was strapped in a restraint chair, according to a federal lawsuit.
Former KSP Post 3 Trooper Aaron Tucker, Deputy Jailer Andrew Cooper, former WCRJ Capt. Melissa Causey and the county are named as defendants in the lawsuit, brought by Timothy Michael Heston. The lawsuit claims the trooper and the jail employees used excessive force against Heston, conspired to deprive him of his rights, committed assault and battery and intentionally inflicted emotional distress.
Filed in March in U.S. District Court in Bowling Green, the lawsuit focuses on a series of events following Heston’s arrest on March 17, 2019.
Tucker arrested Heston on that date after observing him walking on the right shoulder of Interstate 65.
Heston’s attorney, Amy Robinson Staples, said Heston had previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was actively psychotic at the time Tucker encountered him.
According to an arrest citation, Heston said he was attempting to get to Tennessee for his son’s birthday, and then threatened the trooper, leading to his arrest and transport to the jail.
In the sally port of the jail, Tucker opened the door of his cruiser and ordered Heston to exit the vehicle.
While being escorted to the jail, a handcuffed Heston stumbled while stepping on a curb, according to the lawsuit, after which Tucker threw him in a corner against the wall, struck him in the face with a pair of steel-toed boots Heston had been carrying before his arrest, punched him multiple times in the face and chest and struck Heston with his knee before throwing him to the concrete floor, the lawsuit claims.
“The knee strikes were so forceful, in fact, that ... Tucker injured his knee when inflicting them,” Staples said in the lawsuit, adding that jail officers rushed to the sally port after hearing a thud.
Video surveillance footage appears to show Heston stumbling before being thrown into a corner near a doorway and Tucker throwing multiple punches and knee strikes. Heston is seen falling to the floor by the time jail employees rush to the sally port.
In the arrest citation, Tucker alleged that he felt Heston tense up his muscles and pull away from him while approaching the step in the sally port and that Heston again threatened him.
“I then placed the above offender up against the wall to attempt to regain control and attempt to get assistance from the detention staff by the button placed on the wall,” Tucker wrote in the arrest citation, going on to allege that Heston blocked the button for calling jail employees and used his head to hit the trooper.
In the lawsuit, Staples said Tucker’s narrative was false and that the video footage demonstrates that “Tucker attacked a handcuffed man who was unable to protect himself and then lied about it.”
“At no point during Michael’s encounter with defendant Tucker did Michael take any action that would justify the use of excessive force employed by defendant Tucker,” Staples said in the lawsuit, which claims Tucker was fired after an internal investigation into the incident.
Staples claims KSP did not disclose the existence of the video footage to the prosecutor or defense attorney involved in Heston’s court case.
On March 18, 2019, hours after being brought to jail, Heston was placed in an isolation cell.
Causey observed what she believed to be urine coming from under the cell door and ordered Heston to step away from the door and place his hands against the wall, according to the lawsuit.
Heston was then placed in a restraint chair by deputy jailers.
As a deputy secured one of Heston’s legs in a leg restraint, Heston kicked his other leg, which led Causey to deploy a stun gun into Heston’s right upper thigh and then drive the stun gun into his shoulder and clavicle area, according to the lawsuit.
A still image from surveillance video footage included with the lawsuit appears to show Causey deploying the stun gun to Heston’s right shoulder as he is restrained.
Cooper is also accused of deploying a stun gun against Heston while he was in the restraint chair on March 19, 2019, having been placed there after refusing to give jail employees his dental bridge.
“Although mechanically restrained, defendant Cooper drive stunned Michael to the right side of his neck causing the dental bridge to ‘shoot out of his mouth,’ ” Staples said in the suit.
In a statement released Friday, Warren County Jailer Stephen Harmon stressed that the allegations against Causey and Cooper are separate from the allegations against Tucker, and that the former trooper is not connected to the jail.
“WCRJ is committed to our mission to provide a safe and well-maintained atmosphere while also providing for the care and custody of those incarcerated,” Harmon said in the statement. “We strive to be firm, fair and consistent to those housed in our facility while complying with all applicable laws and regulations. WCRJ stands behind the actions of its hard-working deputies and will forcefully defend them and itself in a court of law. What is being distributed by media outlets is not a complete and accurate picture of what occurred within the WCRJ.”
A grand jury indicted Heston on two felony counts of third-degree assault and a misdemeanor count of fourth-degree assault.
Online Kentucky court records show the charges were dismissed in February in Warren Circuit Court, with Heston spending 11 months in jail up to that point.
While in jail, Heston was kept in isolation and deprived of mental health treatment and necessary injections, causing his symptoms to worsen, according to the lawsuit.
Attorney Aaron Smith, who represents the county and the jail employees, said he anticipates filing a formal response to the lawsuit before the end of the month.
“When all the evidence comes out, we will anticipate moving for dismissal at the appropriate juncture,” Smith said. “Based on what we know and have seen, the jail employees acted appropriately, especially in a difficult situation, and we think the case is very defensible.”
Cooper remains employed at the jail while Causey has retired, a decision not connected to this incident, Smith said.
Trooper Jeremy Priddy, spokesman for KSP Post 3, referred questions to Sgt. Josh Lawson, KSP public affairs commander in Frankfort. An email from the Daily News to Lawson requesting comment was sent Friday.