City of Bardstown, former police chief McKenzie Mattingly accused of causing suicidal man's death
In a body cam video, obtained by WDRB, a supervisor said of the suicidal man, “We’re not sitting out here all night tying up resources because he is indecisive.”
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- For more than two hours on July 26, 2016, Theodore "Charles" Lewis sat in a vehicle outside his mother-in-law's home in Bardstown, armed with a handgun and threatening to kill himself.
Police officers repeatedly told the 26-year-old they wanted to help, talking with him about his wife and children, asking him to surrender and seek treatment.
But former interim Bardstown Police Chief McKenzie Mattingly told his officers the negotiations were "taking too long" and "using up too many law enforcement resources," according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Lewis' wife and family.
Mattingly ordered Officer Bradley Gillock to throw an "incendiary device" into Lewis' vehicle, startling Lewis, who "picked up his gun and in the confusion and chaos, put it to his head and shot himself," according to the wrongful death lawsuit filed in Nelson Circuit Court in November and moved to federal court this month.
In a body camera video obtained under an open records request by WDRB, an officer at the scene talking about Lewis before his death can be heard saying to a superior officer, "I don't think he wants to kill himself," adding that Lewis had taken the magazine out of his gun but wouldn't get out of the car.
The superior, who is not identified, responded, "We're not sitting out here all night tying up resources because he is indecisive."
Later, an officer is seen on a body cam talking to Lewis about the ages of his children and how long he has been married when another officer approaches from behind the vehicle and throws the device inside. A loud pop follows.
"Gosh dammit," said the officer who had been talking with Lewis. "He's done."
There is no indication in the video that Lewis made any threatening moves before the device was used.
The Kentucky Standard in Nelson County reported in August 2016 that police threw a pepper spray canister into the open window.
At the time, Mattingly told the newspaper he didn't think that device going off was what caused Lewis to kill himself. Mattingly said the man's relatives told him they believed the situation would have ended the same way even if officers had remained on the scene for several more hours.
The suit claims that immediately after Lewis' suicide, Mattingly sought an "emergency" meeting with city officials and persuaded them to discontinue the use of body cameras, arguing the maintenance and production of the videos was "unsustainable," according to the suit.
On July 27, 2016, Bardstown police stopped using body cameras due to ongoing problems with the technology, according to city officials.
John Royalty, who was then Bardstown mayor, said at the time that he'd long heard complaints about the body cameras from police ever since the department first began using them in August 2015.
"I do support a program, as long as the program is able to be kept up and utilized correctly," Royalty said the day the city council's public safety committee voted to scrap the body cameras.
Royalty said he wanted to launch a new program and get more storage for the department.
"I want to get the best system we can, because that's for the safety of our officers and for court cases," Royalty said.
Royalty, who is no longer mayor, could not be reached for comment Thursday. He was voted out of office in April and indicted on official misconduct and other charges not related to this incident in October.
The defendants named in the lawsuit are Bardstown city government; Mattingly, who is no longer with the department; and Gillock.
Mattingly did not return a Facebook message. Gillock, who is now a trooper with Kentucky State Police, did not return a call seeking comment.
The lawsuit accuses Mattingly of having a history of "reckless and dangerous acts" including "brutality" and discharging his weapon in a "random fashion" -- both as a Bardstown officer and with the Louisville Metro Police Department.
As a Louisville officer, Mattingly was charged with murder but later acquitted by a jury in the January 2004 fatal shooting of 19-year-old Michael Newby. He was fired by the department.
He was hired by Bardstown police in 2010 and retired last year.
The suit, filed by Bardstown attorney Jason Floyd, claims Mattingly violated a use-of-force policy, was confrontational with public and court officials as well as citizens, and prone to "social media rants and other public outbursts" during his time on the force.
In August, Louisville Police Chief Steve Conrad rejected Mattingly's attempt to rejoin the force.
The lawsuit also claims Mattingly called Lewis' wife in the days after the suicide and tried to talk her out of taking any action against him.
The Bardstown Police Department did not have any policies or protocol on dealing with hostage or suicide negotiations, according to the lawsuit.
According to the suit, Lewis had been "convinced to surrender and was no longer suicidal" and would be alive but for the actions of police.
Gillock should have ignored Mattingly's order to throw the device into the vehicle, according to the suit.
"This was a really unfortunate set of circumstances off actions by Mattingly," Floyd said in an interview. "There were officers there who did a fantastic job of talking Lewis off the ledge so to speak before Mattingly got involved. ... For him to have lost his patience after the officers talked Mr. Lewis off the ledge just wasn't right."
The suit is seeking a jury trial, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
A message left for new Bardstown Police Chief Kim Kraeszig was not immediately returned. Mayor Dick Heaton declined to comment on the lawsuit, except to say police still do not use body cameras, and referred a reporter to an attorney for the city. The attorney did not return a phone message.
Copyright 2018 by WDRB News. All rights reserved. Reporter Travis Ragsdale contributed to this story.