Hardin County Sheriff's deputy shoots suspect near Elizabethtown, KSP says

LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- An Elizabethtown man who was shot multiple times in the face and legs during a traffic stop by a Hardin County Sheriff’s deputy last year has filed a lawsuit against the officer and sheriff, claiming the incident was a "conscience shocking" use of excessive force.

In August, a grand jury found that Deputy Clennon Smith did not commit a crime when he pulled over Michael Williams and shot him numerous times on Feb. 8, 2018.

Smith and a Kentucky State Police trooper responded to a call regarding an erratic driver. There is no video of the incident.

However, Williams claims in a federal lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court that the father of three "miraculously" survived after Smith shot him five times without cause while he was sitting in his vehicle, unarmed, wearing a seat belt. 

In the lawsuit, Williams does not deny driving recklessly, but claims that he obeyed commands after being pulled over on Bacon Creek Road. 

Smith pulled his weapon as he exited his vehicle and fired a "warning shot" while shouting for Williams to put his hands in the air, according to the suit. When Smith couldn't open the car door because it was locked, Williams lowered his hands. Smith then fired through the window of the vehicle, striking Williams.

The KSP trooper was "shocked" by the shooting because he saw no threat from Williams and felt the situation was under control, according to the suit.

The lawsuit also names Hardin County Sheriff John Ward, arguing he should have never hired Smith because he has a lengthy history of excessive force and abusing his authority, which continued during his time with the department.

Ward forced Smith to resign in October, according to the suit.

In January 2017, Smith allegedly punched a defendant in the face while he was handcuffed and being escorted by another deputy. That inmate filed a federal lawsuit against Smith, which is pending.

Williams and his attorney, Brennan Soergel, also claim Smith stomped on a citizen's hands, breaking several bones, in January 2017. A month later, Smith choked, slammed and wrestled with a Hardin County Deputy Jailer at the detention center.

In the latter case, the deputy jailer was arrested but the case was dismissed after an agreement that Smith had probable cause to bring charges.

"Sheriff Ward knew or should have known that Deputy Smith was unqualified, unfit, and a danger to himself and others in the community," the new suit alleges.

In an interview Thursday, Ward said lawsuits only present one side of a story and he looked forward to the case going to court. He said he could not comment further on the advice of his attorney.

Smith could not be reached for comment.

After he was shot, Williams went into cardiac arrest and underwent multiple surgeries "during an extended battle with life and death," the suit says. And he is permanently disfigured, blind in his left eye and will need more surgeries to "repair his face and body that is riddled with bullet and bone fragments."

The suit is seeking unspecified monetary damages and a jury trial.

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Digital Reporter

Jason Riley is a criminal justice reporter for WDRB.com. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after 14 years with The Courier-Journal. He graduated from Western Kentucky University. Jason be reached at 502-585-0823 and jriley@wdrb.com.