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On the day that family and friends commemorated the second anniversary of when Trey Williams was shot to death in a confrontation with Shelbyville Police, his parents continue to fight in court for access to the records a Shelby County Grand Jury’s reviewed to exonerate the police officer who fired the fatal shot.
Clifton Court in Shelbyville, the site of the tragedy on Nov. 19, 2011, was awash in a sea of flickering candles Tuesday night, as about 100 people gathered for a vigil for Williams, who was 18 when he died.
Frank Mascagni, the family’s attorney, who attended the event, said beforehand that he expected some response from the courts on that legal issue.
“I think the judge is going to issue a ruling next month, or hopefully, within thirty days – that motion is pending before federal judge [James] Moyer right now,” he said.
The motion to view the transcripts was also filed in Shelby Circuit Court as well, but no action has been taken on the matter yet there, either.
Shelby Circuit Court Judge Charles Hickman was unavailable for comment, and an employee at his office said she did not know his intentions regarding the matter.
Mascagni said he did not what would happen if Moyer and Hickman were to reach opposing decisions about the transcripts.
“I don’t know to be honest with you,” he said.
The most recent document filed on the matter in Shelby Circuit Court, on Aug. 7, was the Williamses’ argument in support of their request, reiterating what they had stated.
“Plaintiffs [Williams] have shown that the transcripts are needed to avoid injustice in their pending civil action,” the document reads. “Plaintiffs have also shown that their need for the transcripts is greater than the Commonwealth’s need for continued secrecy.”
The Williams had sought to require Commonwealth Attorney Laura Donnell to release the records, and on May 6 Donnell was issued a subpoena to turn over the records, but she filed a response with the court on July 22, saying that the records should remain confidential.
“Grand jury proceedings are confidential,” Donnell said at that time. “They have always been confidential, and we take that matter very seriously. We do not release grand jury hearings unless it is provided for in the criminal rules, and that normally is to the defendant; that is the only person that has the right to receive that.
“In criminal cases, we would tender those to a defense attorney, but this is not a criminal case, it’s a civil case. If a court orders me to produce something, I would obey the court’s order.”
The grand jury transcripts the Williams family is seeking are from Jan. 4, 2012, when the panel deliberated more than four hours before determining that that officer Suzanna Marcum had acted with justifiable cause to use deadly force in subduing Williams, 18. The hearing came after a 6-week investigation by Kentucky State Police.
Williams’ parents, Gardner and Stephanie Williams, in November 2012 filed a wrongful-death suit in U.S. District Court in Louisville against the Shelbyville Police Department, former Police Chief Robert Schutte, Marcum and her partner that day, Frank Willoughby, and the City of Shelbyville after that shooting during a response to a break-in at his grandmother’s home.
The Williamses’ cocouncil, Ann Oldfather, has said that one important reason the family wants to review the transcripts is because she understood that the grand jury only heard from the Kentucky State Police investigating trooper and that the family wants to see what the jury was told.
Adam Fuller of the Louisville law firm Schiller Osbourne Barnes & Maloney, attorney for Shelbyville PD and the city of Shelbyville, did not return repeated phone calls from The Sentinel-News.
The suit contends that Williams was fatally shot while he was lawfully in his grandmother’s home, which violated his right to be free from unreasonable force and seizure.
The suit claims that officers acted negligently, recklessly or wantonly, and that the city, the police department and Schutte were deliberately indifferent to the need to train police officers to deal properly with people with mental health issues and that this failure led to Williams’ death.
The suit also said officers did not seek permission to enter the home legally by obtaining a search warrant and, upon entering, found no evidence of foul play or robbery, only an orderly, undisturbed home, with Williams in the bathroom.
The suit said that he posed no threat to officers from the bathroom, and they had not been properly trained in what to do next.
Officers went to the home on Clifton Court to investigate a 911 call about a black male breaking out a window with a pole. Marcum and Willoughby saw the broken window with blood on it, leading them to believe the suspect was inside, so they entered with the help of a maintenance man. Willoughby called out, “police” several times but got no answer.
The officers heard sounds coming from behind a closed bathroom door, and Willoughby was shown on video from the officers’ Tasers as he tried to communicate with the person inside (Williams) but heard only “indecipherable screaming.”
Willoughby kicked in the bathroom door and told Williams, clad in only shorts, to get down on the floor, and when he did not, officers used Tasers on him, a tactic that was ineffective. When Williams attacked the officers, Marcum, “fearing for herself and Officer Willoughby,” court records said, shot Williams three times. He died at the scene.
Detectives from KSP spent six weeks investigating the officers’ conduct, and the findings were presented to a Shelby County Grand Jury, which said the officers acted with justifiable cause.
Since then, Willoughby has returned to the police department, but Marcum remained on leave for a time, retiring recently. Schutte retired last year. None has commented on the case or the legal proceedings.
Mascagni said that at this point, most of the depositions have been taken, although some are expected to be completed next month.
The Williamses declined comment through a family member, but Mascagni said they are trying their best to persevere.
“They’re holding on as well as two parents who have lost a child can hold on,” he said. “They are hurting inside, but they are always gracious and kind.”