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EARLIER: Williams family sues city of Shelbyville, its police department

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Wrongful-death claim filed in federal court names officers involved

By Lisa King

Nearly a year after their son was shot and killed by a Shelbyville Police officer, the family of Trey F. Williams has filed a wrongful death suit against the city of Shelbyville and the officers involved in his death.

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The suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Western District, in Louisville, names the city of Shelbyville, police officers Suzanna Wade Marcum, Frank Willoughby and Police Chief Robert A. Schutte.

The suit alleges that Williams, 18, was fatally shot while he was lawfully in his grandmother’s home on Clifton Court, violating 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.

Anne Oldfather, attorney for Williams’ parents, Gardner and Stephanie Williams, said the gist of the suit is that Williams’ civil rights were violated.

“It’s [the suit] concerning the violation of Trey’s civil rights by the police department and the police officers for assaulting him with deadly force when all they needed to do was exercise some discretion had they been properly trained,” she said.

Shelbyville City Attorney Steve Gregory said he had not “actually seen a copy of the complaint yet. It came to my office today, but I’ve been at the hospital with my wife all day and have not had a chance to review it.”

Shelbyville Mayor Tom Hardesty said he had no comment either, because he has not seen the suit yet.

Williams died on Nov. 19, 2011, during a violent struggle with Marcum and Willoughby at the home of Dorothy Farris, and the suit details the events of that day, including statements from people who had called 911, describing Williams as a guy who “appeared to be suffering a mental breakdown” and “off his rocker.”

The officers were dispatched to the home after a neighbor called police to report she had seen someone break out a window at the house. When they arrived at the home and found a broken window with blood on it, officers found a maintenance man to let them into the home, because it was locked.

They entered and discovered Williams in the bathroom with the door locked. They ordered him to come out, and when he did not, Willoughby kicked the door in, and the deadly struggle, involving several Taser shots, ended with Marcum shooting Williams several times. He died at the scene.

An investigation was conducted to determine wrongdoing by the police, with Kentucky State Police detectives requiring about six weeks to complete their investigation.

After a 4-hour deliberation, a Shelby County Grand Jury determined that Marcum had acted with justifiable cause to use deadly force in subduing Williams. Willoughby returned to the police department following the investigation, but Marcum has remained on leave.

The suit says witnesses told dispatch that a barefoot, shirtless black guy carrying what appeared to be a pole and a Bible was walking in the middle of traffic on Midland Trail, and even struck the windshield of a car with the pole. When he got to his grandmother’s home, where he lived on occasion, he broke a window to get in because he was locked out, the suit said.

The 19-page document makes references to several callers’ reports of Williams’ apparent disturbed state of mind and said that officers had been informed of that, and despite that knowledge and also hearing chanting coming from the bathroom, they “either knew or should have known that Trey was suffering from a mental disturbance of some sort.”

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.

The suit says the city was deliberately indifferent to officers’ need for training, especially regarding citizens in mental distress, and that officers seized Williams without probable cause and subjected him to excessive and lethal force, and violated his civil rights.

The family is asking for judgment for the loss of his life, power to labor and earn money, attorney’s fees, a trial by jury and any and all relief to which they are entitled.

Oldfather said the suit was filed in federal court because, “It’s always a federal case when someone’s constitutional rights have been violated. The police act with the power of the state behind them, so it could a federal suit or a state court suit, given the involvement of the police officers and the considerable liability of the city of Shelbyville, we thought it was best to file suit in federal court.”