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The family of Trey Williams, the teenager shot to death in 2011 during a confrontation with Shelbyville Police, are fighting in court to be able to view records of a Shelby County grand jury’s reasons for exonerating the police officer who fired the fatal shot.
That grand jury met on Jan. 4, 2012, and 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 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 the fatal police shooting of their son in November 2011 during a response to a break-in at his grandmother’s home.
The petition for grand jury records
The Williams had petitioned in Shelby County Circuit Court seeking to require Commonwealth Attorney Laura Donnell to release the records. Donnell was issued a subpoena May 6 to turn over the records, but she filed a response with the court on July 22, saying that the records should remain confidential.
Ann Oldfather, co-counsel for the Williamses, along with Frank Mascagni, said the family wants to be able to examine the transcripts of that hearing because they have reason to be concerned about what information jurors used to make their decision.
“We’ve learned that the grand jury heard only from the Kentucky State Police investigating trooper, and we would like very much to see what they were told,” she said.
Oldfather said that although the suit was filed in federal court, she had to file the request in circuit court, too.
“We filed a petition in state [circuit] court because there are rules that allow the release of grand jury transcription when the person being investigated agrees, and in this case, Marcum agrees that we should all be allowed to see the grand jury records,” she said.
Donnell told The Sentinel-News that the family’s request should not be honored because those types of records must be protected.
“Grand jury proceedings are confidential,” she said. “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.”
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.
Oldfather said the next step is that Judge James D. Moyer, who is assigned to the suit in U.S. District Court, would review the family’s request. She does not know when a date will be scheduled for that, she said.
She added that a teleconference scheduled for Aug. 28 in U.S. District Court in Louisville on Aug. 28 has nothing to do with the petition for transcripts and that is merely intended as a status conference to update the court on the progress of the suit.
The suit outlines the day when Williams, 18, was shot and killed on Nov. 19, 2011.
Officers went to the home on Clifton Court in Shelbyville to investigate a 911 call about a black male breaking out a window with a pole. They 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 got 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,” shot Williams three times. He died at the scene.
Following the shooting, Kentucky State Police spent six weeks investigating the officers’ conduct, and the findings were presented to a Shelby County Grand Jury.
After a 4-hour deliberation, that 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. Schutte retired last year.
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.