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King v. Hendricks County Commissioners

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

May 23, 2019

MATTHEW KING, Plaintiff,



         A Hendricks County Sheriff's deputy conducting a welfare check at the home of Plaintiff Matthew King fired one fatal shot at Plaintiff's son, Brad King. Plaintiff, individually and on behalf of Brad's estate, alleges federal civil-rights claims and state civil-rights and tort claims against the Hendricks County Commissioners, the Hendricks County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Brett Clark in his official capacity, and Deputy Jason Hays in his official and individual capacities. Defendants move for summary judgment, and that motion is now fully briefed and ripe for decision.

         I. Background

         Brad King lived with his parents, Matthew and Gina King, in Hendricks County. (M. King Dep. Tr. 8:2-9, ECF No. 40-1 at 4.) He was 29 years old and suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. (Id. 7:18-22, 14:6-8.) His parents helped him find and finance treatment-including medication-to manage his condition. (Id. 19:4-22:2.) His parents also made sure that he took his medication every evening. (Id. 23:24- 24:4.) Despite the treatment, Brad had “good days and bad days.” (Id. 22:3-9.) On a “good day, ” Brad would be “out socializing, ” while on a “bad day, Brad “would be more quiet and stay in his room.” (G. King Dep. Tr. 21:5-16.) Brad “seemed like he was confused a lot, ” (M. King Dep. Tr. 62:11-12), and sometimes “walk[ed] around in a daze” with a “glazed-over look” in his eyes, (id. 17:1-6).

         Like many who suffer from paranoid schizophrenia, Brad fixated on knives, even sleeping with a small knife under his pillow. (Id. 33:16-34:8.) Brad's parents were not worried about this fixation, seeing it as a common symptom of his condition, and Brad had access to the many knives in the house. (Id. 35:4-18.) Brad's parents were worried, however, that Brad might call 911 when he was having a “bad day” and felt he needed to talk to someone. (Id. 54:10-21.)

         Brad had a history of calling 911. Once, paramedics were dispatched and took him to a hospital. (Id. 33:1-8.) Another time, the Hendricks County Sheriff's Department responded. Brad had a knife; the Sheriff's deputies had him discard the knife before taking him to the emergency room. (Id. 33:9-15.) But Brad's father, who works for a newspaper, had seen news reports where police misinterpreted symptoms of mental illness as threats, with fatal consequences. (Id. 7:2-4, 54:1-14, 58:11-24.) So he insisted that Brad call a family member instead of 911. (Id. 56:18-23.)

         On November 29, 2016, Brad “was obviously having a bad day, ” (id. 22:10-11), though his parents did not notice anything out of the ordinary at the time, (id. 25:14- 24). Brad typically woke up in the afternoon and stayed awake until the early morning; that day, he was still awake when his parents left for work. (Id. 25:2-12.) Before leaving, his father told Brad to go to bed. (Id. 25:10-12.)

         While his parents were at work, Brad called 911, identified himself as “Brad Grout, ” and said, “Could you come over to my house real quick? I'm just going through a little psycho phase.” (Compl. ¶ 12.) Deputy Hughes, a full-time merit deputy, and Defendant Deputy Jason Hays, a volunteer reserve deputy, were dispatched to the Kings' house for a welfare check. (Thomas Dep. Tr. 13:10-20.) Deputies Hughes and Hays knocked on the front door but there was no response. A dog in the house's picture window barked loudly. (Hays Dep. Tr. 11:9-14.) The deputies checked the yard and two mini-barns but did not encounter anyone. So they left.

         After the initial welfare check by Deputy Hughes and Deputy Hays, Brad called 911 again and again, hanging up each time. (ECF No. 40-12 at 1.) At 2:30 p.m., Deputy Jeremy Thomas, a volunteer reserve deputy, was dispatched for a welfare check on “Brad Grout, ” who “called earlier stating he wasn[']t in right frame of mind.” (Id.) All the full-time merit deputies were in a department-wide meeting. (B. Clark Dep. Tr. 10:22-11:4.) Deputy Thomas called Deputy Hays and asked him to go along to the Kings' home since Hays had been there earlier that day. (Thomas Dep. Tr. 13:1-9; Hays Dep. Tr. 11:4-9.)

         According to the radio log, Hays and Thomas arrived separately at the Kings' home at 2:42 p.m. (ECF No. 40-12 at 1.) Deputies Thomas and Hays walked up the driveway to the front door. (Hays Dep. Tr. 12:9-12.) Thomas knocked on the door repeatedly and announced, “Sheriff's Department.” (Id. 12:14-16.) The dog barked as before. (Id. 12:21-22.) Having received no response, the deputies made their way to the north side of the house. (Id. 12:25-13:2.) They checked two other doors, which were shut and locked, before heading around to the back of the house. (Id. 13:3-6.) They checked the back windows but did not see any movement or signs of distress. (Id. 13:24-14:2.)

         Deputy Thomas then walked across the yard toward two mini-barns, and Deputy Hays walked toward the south side of the house. (Id. 14:4-9.) Hays peeked around the south side of the house and saw nothing. (Id. 14:10-12.) Hays told Thomas that he had checked the mini-barns on the earlier dispatch, and they were locked. (Id. 14:12-14.) So the two deputies started walking toward the northeast corner of the house-back the way they had come. (Id. 15:4-11.) About two minutes had passed since they arrived. (Id. 14:18-15:2.)

         As the deputies approached the northeast corner-at an angle to each other forming a “V” or pie shape-they noticed Brad walking toward them along the northeast side of the house. (Id. 15:4-16:2; Thomas Dep. Tr. 21:9-14.) Brad was wearing shorts and a hooded sweatshirt; he stared straight ahead and had his hands in the front pockets of his shorts “very awkwardly.” (Thomas Dep. Tr. 22:19-23:5; Hays Dep. Tr. 16:5-10.) Deputy Thomas asked Brad to identify himself, and he told the deputies he was “Brad Grout.” (Thomas Dep. Tr. 22:16-17; Hays Dep. Tr. 16:19-20.) About twenty feet separated Brad from the deputies-close enough that they “didn't have to yell”-and Brad and the deputies continued to walk toward each other. (Hays Dep. Tr. 16:22-17:7.)

         The parties dispute what happened next.

         Deputies Thomas and Hays testify that Thomas asked Brad to remove his hands from his pockets. (Thomas Dep. Tr. 23:16-17; Hays Dep. Tr. 17:5-8.) The deputies were just farther than arms reach from each other, (Thomas Dep. Tr. 24:15-21), and about ten feet separated them from Brad, (Hays Dep. Tr. 17:5-8). Brad withdrew his hands from his pockets to reveal a knife in his left hand-the hand closest to Deputy Thomas-and took a few “short, choppy steps” toward the deputies. (Thomas Dep. Tr. 23:18-20, 24:4-8, 28:16-20.) Deputy Thomas ordered Brad to drop the knife. (Thomas Dep. Tr. 23:18-20.) Deputy Hays then noticed the knife, too, and ordered Brad to drop it. (Hays Dep. Tr. 17:9-14.) As they ordered Brad multiple times to drop the knife-in a “very authoritative, loud, direct manner”-the deputies backped-aled with their service weapons drawn. (Hays Dep. Tr. 17:15-17, 18:2-4, 21:4-5; Thomas Dep. Tr. 24:9-13.) In these first few seconds, the deputies backpedaled at an angle from Brad, increasing the distance between the deputies while Brad advanced forward generally-not toward either deputy more than the other. (Thomas Dep. Tr. 28:21-29:14; Hays Dep. Tr. 19:18-20:10.)

         Brad had a “very blank stare”-“his face looked just emotionless.” (Thomas Dep. Tr. 26:8-9; Hays Dep. Tr. 27:18.) He raised his hands to ear-level, holding the knife with the blade sticking out from the heel of his left hand, toward the deputies. (Thomas Dep. Tr. 23:19-24; Hays Dep. Tr. 18:6-19:9.) He turned his head quickly between Deputy Thomas and Deputy Hays. (Hays Dep. Tr. 20:18-20.) Brad then turned “hard right” toward Deputy Hays and-still holding the knife ear-level, blade toward Deputy ...

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