Law enforcement officers accused of using excessive force in a Perry County shooting are asking a federal judge to rule in their favor without the case going to trial.
Sheriff's Sgt. Kevin Starrett and New Lexington Police Officer Sky Wilson are being sued in federal court by Dustin Dugan and Kenneth Helwig as a result of a 2012 incident in Junction City in which Starrett shot Dugan seven times.
The lawmen claim they have qualified immunity in the case, and have asked the judge to grant them summary judgment in the lawsuit.
According to court documents, Starrett and Wilson, who were in unmarked vehicles and in plain clothes, stopped a car driven by Dugan by boxing it in with their vehicles. Helwig was a passenger in the car, which had been reported stolen — although Dugan disputes that it was stolen.
The lawsuit claims that Starrett and Wilson did not identify themselves as law enforcement officers and that excessive force was used to apprehend Dugan, who was unarmed and a suspect in a nonviolent crime.
Starrett, in his motion for summary judgment, asserts that he identified himself as a law enforcement officer, was holding up his badge, wearing a protective vest with "Sheriff's Office" on it and only fired after Dugan attempted to accelerate.
"With the Neon accelerating and proceeding towards him, Deputy Starrett believed that he was in imminent danger of being struck by Dugan's vehicle," Starrett's motion for summary judgment asserts. " …The use of force against Dugan was reasonable and justified."
Starrett also asserts that Dugan was involved in an earlier incident in which Dugan attempted to flee in a vehicle and one officer was dragged by the automobile and another had to jump out of the way. Dugan claims the earlier incident is irrelevant to what occurred the evening of the shooting.
Wilson fired at the tires of the car.
Helwig and Dugan are opposing the motions for summary judgment, disputing that Starrett was in any danger of being hit by the car and asserting that a reconstruction expert has concluded that the Neon was trapped and posed no threat to the officers.
"The core issue in this case is whether the defendants acted reasonably in using force against Dustin Dugan and Kenneth Helwig. This is a question that simply should not be decided on summary judgment," the plaintiffs argue. "Only a jury can determine if the suspect vehicle actually posed a risk to the safety of defendants Starrett and Wilson."
The summary judgment motions also seek rulings in favor of Sheriff William Barker and the village of New Lexington, which also are named as defendants in the lawsuit.