Family and friends of Desman LaDuke plead for justice at city commission meeting

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, March 1, 2023

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The Nicholasville City Commission usually doesn’t hear many public comments at its regular meetings, but at its last meeting on Monday, three attendees spoke directly to Mayor Alex Carter and commissioners on the killing of 22-year-old Nicholasville resident Desman LaDuke.

Melissa Marks, LaDuke’s aunt and mother figure, attended the meeting with multiple supporters surrounding her, including family friend Tori Kittoe-Mamoa, Nicholasville Pastor Daniel Lee, and organizers and supporters of the family, Sarah Williams and Jay Calhoun, among a few others.

Marks said first that she wanted to avoid having to speak at this meeting.

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“We contacted the Nicholasville Police Department (NPD) when Desman was grieving the death of his mother and his brother. The day before, we buried his cousin, who was 25 years old that just overdosed. Needless to say, Desman’s mental health was diminished. We reached out for help because of thoughts of suicide. NPD responded with a deadly shot through his chest,” she said.

Since the fourth rally for LaDuke, the Kentucky State Police has yet to complete their investigation.

It has been four months since Oct. 22, 2022, when LaDuke was shot and killed by NPD officer Joseph Horton. The LaDuke estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city in November.

Through tears, Marks said that instead of responding in a way that is “grossly inadequate, resulting in the wrongful killing of a young man in need,” there needs to be a different response for “fellow humans” in crisis.

To that, Marks offered commissioners an example of a crisis response team that has existed since 1989 in Eugene, Oregon. It is called CAHOOTS, a partnership between the Eugene Police Department and White Bird Clinic. CAHOOTS uses a mobile crisis intervention clinic to help people with urgent medical or mental crisis needs or point them in the right direction for further treatment.

Kittoe-Mamoa spoke after Marks, speaking on Officer Horton’s personnel files.

“Transparency in that situation from all government officials in the police department is needed for healing,” Kittoe-Mamoa said.

Last June, according to Horton’s personnel files, Kittoe-Mamoa said that Horton had left an assault rifle at a shooting range for 24 hours. He was given a verbal and written reprimand.

“He shouldn’t have even been there in October,” she continued.

Horton is currently on administrative leave from the police department.

Pastor Lee did not come to the podium to speak directly about the death of LaDuke but about a different emergency that ended quite differently. A man two houses down from Lee’s home had used an AR-15 to shoot through his home to Lee’s neighbor’s home. Lee said that after alerting the police on site, an officer brought his daughter and nephew out safely, but that the shooter was, too. The only difference- the shooter was in handcuffs.

“The only difference is the color of his skin. We have to get answers for that. And it has to be addressed,” Lee said.

Typically, the city commission does not respond to public comment because it is not required. But, Nicholasville Mayor Alex Carter gave a response to the residents, prepared by the city’s attorney:

“On behalf of the city commission, the death of Desman LaDuke is a tragic outcome of a difficult situation. The Nicholasville Police Department continues to cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation by the Kentucky state police and review by the U.S. attorney’s office. Once the investigation is complete, the city will take any necessary steps based on the outcome,” the mayor said. “A civil lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Desman LaDuke’s estate, and all body camera footage has been, along with the police reports and other documentation, has been released to Mr. LaDuke’s attorney under an agreed protective order of mutual confidentiality. At this time, the city commission has listened attentively to each of your concerns, and we appreciate that. We genuinely appreciate what you had to say. The city has no further comment at this time.”

The mayor’s comment marked the end of the meeting, but before anyone had gotten up, Sarah Williams told the city commission that they will be back.

“This isn’t over,” Williams said.