Second officer added to Desman LaDuke wrongful death lawsuit

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, November 21, 2023

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The wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Desman LaDuke, a 22-year-old who was shot and killed by officer Joseph Horton of the Nicholasville Police Department during a mental health call, has been amended.

The suit was initially filed against Horton in Nov. 2022. A year later, on Nov. 17, the lawsuit was amended to include Jason Fraddosio as a lieutenant and special response team (SRT) commander with the Nicholasville Police Department.

In August, a Jessamine County grand jury declined to indict anyone in the shooting of Desman LaDuke,

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After the case was closed, information that the Kentucky State Police had withheld was released, including the body cam footage and audio recordings of what happened on the scene of LaDuke’s death on Oct. 22, 2022.

Attorney Jonathan Fannin is one of the individuals working alongside the administrator of the estate of Desman LaDuke, attorney John Norman.

He told the Journal that after recently receiving footage and audio recordings from the Kentucky State Police, LaDuke’s family and the lawyers working as the plaintiffs in this wrongful death lawsuit were “troubled” by what they saw.

“We filed an amended complaint to include additional allegations as well as the commander of the special response team that was on the scene that day,” Fannin said.

In the suit, the plaintiffs claim six violations by the defendants, Horton and Fraddosio. These include the following:

Excessive force, assault and battery, negligence and gross negligence, wrongful death and survival action, unlawful government policy or custom, and punitive damages.

There is, however, new information in the amended suit regarding Fraddosio’s role and intelligence from body cam footage.

The suit clearly outlines Fraddosio’s role, which includes directing all efforts of the SRT so that all of his personnel abided by all the policies, general orders, special orders and all laws and precedents.

Fraddosio was also responsible for providing consistent and continuous training for the SRT to ensure a high level of proficiency and readiness. This training is supposed to include de-escalation, crisis intervention training, and diminished mental illness-specific training.

The suit states that in cases of suicidal or barricaded subjects, Fraddosio was responsible for gathering information on the subject to determine if the situation required additional officers- and to inform his team of the operations plan upon their arrival. He was also responsible for ensuring that at least two of his SRT members were assigned as chemical munitions deployment personnel with the proper courses completed to utilize chemical munitions. The same goes for the officer assigned as the sniper.

After describing Fraddosio’s responsibilities as commander of the SRT, the suit alleges that the team was not in a state of readiness on Oct. 22, 2022.

The team experienced issues with turnover, the suit states, leading to several members having received little to no training.

The team had also failed to meet for monthly training. “In fact, some members of the team’s training was limited to ‘a lot of shooting,’” the suit states.

It goes on to state that the team, made of ten members, had several members who had limited experience in simulated accidents with barricaded subjects and with responding to suicidal subjects.

The suit also states that most of the team’s members did not know the difference between a hostage situation and a single barricaded subject.

Team members also said they had never even seen the standard operating procedures for the SRT.

Lastly, about the officers, the suit states that according to statements made by the Nicholasville Police Department patrol officers, several of the SRT team members had gone out socially the night before LaDuke’s mental health call.

These members consumed enough alcohol for at least one of the patrol officers to state in the body cam audio that the SRT officers were “probably all hungover.”

The suit then goes on to explain the factual allegations on the scene of the shooting of LaDuke as well as his background.

On a phone call with his aunt, who was 45 minutes away from Nicholasville at the time, LaDuke’s girlfriend indicated that he was going to hurt himself.

His aunt hurriedly called the police to do a wellness check on him. Once they arrived, patrol officers approached LaDuke’s door calmly, and each officer had conversations with LaDuke through his front door.

After allowing his girlfriend, the only other person in the residence, to leave the home, LaDuke refused to exit his home and repeatedly expressed that he did not want to speak to officers face-to-face and that they could leave the property. At this time, the officers had no reason to believe LaDuke had committed a crime at all and no reason to believe anyone else was in the residence.

Despite this, officers notified command staff of the situation and Fraddosio requested the SRT team come to the residence and bring gas masks. The team did not meet at the police department for a briefing on the situation or LaDuke’s background and instead found cover near LaDuke’s home and pointed their rifles toward the house.

Local activist and organizer Sarah Williams has been alongside the family, helping them grieve and organize protests and community meetings to hold NPD accountable after the death of Desman LaDuke.

Williams said Fraddosio is just as responsible for the murder of Desman LaDuke as the officer who fired the deadly shot.

“He was aware of the altered mental state of his team. He made several direct decisions that violated NPD’s policy for responding to someone in a mental health crisis, which culminated in him giving the order to use deadly force in response.

“Remember, NPD policy dictates that response to people in mental health crisis should not include escalation with guns drawn, which they directly violated the day Desman was killed. It is also against NPD policy to use family members in negotiations with people in mental health crises because of the potential to escalate the situation. Fraddosoio violated this policy as well,” Williams said.

Fannin also said this should have been treated as a “wellness check-in instead of a hostage situation. There were no hostages.”

Attorney Scott Miller is defending the city, the police department, and officers Horton and Fraddosio.

He said that this situation is obviously “tragic” and he would never want to “minimize the significance this has on the family and everyone else,” but that this lawsuit is in litigation, and he is in the position of having to defend it.

“We intend to defend Officer Horton, the city, and Fraddosio in relation to the amended and original complaints. The amended complaint changes the dynamics. It adds an additional party, and therefore, it adds different defenses for us to bring forth before the court. We’re working on the responses at this time to try to determine what exactly we are going to put forth in our defenses related to this. Still, we believe that the officers acted consistent with the national standards in relation to the use of force and followed the law as it relates to responses to situations and circumstances that they found themselves in that day,” Miller said.