By LAURA BITTNER
RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – Six residents of Harnett County, North Carolina claim in court their sheriff’s department has condoned the use of excessive force by its deputies for years, the violence culminating in physical injuries, false arrests and in one case, even murder.
In an 117-page complaint filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina on Nov. 16, the plaintiffs blamed most of the alleged mayhem and misdeeds on “squad D,” one of four patrol squads organized by the department.
They claim three members of the squad — defendants Nicholas Kehagias, Michael Brandon Klingman and John Knight — took part in a private fight club and referred to themselves as “the KKK.”
The most shocking of the plaintiffs’ allegations involves Kehagias, who responded to a call about the purported assault of two women that ended with a man, John David Livingston II, dead.
Livingston is represented in the lawsuit by Kathy Livingston, the administratrix of his estate.
The plaintiffs claim Kehagias knew one of the women, Becca Setzer, had “issues” with her, and had previously threatened her brother Lonnie, who was accused of the assault.
According to the complaint, Kehagias was directed to one location but instead went to the home of John Livingston, because, he later claimed, he had seen Lonnie Setzer there in the past. It was 3:40 a.m. when he knocked on Livingston’s door.
As recounted in the complaint, Livingston directed Kehagias down the road, telling the officer he had the wrong house.
But Kehagias is said to have persisted, asking to search Livingston’s house. The homeowner declined, but when he tried to close his door, Kehagias placed his boot and arm in the doorway.
The plaintiffs claim this was a common ruse performed by Kahagias to give him cause for an arrest — the alleged assault on a police officer.
They claim Kehagias slammed Livingston to the floor, shot his in the face with pepper spray, and then began using his stun gun on him.
When Livingston tried to flee, the complaint says, the deputy repeatedly bashed his face against the steps and floor of his home.
Eventually, another officer joined in assaulting Livingston, and when Kehagias lost his stun gun in the melee, he shouted “he’s got my Taser” and shot the gravely injured man several times, killing him.
“Photos and videos taken of Defendant Kehagias mere hours after the incident show that Kehagias did not have a single scratch, cut, bruise, or abrasion on his face or any part of his body from the incident,” the complaint says.
However, “the same photos and video reveal Kehagias’ knuckles and fingers did contain areas of redness, abrasions, and/or small cuts consistent with the effects of him punching or beating another human with fists or hands.”
In another alleged incident, Kehagias, Knight, and Klingman responded to a 911 call from a 66-year-old veteran suffering from emotional distress by pummeling the man and spraying him in the face with pepper spray.
The victim, plaintiff Michael Cardwell was eventually taken from the scene in an ambulance and was diagnosed with a broken hip and femur fracture.
He says he had his broken bones surgically repaired the next day.
The complaint also tied Kahagias in three other incidents in which the plaintiffs were falsely arrested and brutalized.
The plaintiffs seek unspecified compensatory, punitive and exemplary damages.
They are represented by Robert Zaytoun of Raleigh, North Carolina.