The Harnett, North Carolina County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to a $6 million settlement of a lawsuit filed by six families alleging excessive force by members of the department. The amount is the maximum payout permitted under the Sheriff’s Office’s insurance policy.
In November 2015, Deputy Sheriff Nicholas Kehagias shot and killed John David Livingston, 33, who was on his own front porch.
A Harnett County grand jury did not indict Kehagias, who claimed he killed Livingston in self-defense. That lack of an indictment led to widespread protests. Other residents came forward to reveal they, too, had been abused by Kehagias.
In July 2018, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle rejected a Sheriff’s Office request to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit. Boyle wrote that Kehagias appeared to have violated Livingston’s civil rights. He also allowed the claims of other plaintiffs alleging incidents of excessive force to proceed.
Barging Into the Home
Kehagias, who had no warrant, barged into Livingston's home in the middle of the night seeking someone. Livingston informed him the person he sought did not live there. However, Kehagias entered the residence anyway.
At some point, the two men engaged in a physical altercation. During the scuffle, Livingston was brought to the ground by a taser and pepper-sprayed. After fighting for several minutes, Kehagias shot and killed Livingston. Three people living in the house at the time witnessed the event.
In Boyle’s decision, he noted that Kehagias was conducting his warrantless search on a person suspected of a misdemeanor.
Defense attorneys alleged Livingston was intoxicated and had tried to grab Kehagias’ stun gun. They argued this was what caused their client to fear for his life.
Accused Deputy Now Employed by Another County
Kehagias, who resigned from the Harnett County Sheriff’s Department seven months after Livingston’s death, is now employed as a sheriff’s deputy in Pender County. Livingston’s son called the fact that his father’s killer was again working as a sheriff’s deputy “scary.” He added that the settlement money was bittersweet, and he would rather “get to where Kehagias is guilty.”
Pender County officials said Kehagias had no record of disciplinary action since his April 2019 hiring. The sheriff did request that the county’s district attorney review Kehagias’ history after media inquiries.
The Other Plaintiffs
The lawsuit deals with five other complainants and a total of five incidents taking place between January through November of 2015. Kehagias was involved in four of those five incidents. The plaintiffs alleged that certain officers “brutalized, wrongfully detained, and humiliated” county residents.
Kehagias and two other officers conducted another middle of the night entry at the wrong home. Again, Kehagias entered the home lacking a warrant or consent. Two residents were pulled out of the home and placed in handcuffs.
In another incident, Kehagias and two deputies responded to 911 calls made by Michael Cardwell, who told the dispatcher he was suicidal. Upon arrival, Kehagias tackled Cardwell and handcuffed him. Cardwell’s rib and leg were broken in the encounter. Even after Caldwell was handcuffed and placed in a chair, Kehagias proceeded to pepper spray him.
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