LUIS J. GONZALEZ, II, AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF LUIS J. GONZALEZ APPELLANT
JEREMY JOHNSON, INDIVIDUALLY; JEREMY JOHNSON, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SCOTT COUNTY DEPUTY SHERIFF; TONY HAMPTON, INDIVIDUALLY; AND TONY HAMPTON, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SCOTT COUNTY SHERIFF APPELLEES
FROM FAYETTE CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE KIMBERLY N. BUNNELL,
JUDGE ACTION NO. 15-CI-00791
FOR APPELLANT: Jerome P. Prather William R. Garmer John E.
FOR APPELLEE: D. Barry Stilz Robert C. “Coley”
Stilz, III Jonathan B. Fannin
ARGUMENT FOR APPELLANT: Jerome P. Prather
ARGUMENT FOR APPELLEE: D. Barry Stilz
BEFORE: KRAMER, CHIEF JUDGE; COMBS AND THOMPSON, JUDGES.
primary issue presented in this appeal is straightforward:
Did the trial court err when it ruled that police officers
could not be liable for the death of Luis Gonzalez after a
fleeing suspect crashed into the vehicle occupied by Gonzalez
because the officers' actions were not the proximate
cause of his death? In resolving the issue, we are urged to
depart from the precedent in Chambers v. Ideal Pure Milk
Co., 245 S.W.2d 589 (Ky. 1952), and follow the emerging
trend to permit such actions to proceed for a factual
determination as to the officers' liability. Because this
Court is bound to follow Supreme Court precedent, we
Gonzales, II, as Administrator of the Estate of Luis Gonzalez
(the Estate), filed this action alleging state law claims for
negligence, gross negligence and wrongful death against Scott
County Deputy Sheriff Jeremy Johnson and Scott County Sheriff
Tony Hampton, in their individual and official capacities, as
well as a claim alleging a failure to train and supervise on
the part of Sheriff Hampton. The trial court ruled that the
officers' actions were not the proximate cause of
Gonzalez's death and granted summary judgment in favor of
Deputy Johnson and Sheriff Hampton.
events leading to this case occurred on January 14, 2014.
That night, the Scott County Sheriff's Office partnered
with the Kentucky State Police to conduct a sting operation
seeking to arrest a suspected heroin dealer near the Scott
County and Fayette County line. Although the initial location
of the sting operation was a gas station in Georgetown, the
suspected drug dealer changed the meeting location to the
P&G Market on Lisle Road in southern Scott County. The
officers' intent was to facilitate a controlled heroin
buy through the use of a confidential informant in the hope
of apprehending the dealer during a traffic stop after the
buy. Detective Jeremy Nettles of the Scott County
Sheriff's Department was assisted by Deputy Johnson who
was instructed to conceal his location by parking on a side
street near the Lisle Road and Georgetown Road intersection
and remain there until Detective Nettles instructed him to
perform a traffic stop.
sting operation began at 8:55 p.m. when the suspect entered
the P&G Market parking lot in a dark-colored Audi. During
the drug buy, Detective Nettles, Kentucky State Police
Detective Morris and Deputy Johnson communicated using cell
phones. Before the buy was complete, Detective Morris advised
Deputy Johnson of the Audi's license plate numbers. After
the drug buy, the suspect exited the parking lot in the Audi
and Detective Morris followed in an unmarked unit. After the
suspect pulled away, the middleman between the informant and
the dealer identified the driver of the Audi as "Chief,
" an alias used by Kennan McLaughlin. An officer of the
Lexington Police Department, who was in contact with
Detective Morris during the sting operation, also identified
the driver as "Chief."
Deputy Johnson remained in his police cruiser while he
received information from the other officers including a
description of the vehicle being driven by the suspect.
Deputy Johnson saw a vehicle matching that description run
the red light at the intersection of Lisle Road and U.S. 25.
He then radioed dispatch to "call out pursuit, "
and activated the cruiser's emergency lights and pursued
the Audi. However, the siren on the cruiser was not working.
two miles into the pursuit, Deputy Johnson realized his siren
was not functioning but continued his high-speed pursuit.
Deputy Johnson described the roadway that night as wet and a
"little slick" and recalled that the dog in the K-9
unit was also distracting him because the partition in the
cruiser had not been properly secured.
the suspect and Deputy Johnson approached an S-curve, both
slowed down. Deputy Johnson then reassessed the situation
because the lack of a siren, the wet road and the restless
dog made the pursuit dangerous. Just as he decided to
terminate the pursuit and as he came over a hillcrest, he
thought he saw the Audi strike a guardrail. Upon reaching the
scene, he found that the Audi had crashed head-on into a
vehicle in which Gonzales was a passenger. Gonzales was
pronounced dead at the scene and Geneva Spencer, the driver
of the vehicle, died later because of her injuries.
pled guilty to two counts of second-degree manslaughter. In
doing so, McLaughlin admitted to wantonly causing the death
of another person pursuant to Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS)
Sheriff Hampton testified by deposition. He testified that
when he became Scott County Sheriff in January 2011, the
department did not have any written policies and procedures
regarding police pursuits and did not until May 1, 2014, four
months after Gonzalez's death. Until that time, officers
relied on basic training and past department practices.
Detective Nettles ...