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Lawsuit claims Harnett County deputies have pattern of abuse

Posted November 16

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— Five Harnett County residents, as well as the family of a man killed by Harnett County deputies last year, filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday claiming deputies with the department have a history of using excessive force.

The filing states that the plaintiffs suffered bodily injuries, pain, suffering, wrongful arrests or loss of life as a result of a violation of their rights by Harnett County deputies.

John Livingston, 33, was shot and killed on the front porch of his Spring Lake home on Nov. 15. An autopsy ruled that he had cocaine and alcohol in his system when he got into a dispute with Deputy Nicholas Kehaigas, who was investigating a reported assault.

Witnesses said Livingston told deputies the couple they were looking for didn't live there, and when deputies asked to search the home, he refused because they have a search warrant.

Kehaigas pinned Livingston to the ground during arrest, and repeatedly punched his face and head, the lawsuit states. He also repeatedly used pepper spray and a taster on Livingston before eventually shooting and killing him.

Autopsy showed that multiple cuts opened up on Livingston’s forehead and face during the assault and he suffered multiple abrasions and impact bruises, according to the filing.

The lawsuit claims that Kehaigas had a personal vendetta against the man they were looking for and had seen the man outside Livingston’s home several weeks earlier. It claims Kehigas and Deputy John Werbelow intentionally responded to the wrong home and Kehigas gained entry by positioning his body and boot inside the doorframe so that Livingston could not close the door.

“Defendants Kehagias and Werebelow acted intentionally, willfully, maliciously, negligently and with reckless disregard for and deliberate indifference to Livingston’s rights and physical and mental well-being by physically assaulting, threatening and killing Livingston,” the lawsuit states.

According to the filing, Kehagias had numerous prior incidents of excessive force, aggressive behavior and overuse of resisting, delaying or obstructing charges arising from encounters with Harnett County citizens.

A Grand Jury decided against indicting Kehagias, who resigned from his position in June.

Others named in the lawsuit include Christine Broom, who said that deputy Michael Brandon Klingman violated her rights when he helped a tenant who was high on cocaine break into her home in January 2015 and 66-year-old veteran Michael Cardwell, who said his femur was fractured and his hip broken when deputy Kehagias pinned him to the ground while Klingman and deputy John Knight looked on during an arrest in May 2015.

According to the lawsuit, Kehagias, Knight and Klingman referred to themselves as the “KKK” and privately took part in a “fight club” type association.

The individuals behind the lawsuit also claim Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coats and former Sheriff Larry Rollins failed to properly train, supervise and take disciplinary action against the four deputies despite knowing of the misconduct.

3 Comments

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  • William Patterson Nov 17, 2:08 p.m.
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    I am hoping justice eventually prevails here ...the policeman was way out of line ...his actions illegal and he murdered a man and got away with it .....for now

  • Steve Smith Nov 17, 12:58 p.m.
    user avatar

    You are at your home, and LE wants to search your house. But warrant has wrong address. The reasonable expectation out of any citizen would be to tell LE to get a proper warrant. I guess in their minds, "that's a shooting." This will not be a well received statement but criminals and LE come from the same socio-economic backgrounds.

  • Janet Ghumri Nov 17, 8:48 a.m.
    user avatar

    It's always distressing to hear of our LEO overstepping their authority. The murder of the man on his own front porch last November stunned me. I never felt like the whole story was being told.
    The fact that one of the first articles blared out that the victim had alcohol and cocaine in his system seemed like a shift of blame (IMHO). 3am, at home, officer at wrong address, refused entry, officer forced entry and shot him to death. That is what I recall from last November. It just never added up.
    Report stated officer responding to assault call, but nothing was ever posted about the assault. Officer forgot that someone was being assaulted? Officer arguing with victim over a search warrant for the wrong address? (A simple call to PD could have cleared that up.) I feel for the family, and I hope that the truth comes out.