LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — For more than three hours on July 26, 2016, Theodore “Charles” Lewis sat in a vehicle outside his mother-in-law’s home in Bardstown, armed with a handgun and threatening to kill himself.
Police officers repeatedly told the 26-year-old they wanted to help, talking with him about his wife and children, asking him to surrender and seek treatment.
But former interim Bardstown Police Chief McKenzie Mattingly told his officers the negotiations were “taking too long” and “using up too many law enforcement resources,” according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Lewis’ wife and family.
Mattingly ordered Officer Bradley Gillock to throw an “incendiary device” into Lewis’ vehicle, startling Lewis, who “picked up his gun and in the confusion and chaos, put it to his head and shot himself,” according to the wrongful death lawsuit filed in Nelson Circuit Court in November and moved to federal court this month.
In a body camera video obtained by WDRB, an officer at the scene talking about Lewis before his death can be heard saying to a superior officer, “I don’t think he wants to kill himself,” adding that Lewis had taken the magazine out of his gun but wouldn’t get out of the car.
The superior, who is not identified, responded, “We’re not sitting out here all night tying up resources because he is indecisive.”
Later, an officer is seen on a body cam talking to Lewis about the ages of his children and how long he has been married when another officer approaches from behind the vehicle and throws the device inside. A loud pop follows.
“Gosh dammit,” said the officer who had been talking with Lewis. “He’s done.”
There is no indication in the video that Lewis made any threatening moves before the device was used.
The Kentucky Standard in Nelson County reported in August 2016 that police threw a pepper spray canister into the open window.
At the time, Mattingly told the newspaper he didn’t think that device going off was what caused Lewis to kill himself. Mattingly said the man’s relatives told him they believed the situation would have ended the same way even if officers had remained on the scene for several more hours.
The suit claims that immediately after Lewis’ suicide, Mattingly sought an “emergency” meeting with city officials and persuaded them to discontinue the use of body cameras, arguing the maintenance and production of the videos was “unsustainable,” according to the suit.
On July 27, 2016, Bardstown police stopped using body cameras…