7th Circuit affirms judgment for Hendricks County officer in mentally ill man’s killing

A father who sued a Hendricks County deputy and others after his mentally ill son was fatally shot during a welfare check did not convince the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that judgment entered in the defendants’ favor was wrong.

Bradley King, a 29-year-old resident of Hendricks County who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, was killed by a police officer in November 2016, after two officers responded to a welfare check. Responding to Bradley’s 911 call, deputy Jason Hays returned with another deputy, who both saw Bradley in the backyard, with his hands “awkwardly” in his pockets.

The events that occurred after Bradley revealed he was holding a 10-inch knife are disputed, but they resulted in Bradley being killed by a single bullet fired by Hays. Bradley’s father, Matthew King, disputed the officers’ account and asserted that his son was never violent, even when suffering a psychotic episode, and would not have charged at the police with a knife. But the Southern District Court of Indiana granted summary judgment for Hays and the other defendants, dismissing King’s federal and state claims.

In affirming the district court, the 7th Circuit first found that King’s broad assertion that Bradley did not generally show an inclination toward violence did not negate the evidence that he behaved violently in this instance.

It likewise found that despite King’s claim that Bradley would not have carried a knife in his left hand because he was right-handed, the record evidence suggests that he had a large kitchen knife in his left hand.

“King cannot make anything of the lack of fingerprint evidence: no evidence is no evidence,” Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote for the 7th Circuit. “It is not affirmative evidence that contradicts the officers’ testimony. We have previously warned in criminal cases that ‘successful development of latent prints on firearms is difficult to achieve.’ ‘In reality, very few identifiable latent prints are found on firearms, a fact that has been discussed in both literature and the judicial system.’ The same logic applies to knives used as weapons. And it is far too great a leap to infer from the lack of fingerprints on the knife that the police planted it after the shooting.”

The 7th Circuit further noted that there was no evidence that the officers planted the knife after the fact, leaving the court to conclude that King did not present enough evidence to raise a genuine dispute of fact for trial. Thus, it found summary judgment for Hays on the section 1983 claim was appropriate.

On King’s section 1983 municipal liability claim against the Hendricks County Commissioners, the Sheriff’s Department, and Sheriff Brett Clark, the 7th Circuit found there was no underlying Fourth Amendment violation and therefore summary judgment on that claim was also proper.

Lastly, it concluded that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to the defendants on Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act claims.

“Bradley’s death at the hands of police officers whom he called for help when he was suffering a mental-health crisis is undoubtedly heartbreaking for his family, as well as a sobering reminder about the difficulties of dealing with the mentally ill. Nonetheless, the record before us does not indicate that Hays was deliberately indifferent to Bradley’s disability or that Hendricks County was deliberately indifferent to the needs of community members suffering from mental illness and failed adequately to train officers in how to handle such persons,” the 7th Circuit concluded. “Finally, there is no evidence that but for alleged discrimination on the basis of his disability, Bradley would still be alive.”

The case is Matthew King v. Hendricks County Commissioner, 19-2119.

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