A panel of sheriffs determined in September that former Harnett County Sheriff’s Deputy Nicholas Kehagias can continue working as a law enforcement officer in North Carolina.
Five members of the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Education and Training Standards Commission found no justification to revoke Kehagias’ certification, according to a letter sent to Kehagias and Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coats.
Kehagias has been under scrutiny during the past year after shooting and killing a man who refused to allow him inside to search his home without a warrant. The federal Department of Justice is investigating whether Kehagias should be criminally charged for violations of John Livingston’s civil rights. In May, The News & Observer reported extensively on Livingston’s death in four-part series, Deadly Force.
The commission is a public agency charged with upholding standards and training for those who work for the state’s 100 sheriffs. It has the authority to revoke a deputy’s certification if members determine that he is not suited to be an officer. Members consider such matters as criminal acts, honesty and “moral turpitude.” All deputies in the state must be certified to work for a county sheriff’s department.
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Five sheriffs met privately in September to consider whether Kehagias should be allowed to keep his certification. Though Kehagias resigned his post at the Harnett Sheriff’s Office in June, he maintained his certification and would be able to secure employment at another sheriff’s department in North Carolina.
These meetings and decisions are private, but an attorney for the sheriff’s office provided to the News & Observer a letter from the sheriff’s commission late Wednesday saying that it found no reason to revoke Kehagias’ certification.
“I am pleased to advise that the Probable Cause Committee of the Sheriffs’ Standards Commission met on September 8 and found that no probable cause exists to believe Nicholas Daniel Kehagias is disqualified for certification,” Judy Marchetti, an administrative assistant for the commission, wrote on Oct. 5.
Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes sits on the panel. He said that staff investigators bring cases for his committee to consider. Those investigators have access to personnel records and internal affairs investigations. The deputy in question, as well as anyone he invites to speak on his behalf, appears before the committee.
“We want to make sure the best of the best remain sheriffs’ deputies,” Barnes said. “We don’t want folks who don’t have the best interest of the public.”
Barnes said he is prohibited from discussing specific cases the panel reviews.
Lawsuit filed Wednesday
In April, District Attorney Vernon Stewart asked a grand jury to indict Kehagias for second-degree murder. The panel declined to charge the deputy.
On Wednesday, attorneys for Livingston’s family filed a civil lawsuit alleging that Kehagias violated Livingston’s civil rights by coming into his home uninvited and without a warrant.
A 10-minute struggle ended with Kehagias shooting and killing Livingston. Kehagias told The N&O in May that Livingston had gotten control of his Taser and was shocking him when he opened fire. Kehagias said he feared for his life.
Attorneys for Livingston allege in the complaint that Livingston never shocked Kehagias. They contend that Kehagias used the Taser on himself or had another deputy shoot him with it to produce wounds consistent with his story.
Five other residents, along with Livingston’s family, brought the federal lawsuit. They allege that Harnett deputies engaged in a pattern of harming and harassing county residents.
From the sheriff
Harnett Sheriff Wayne Coats said in a statement Thursday that attorneys for the county are reviewing the civil lawsuit filed Wednesday.
He said that he has been working diligently since becoming sheriff in March to review policies and training within the department and to ensure that deputies are following the laws of the state and the constitution.
Coats said he has been working with the U.S. Department of Justice and hopes to have a resolution of that investigation in the near future.
“We assure the public that the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office and its dedicated deputies will continue to ensure that the citizens of Harnett County receive professional law enforcement service as we work to protect all of the people of our country,” he said in the statement.