Harnett County District Attorney Vernon Stewart said Tuesday that he will take the case of a deputy sheriff who shot and killed a civilian in November to a grand jury next month.
The move comes four months after Harnett County Sheriff’s Deputy Nicholas Kehagias shot and killed John Livingston on the porch of Livingston’s Anderson Creek home. Livingston, 33, was hanging out with friends well after midnight in the privacy of his home.
Stewart’s decision comes after months of unrest in Harnett County. Friends and relatives of Livingston held several protests and rallies in front of the courthouse in Lillington, holding signs demanding “Justice for John.” They urged Stewart, the prosecutor, to seek punishment of Kehagias.
Witnesses say Livingston, 33, refused to allow Kehagias to search his home on Nov. 15 without a warrant. Kehagias was looking for someone else implicated in an earlier disturbance nearby.
A verbal disagreement quickly turned physical; Kehagias shot Livingston three times. He died before paramedics arrived.
Kehagias’ attorney, Parrish Daughtry, declined to comment on the case. Kehagias has been on administrative leave since the shooting.
In an affidavit filed to obtain a warrant to search Livington’s home after the shooting, Kehagias said Livingston slammed the door on his foot and refused to provide his name. That led to a scuffle, and after Kehagias used his Taser on Livingston, Livingston managed to turn the weapon on Kehagias.
Kehagias said that’s when he shot Livingston.
A family in anguish
Livingston’s family has been in anguish since his death. He left behind a 14-year-old son and two half-siblings of his son’s that he helped rear.
Livingston, a house framing contractor, was beloved in Anderson Creek, a crossroads community in southwestern Harnett County. His death has left so many questions for so many.
“I don’t wish this upon nobody,” Livingston’s mother Kathy Livingston said. “When a mother loses her child. The pain is unreal. Doctor’s can’t fix it. Medicine can’t fix it.”
Officers are immune from prosecution when they use deadly force out of fear for their lives or the lives of others. They seldom face criminal inquiries.
Prosecutors rarely seek charges, nearly always finding that the officers’ use of force was justified.
Last year, The Washington Post analyzed 385 fatal police shootings in America. Less than 1 percent of the shootings resulted in the officers being criminally prosecuted.
In recent years, though, several high-profile cases have put officers who kill civilians under a microscope, forcing prosecutors to contemplate whether the shootings amount to murder.
A new sheriff
As Stewart considers charges against Kehagias, the sheriff’s department has changed hands.
Larry Rollins, Harnett County’s sheriff since 2002, resigned Monday evening. He was re-elected in 2014 and his term expires in 2018.
Rollins alerted county commissioners in early February of his desire to step down. Commissioners appointed Wayne Coats, one of three majors under Rollins’ command. The commissioners had interviewed all three and selected Coats to run the department for the remainder of Rollins’ term.
Rollins wrote a brief letter to county commissioners, expressing his gratitude to the citizens who supported him since 2002. He told reporters at Coats’ swearing in on Tuesday that his decision was personal, that he needed to put his family first.
Rollins, a Republican, had hired Kehagias, 25, in the summer of 2013. Kehagias worked as a patrol deputy in southern Harnett County.
Rollins declined to discuss the Livingston shooting, but said that “Kehagias is a good deputy. He had to make a quick decision. It’s a decision a lot of lawyers and judges will have an opportunity to look at for a long time. I stand behind deputy Kehagias.”
Coats, a 20-year veteran of the sheriff’s department, was sworn into office Tuesday afternoon.
The News & Observer has been investigating Livingston’s death and will continue to report on the case. Follow our reporting at newsobserver.com or by liking the N&O’s investigative team page on Facebook.
Locke: 919-829-8927 or @MandyLockeNews