Under the Dome

McCrory, Cooper don’t want to discuss Harnett investigation

A knock, a struggle, a death

Deputy Nicholas Kehagias and witness Clayton Carroll give their accounts of what happened the night of Nov. 15, when Kehagias shot and killed Carroll's friend, John Livingston.
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Deputy Nicholas Kehagias and witness Clayton Carroll give their accounts of what happened the night of Nov. 15, when Kehagias shot and killed Carroll's friend, John Livingston.

The state’s top leaders and candidates have little to nothing to say about deficiencies in the investigation into the Harnett County deputy who shot and killed John Livingston inside his home.

No one from the office of Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican who is running for re-election, returned calls or emails from The News & Observer to discuss recent revelations about shortcomings in the investigation led by State Bureau of Investigation agents under his command.

Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who is challenging McCrory for governor, wouldn’t make himself available for an interview. Instead, his staff issued a statement about the need for law enforcement officers who cross the line to be held accountable.

Until 2014, SBI agents were under Cooper’s control. He remains responsible for the State Crime Lab, which performs the type of forensic analysis of Livingston’s clothing that was not requested or performed.

Two men are vying for Cooper’s job. Democrat Josh Stein also declined to talk with The N&O about reforms he might seek involving investigations into officer-involved shootings. His opponent, Republican state Sen. Buck Newton, said he would be delighted to talk but was too busy this week with his work in the legislature.

Earlier this year, Cooper’s office declined Harnett County District Attorney Vernon Stewart’s request to take over the potential prosecution of Harnett Deputy Nicholas Kehagias.

Kehagias went to Livingston’s trailer at 3:40 a.m. on Nov. 15 looking for someone else. Livingston told him to leave and attempted to shut the door, which Kehagias blocked with his foot and pushed his way into the home. A 10-minute struggle ended when Kehagias shot Livingston three times in the arms and chest.

Because Kehagias had no warrant or permission to enter, Stewart concluded the deputy was an intruder in Livingston’s home, not a deputy doing his job.

The N&O reported on the case, and others, in May in a four-part series, “Deadly Force.”

In April, a grand jury declined Stewart’s push to indict Kehagias on a charge of second-degree murder in Livingston’s death. Stewart supervised the investigation.

The N&O reported last week on deficiencies within the SBI investigation into his death. Though the SBI manual directs agents to send the victim’s clothing to the state crime lab to be tested for gunshot residue, that testing wasn’t performed.

The test would have helped Stewart and SBI agents assess Kehagias’ description of what happened and whether he was justified in shooting Livingston.

Kehagias has said he shot Livingston at close range while Livingston shocked him with a Taser that had fallen out of Kehagias’ control.

The medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Livingston said his gunshot wounds were “without evidence of contact or close-range firing.”

Three civilian witnesses have told investigators that Kehagias was several feet away from Livingston when he fired his gun, meaning that Livingston would not have been close enough to drive stun the deputy with the Taser as Kehagias was firing his gun.

When the proximity of the shooter to victim is in dispute, investigators test the victim’s clothing item for gunshot residue that is often left when the gun is close to the victim. A spokesman for the SBI said the test was not requested because of limits placed on forensic testing by the State Crime Lab director.

Stewart, the district attorney, could have asked the lab director to make an exception if the analysis was crucial to the investigation. He did not.

A warrantless entry, an innocent man shot dead. A squad of Harnett County deputies who spread fear south and west of the Cape Fear River. A homicide in jail, caught on tape, yet somehow kept under wraps. Who polices the sheriff's office?

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