WKYT Investigates | Police bodycam video provides limited detail into Nicholasville standoff, shooting

Last week a grand jury declined to indict the officer who shot Desman LaDuke, 22.
Last week a grand jury declined to indict the officer who shot Desman LaDuke, 22.
Published: Sep. 1, 2023 at 6:52 PM EDT
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Editor’s note: The video and details included here are not graphic, but, due to their content, may still be considered disturbing or distressing to some viewers and readers.

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. (WKYT) - Newly-released body camera video paints a picture of what happened at a Nicholasville standoff last fall that led to a deadly police shooting.

Yet none of the footage now available to the public shows what police saw when Officer Joseph Horton made the decision to pull the trigger, killing Desman LaDuke, 22.

The shooting happened October 22, 2022, several hours into a standoff at a home on Green Street in Nicholasville.

WKYT Investigates obtained the video, 911 calls, radio traffic and incident reports through open records requests.

The video comes from the body-worn cameras of multiple different officers at the scene throughout the day - some responding that morning, others responding after the shooting to help keep people away from the crime scene.

Only one of the clips contains the moment the shot was fired. For nearly the entire three hours the camera is running, however, its view is obstructed, having been placed in an officer’s pocket when he put on a tactical vest shortly after he arrived.

Police have maintained that LaDuke was brandishing firearms and pointing guns at officers at the time. LaDuke’s family members have challenged that assertion, holding several rallies calling for “Justice for Desman” and for reform in how officers respond to wellness checks.

Last week, a grand jury declined to indict police for the shooting.

The standoff

Police were called to the home that morning after LaDuke’s aunt and guardian called 911 at 10:40 a.m. to report a suicidal subject, dispatch logs show.

“Um, my nephew’s girlfriend just called me and told me that my nephew is trying to kill himself,” she told the dispatcher.

“I raised him. It’s like my son,” she explained. “And she just called me freaking out and said he’s trying to kill himself. He’s asking for knives and he’s trying to find his gun.”

She told dispatchers that he had been suicidal in the past and “has mental health issues.”

Police arrived to find LaDuke locked inside his home. His girlfriend was allowed to leave the residence, and, when asked by an officer, LaDuke opened the door at one point to throw her phone outside on the grass.

Body camera video shows officers trying to speak to LaDuke through the door and coax him out. One interaction between officers and LaDuke can be heard clearly on the video.

“Desman,” the officer said. “Come out and talk to me, man. We’re not going away. We’ve got to talk...”

“I ain’t got nothing to say,” LaDuke replied. “I didn’t call y’all here,” he went on to say.

“I know,” the officer said. “Doesn’t matter who calls, as long as someone needs help, we’re going to try to help.”

“Y’all can leave,” LaDuke said.

“I can’t,” said police.

LaDuke then said something that can’t be made out.

“Do what?” the officer asked.

“What y’all got all them here for?” he repeated, seemingly referencing the large police presence on scene.

“Because you won’t come out and talk to us,” police said.

By 11:45 a.m. the police department’s special response team, “trained and equipped to respond to tactical, high-risk situations,” according to their website, was marked as being on the scene.

Body camera video from another officer shows Officer Horton getting in position alongside a car parked in a neighboring driveway. Another clip shows his rifle trained on the back windows of LaDuke’s home.

Around this time, body camera video also shows that those who were close to LaDuke expressed concerns about the police tactics being used.

“Aunt is enroute. She’s on Jacks Creek,” one officer reported to another. “She says we need to put away the guns. I said, well, we can’t do that.”

Another officer, speaking with LaDuke’s brother and a roommate, was told by the friend: “All this police, though, is going to freak him out.”

The officer replied that this is the only way they know to handle the situation to keep everyone safe.

The friend continued: “You see my point though?”

“I see where you’re coming from,” the officer said. “I see what you’re saying.”

“He’s going to feel threatened when he comes out,” the friend said.

Incident reports obtained by WKYT state that a negotiator tried multiple times to text LaDuke, but he never got a response.

The shooting

At 1:15 p.m., police reported that they saw LaDuke holding a gun, dispatch logs show.

Over the next several minutes, multiple officers can be heard on body camera video yelling for LaDuke to drop the weapon.

Officer Horton said LaDuke seemed to be “taunting” officers through the window.

“He raised the pistols and tapped both on the glass window, pointing them in the direction of officers, then danced more,” Officer Horton later wrote in a signed account of what happened. Horton said LaDuke pointed the guns at his head, then at officers, then back at his head.

Audio from the body camera footage contains sounds in line with the noises of a gun being tapped on a window, but because the lens of the body-worn camera was obscured, it is unclear what exactly LaDuke was doing at this time or in the critical moments that followed.

“I observed LaDuke’s facial expression turn from joking, taunting to blank, more serious,” Horton wrote. Then he said LaDuke began to lower the guns in the direction of the officers.

“In that split second, as he was lowering the guns towards us, I feared we were in imminent danger of LaDuke shooting us,” Officer Horton’s account states. “Immediately identifying LaDuke as a deadly threat, I fired one round from my AR-15, striking LaDuke in the high thoracic area.

“As I was acquiring my second sight picture, I observed LaDuke drop to the floor,” the narrative continues. “I discontinued using force when LaDuke was no longer considered a threat.”

Officers had been told throughout the day that it was believed that LaDuke was serious about committing suicide. “This is the day,” the crisis intervention report states that he had told his aunt when she was speaking to him on the phone with police on hand.

One officer also said that at one point LaDuke was telling officers “Shoot me.”

Over the next six minutes following the single shot being fired, audio from the body cam footage indicates that officers went inside, found LaDuke on the floor and secured the scene for EMS.

At one point, officers can be heard yelling at him “Don’t move” and “Don’t make us shoot you again,” before they were sure he was not still holding a weapon.

“Why’d you do that?” another officer could be heard saying to LaDuke before he was taken out by EMS. “Why did you continually point guns at us? We did nothing but try to help you for hours. Why did you force them to do that?”

“Brother, you’re going to make it, man,” another officer said. “Keep fighting.”

The aftermath

LaDuke was pronounced dead at UK Hospital.

In the months since, loved ones and activists continued to push for more transparency surrounding the case and continued to question - as they did on the day of the standoff - the police tactics.

“You would think he had hostages or something in there,” LaDuke’s aunt, Melissa Marks, told WKYT back in November. “I was so confused when I pulled up, I thought something had escalated. That something had happened I didn’t know about. But it was just him in there.”

The police department’s procedure for dealing with a “person of diminished capacity,” which includes suicidal individuals, outlines four steps: Containment, coordination, communication and time. A key theme throughout these steps is to isolate the subject from others and avoid agitating them in any way.

“It just kills me that the one day that he actually needed help the most, was his last day here,” Marks said in January.

Over the past year, WKYT filed multiple open records requests for more information on the case. Many of them were denied as the investigation was ongoing at the time.

A grand jury’s decision last week not to indict the officer who pulled the trigger closed the case and freed up more records for public inspection.

The Nicholasville Police Department did withhold some body camera video that records custodians said contains juveniles or information about them. Those portions would fall under open records exemptions, and the department said that it does not have the ability to redact the video.

It is unclear how much video may be missing.

An open records request filed with Kentucky State Police for its investigative file on the case - including body camera video - is still pending.

LaDuke’s estate has filed a federal lawsuit against Officer Horton, claiming excessive force, assault, negligence and gross negligence, and wrongful death. A status hearing is scheduled for September 20.