WKYT Investigates UPDATE | Second Nicholasville officer sued over death of Desman LaDuke

LaDuke, 22, was shot by police several hours into a standoff in October 2022.
WKYT Investigates UPDATE | Second Nicholasville officer sued over death of Desman LaDuke
Published: Nov. 9, 2023 at 4:11 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - The commander of the Nicholasville Police Department’s tactical team is now facing a lawsuit in connection with the death of Desman LaDuke.

He is the second officer to be sued in federal court over the incident.

Officer Joseph Horton shot LaDuke on October 22, 2022, several hours into a standoff at a home on Green Street in Nicholasville.

In a second amended complaint filed Monday in federal district court in Lexington, attorneys representing LaDuke’s estate now claim Lt. Jason Fraddosio, the special response team commander, failed to adequately train SRT members and “implemented a custom and practice of treating mental health crisis calls and/or barricaded subjects as if it were a hostage rescue.”

It further claims that Fraddosio’s order “to shoot Desman the next time he dropped the gun down from his own head” - which, according to the complaint, happened as LaDuke’s phone rang with a call from the crisis negotiator - amounted to “not a matter of if, but rather when, to shoot Desman.”

LaDuke’s aunt called 911 that morning after LaDuke’s girlfriend said he was trying to kill himself.

The court filing outlines LaDuke’s mental health struggles, but says Fraddosio did not brief SRT members on LaDuke’s background or devise an operations plan for the response.

“Simply put,” the amended complaint states, “both individual and institutional failures resulted in the unconstitutional shooting and death of Desman LaDuke, who was alone in his home and not an imminent threat to any person other than himself.”

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.

WKYT Investigates previously obtained body camera video, 911 calls, radio traffic and incident reports through open records requests filed with the Nicholasville Police Department and Jessamine County E911.

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

The contents of those police records, reported exclusively by WKYT on September 1, painted a picture of what happened at the home that day but failed to show what police saw when Officer Horton pulled the trigger.

In August, a grand jury declined to indict police for the shooting.

The administrator of LaDuke’s estate first sued Officer Horton less than a month after the incident. The original complaint accused him of excessive force, assault and battery, negligence and gross negligence, and wrongful death.

“At the time Horton shot Desman,” the complaint stated, “no reasonable officer in Horton’s position would have reasonably believed that use of deadly force was necessary or appropriate.”

In his response, Horton’s attorney denied those claims, saying Horton was “reasonably armed” and his decision to use deadly force was “reasonable and consistent with national and state recognized police principles.”

The second amended complaint levels those same counts against Fraddosio, and adds one count of unlawful governmental policy or custom against Fraddosio in his official capacity as SRT commander.

It also claims that Fraddosio’s amplification of the SRT presence further agitated LaDuke.

The police department’s own policies for dealing with “persons of diminished capacity/mentally ill,” a category which includes suicidal subjects, makes several mentions of the importance of reducing agitation.

In the body camera video reviewed by WKYT Investigates, LaDuke can be heard telling officers, “Y’all can leave,” and inquiring about the large police presence on the scene. LaDuke’s aunt and at least one other person there that day also expressed their concerns to police about the armed officers.

The new court filing also notes a discrepancy between before and after the shooting in how police described the number of weapons LaDuke was holding.

“Desman had one gun at the time,” the complaint states, listing as evidence that all of the officers’ statements to him were to drop the “gun,” not “guns”; LaDuke was observed to give officers the middle finger; and all officers described his gun as silver, not “the color of the other gun identified later within the residence.”

The complaint says “Horton and other officers perceived that Desman, while holding a gun, was a threat to himself only” because they never gave him a verbal warning that they would use deadly force on him and never told each other or dispatch that Desman was pointing a gun at them.