WHITLEY CITY, Ky. (WKYT) - Leaders in McCreary County believe a state statute is doing more harm than good, following the shooting of one of their deputies.
Probation and parole officers were told to stand down after a deputy was shot in the line of duty. (Photo: McCreary County Sheriff's Office, Leslie County Detention Center)
On July 16, Kentucky State Police said McCreary County Deputy Tyler Watkins was shot twice by Mark Dungan after Deputy Watkins showed up at Dungan's home to do a welfare check. At the time of the shooting, a constable and volunteer firefighter were three miles away, and two probation and parole officers were five miles away.
The probation and parole officers called their supervisor and explained they were driving to the scene to assist law enforcement.
"And they were given a 'stand-down' order while actively we had a deputy who was bleeding to death," explained Commonwealth's Attorney Ronnie Bowling.
The probation and parole officers were told to stay away from the shooting scene.
Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird was livid when he heard the news.
"When an officer goes down, it's a standing rule in law enforcement that everybody goes," Bird said. "If you're close, you drop what you are doing and go. And the hell with policy and the hell with procedure."
McCreary County has very few law enforcement officials, unlike counties with bigger cities. According to the Kentucky Department of Corrections, KRS 196.037 037 states probation and parole officers have "all the authority and powers of peace officers" but only "while acting for the department in any capacity entailing the maintenance of custody or supervision of any confined prisoner, paroled prisoner, escaped prisoner, probationer, or other person otherwise placed under their supervision."
"This isn't something that can be kicked down the road because this could happen again today," Bird said.
The statute, according to Bowling, causes a divide between Kentucky State Police and probation and parole officers.
"It creates a divide that our local agencies have had a great job not having," Bowling said.
Bowling says if exceptions aren't made for rural areas, they will take the issue to legislators.
The Kentucky Department of Corrections provided a statement to WKYT Investigates in response to our report, standing by the department's policy.
"On the night of July 16, 2019, two Probation and Parole officers had just completed an after-hours visit to a client’s residence in McCreary County when they heard a call for assistance on the radio.
"Probation and Parole officers immediately contacted multiple supervisors for further instruction. Details from the radio call were sparse: It was only known that a shooting had taken place several miles away and that an assailant was still at large.
"Based on the information available at the time — and the knowledge that our Probation and Parole officers are not trained to be first responders and could potentially hinder the police response — the Probation and Parole officers were instructed to return to the office. The Kentucky Department of Corrections supports this decision made in accordance with the statutes outlined below.
"Probation and Parole officers are not sworn peace officers in Kentucky, and they lacked any law enforcement authority in this situation. KRS 196.037 states that Probation and Parole officers have 'all the authority and powers of peace officers' but only 'while acting for the department in any capacity entailing the maintenance of custody or supervision of any confined prisoner, paroled prisoner, escaped prisoner, probationer, or other person otherwise placed under their supervision.' This situation did not meet that criteria.
"We suffer along with our communities anytime an officer is injured, and we are grateful that Deputy Dustin Tyler Watkins is expected to make a full recovery."