Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 17, 2013

2012 shooting death

Ex-Morgan widow's suit seeks $3.5M

Kenneth Hart
The Independent

ASHLAND — A former West Liberty resident is seeking a minimum of $3.5 million in damages from the city, its police department and one of its officers over her husband’s shooting death.

Erica L. Hill, who now lives in Louisville, is suing as the administratrix of the estate of her husband, Jimmy Lee Hill, who died in a confrontation with police at the couple’s home on Feb. 22, 2012.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Ashland, names as defendants the city, the police department and Sgt. Scott Adkins, the officer who fatally shot Jimmy Lee Hill.

In their response to the suit, the defendants maintain Adkins acted in “self-defense and defense of another” after Hill confronted officers with a knife and a machete and refused their orders to surrender the weapons.

The defendants also argue Hill’s actions the night of the shooting constituted “an act of suicide” using a method known as “suicide by cop,” in which an individual deliberately acts in a threatening way to provoke a lethal response from a police officer.

According to the lawsuit, West Liberty police went to the Hills’ home on Liberty Road, across from West Liberty Elementary School, in response to a 911 call. Jimmy Lee Hill “was intoxicated and presented himself at his door and on his front porch with knives in his hands and at his sides,” the suit states. (The defendants’ response maintains one of the knives was actually a machete.)

Erica Hill came out of the house when the police arrived and handed the city’s police chief, Kelse Hensley, two guns “so that the police chief would know Jimmy Lee Hill would not be armed with guns,” the suit states.

Erica Hill also told Hensley there was no need for police involvement and asked him and the officers to leave. But Hensley “insisted there was a need to investigate and that he needed to speak with Jimmy Lee Hill,” the suit states.

The chief opened the door and was met by Jimmy Lee Hill, who was standing inside the house with a knife in each hand. However, according to the suit, his hands were at his sides and the blades were pointed downward, in the direction of Jimmy Lee Hill’s back.

As Hensley and Jimmy Lee Hill were talking, Adkins, who had positioned himself several feet away from the front porch with his weapon drawn, ordered Hill to drop the knives, the complaint states. Hill refused, but keeping his hands at his sides and making no threatening moves, he told Adkins, “Scotty, your nine ain’t s ... ,” the complaint states.

Adkins then pulled the trigger and shot Hill in the chest, according to the suit. Hill fell to the porch “gurgling and bleeding.” Hensley came to the wounded man’s side, as did Erica Hill. Adkins also ran to the porch, and, according to Erica Hill, was asked by Hensley: “Scotty, why didn’t you tase him first?” Adkins “offered no audible response,” the suit states.

Jimmy Lee Hill — a former guard at the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex in West Liberty who had retired just three weeks prior to the shooting — was taken to Morgan County Appalachian Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He was 43.

Through her attorney, Edward Cooley of Lexington, Erica Hill maintains her husband “posed no reasonably perceptible or immediate threat of harm” to those present at the scene and the use of deadly force against him was a violation of his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

But the defendants, who are represented by Paintsville attorneys Michael Schmitt and Jonathan Shaw, contend Adkins “acted within the course and scope of the duties imposed upon him as a law enforcement officer” when he shot Hill.

The suit seeks an award of a minimum of $2 million in compensatory damages to Jimmy Lee Hill’s estate, a minimum of $500,000 in punitive damages from Adkins and an award of compensatory damages of at least $1 million to Erica Hill.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.