Shooting victim files civil rights lawsuit

Published 10:34 am Friday, July 1, 2011

Stapletons allege police misconduct

A man who was shot during an encounter last summer with a Lawrence County Sheriff’s deputy has filed a lawsuit alleging police misconduct. The attorney representing the officers and the county has denied all wrongdoing.

Johnny L. Stapleton and his wife, Tiffany Stapleton, of Ashland, Ky., filed the civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court earlier this month. The lawsuit names Detective Aaron Bollinger as well as former deputy J.D. McDaniel and Lawrence County as a whole.

The shooting occurred around 9 p.m. on June 9, 2010, in the area of North Eighth and Lawrence streets in Ironton. Bollinger was attempting to serve Stapleton with a warrant. Stapleton had been indicted secretly on drug charges that spring.

Email newsletter signup

The Stapletons were in a stopped vehicle. As Bollinger approached the vehicle, his gun discharged, striking Stapleton in the forearm and left cheek.

Stapleton is currently serving a three-year prison sentence for drug offenses at the Ross Correctional Institution in Chillicothe. The sentence stems from charges filed against him in a Lawrence County Court.

Following the shooting, Bollinger was placed on procedural administrative leave from the sheriff’s office until an August grand jury decided not to indict him on criminal charges. At the time of the incident Bollinger was working as a member of the Lawrence County Drug and Major Crimes Task Force.

At the time of Bollinger’s exoneration, Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless said the department was glad to have him back. He added in law enforcement, there are dangerous situations and officers are human beings who sometimes have accidents.

The legal action, filed June 9, alleges that Tiffany Stapleton and Johnny Stapleton had complied with the officer’s request for them to put up their hands and that they were unarmed at the time of the shooting.

It further alleges that Bollinger’s discharge of his firearm was “willful, wanton and reckless and without due regard to the safety of the plaintiffs.”

The complaint also claims that officer J.D. Daniel forcibly removed Tiffany Stapleton from the vehicle, handcuffed her and put her in the back of a police vehicle for more than an hour and a half, even though there was no probable cause for her arrest.

Because of the shooting, Johnny Stapleton sustained “severe, permanent, and disfiguring injuries from the gunshot wounds which required medical treatment and hospitalization,” it said.

The lawsuit also accuses Lawrence County of maintaining policies and customs that show indifference to constitutional rights of residents.

“It was the policy and or custom of Lawrence County to inadequately supervise and train its police officers, including the defendant officers, thereby failing to adequately discourage further constitutional violations on the part of its law enforcement officers,” the lawsuit states in part. “Lawrence County did not require appropriate in-service training or re-training of officers who were known to have engaged in police misconduct.”

The complaint alleges that Tiffany and Johnny Stapleton’s Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by the officers’ acts of excessive force and, by what they claim, was false arrest and false imprisonment. It also alleges that the officers’ actions caused the plaintiffs to lose companionship with each other.

The lawsuit further claims that Lawrence County demonstrated indifference to the plaintiff’s constitutional rights and that the county is liable for damages.

The lawsuit seeks an amount more than $25,000 each for compensatory damages, attorney fees and punitive damages in excess of $25,000 for each of the six causes of actions filed against Bollinger and McDaniel.

Ironton attorney Randall Lambert is representing the officers and the county.

Lambert said he plans to file an answer to the Stapletons’ complaint soon. The answer will deny all wrongdoing on the part of the officers, he said.

The attorney said he feels there is a “good chance” the case will be dismissed when the defendants file for summary judgment. Efforts to reach Tiffany Stapleton were unsuccessful. Calls made to Stapleton’s attorney, John P. Lavelle of Athens, as well as Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless and McDaniel were not returned.

Bollinger has never publicly commented on the incident and declined Thursday to comment on the pending matter as well.