The widow of a Sunbury man who was shot and killed by deputies last year is suing the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office in U.S. District Court, alleging the office violated its own protocols and killed the man without warrant.
According to authorities, on the morning of June 6, 2018, Brian Puskas, 47, returned home from work early and began acting erratic, at which point his wife, Deanna, called family and law enforcement. Deanna Puskas told dispatchers that her husband was acting strangely, throwing things and at one point threatened to kill her. In the 911 call, Deanna Puskas tells dispatchers that there are numerous firearms in the home.
A number of law enforcement officials, including Deputy Zachary Swick, Deputy Troy Gibson and Sgt. Robert Spring, arrived on scene and attempted to talk to Brian Puskas. Gibson, one of the county’s K-9 officers, released his K-9, Cash, to bite and subdue Puskas, but the dog instead ran to a shirt that Puskas had recently thrown to the ground. The lawsuit states Puskas ran from the dog around a tree, reached into a soft gun case to retrieve a handgun and was subsequently shot by Swick, Gibson and Spring.
He was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital where he died from his wounds later that day. He had no criminal history.
The Bureau of Criminal Investigation conducted an investigation after the shooting and determined the deputies’ actions were justified.
“It is clear from body camera video that numerous attempts were made to de-escalate the situation,” Pickaway County Prosecuting Attorney Judy C. Wolford wrote in her special prosecutor review of the case. “Several officers tried to reason with Mr. Puskas and tried to get him to leave the yard and to discuss what was going on … while everyone is saddened by the outcome of this incident, the officers worked diligently to try to reason with Mr. Puskas and bring this incident to a different resolution.”
However, a lawsuit filed on June 6 in the U.S. District Court’s South District of Ohio Eastern Division, alleges that the deputies caused the wrongful death of Brian Puskas and intentionally inflicted severe emotional distress on Brian and Deanna Puskas.
“This case challenges the treatment of Mr. Brian Puskas, who suffered and then died as a result of the actions of law enforcement officers,” wrote Joel Spitzer, the attorney representing Deanna Puskas in the lawsuit. “Violating all of their own rules of conduct and safety, (Swick, Gibson and Spring,) without warrant, opened fire on Brian Puskas. Their standard protocol was to enlist the proper officials to de-escalate the situation and to be properly trained in a situation such as this. These defendants did not follow that protocol with respect to Mr. Puskas. Rather, their actions escalated an already tense situation. Plaintiff brings this case seeking fair compensation for the decedent’s family, including his wife and parents, and in order that defendants be encouraged in all future dealings to treat persons who are suffering mental health issues on an equal basis with all others.”
The lawsuit names Swick, Gibson, Spring, and Delaware County as defendants and asks that the court allow the case to be tried before a jury. In the lawsuit, Spitzer asks the court for a variety of types of relief, including compensatory damages for Deanna Puskas and punitive damages against Swick, Gibson and Spring.
The three deputies were placed on administrative leave during the investigation but later returned to active duty. Spring retired in February. Additionally, Swick is no longer a deputy with a sheriff’s office.
The lawsuit also alleges that after Brian Puskas was shot, a law enforcement officer went to the front door of the home and encounter the Puskas family dog, Bella. The lawsuit states that the dog was then shot by the officer, despite showing no aggression. The dog was treated by a MedVet and has since recovered, but “has continuing medical issues resulting from being shot by law enforcement.”
“Brian was sick mentally,” Deanna Puskas states in a press release after the lawsuit was filed. “They did not attempt to negotiate with him. They just shot him. I yelled to them not to shoot him, that he was sick, but they would not listen. After he was shot, they would not let me near him. He died by himself at the hospital. They would not let me go to him. They even shot our dog, Bella, when the dog was not even acting in any bad manner. They kept me on a chair in the front yard in my nightgown for seven hours after they killed my husband and had the gall to tell me that I should feel lucky that their canine did not get hurt.”
There have been no further filings in the case since the original complaint was filed on June 6.
On Thursday, Delaware County Sheriff Russell Martin issued the following statement:
“Several months ago, following an independent investigation and review by the BCI and a prosecutor from another county, our deputies were exonerated in this incident. However, we will respect this next legal process as it unfolds.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.