Attorneys representing the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office have filed a response to a lawsuit filed by the widow of a Kingston Township man who was shot and killed by deputies last year after a standoff on Kilbourne Road.
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 handlers, released his K-9, Cash, to bite and subdue Puskas, but the dog instead ran to a shirt that Puskas had just 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 actions were justified.
On June 6, a lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court’s South District of Ohio Eastern Division, alleging that the deputies caused the wrongful death of Brian Puskas and intentionally inflicted severe emotional distress on Brian and Deanna Puskas.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that deputies did not follow their standard protocol to deescalate the situation, and instead, escalated it, which resulted in Brian Puskas being killed.
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, Deanna Puskas’ attorney asks the court for a variety of types of relief, including compensatory damages for her and punitive damages against Swick, Gibson and Spring.
On Aug. 5, Daniel T. Downey, the attorney representing the three deputies and the county, filed an answer with the court and denied the allegations in the lawsuit.
Downey also outlines 20 defenses for the county and the deputies, including deputies acted in “good faith and in accordance with the law;” that Brian Puskas’ conduct “in whole or in part, bars (Deanna’s) claims for relief;” and state that the defendants are “entitled to immunity.”
Downey further argues that the lawsuit’s claims for punitive damages cannot be sustained, because the deputies and the county “did not show complete indifference to, or conscious disregard for, the safety of others.”
“None of the Plaintiff’s alleged damages were caused by an unlawful policy, practice or procedure, or a lack of police, practice, or procedure, and as such, Plaintiff’s claims are barred,” Downey writes.
U.S. District Court documents show that a meeting was held between the attorneys representing both parties on Aug. 30, and both parties asked that the case be tried before a jury.
The court also ordered that Deanna Puskas make a settlement demand by Nov. 18 and ordered the county to respond by Dec. 18. The court also ordered that expert witness reports must be produced by April 14, 2020, and rebuttal expert witness reports be produced by May 14, 2020.
A trial date was not set.
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.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.