RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina sheriff's office said it's obligated by state law to keep investigative files secret as it fights a lawsuit alleging excessive force by deputies, including the fatal shooting of an unarmed man in 2015.
Lawyers for Harnett County Sheriff's Office deputies were responding this week in court documents to news organizations that believe State Bureau of Investigation files related to the deputies' actions should be made public. The group includes The News & Observer, The Fayetteville Observer, WRAL-TV, WTVD-TV and The Associated Press.
The deputies' lawyers said state law compels "efforts to maintain the confidentiality of certain documents," such as personnel records and investigative files. The defendants said those efforts shouldn't be viewed "as somehow nefarious."
The deputies were sued by plaintiffs including the mother of John David Livingston, who was fatally shot in 2015 by a Harnett County deputy. She was joined by other plaintiffs who say they were the victims of unjustifiably harsh police tactics.
A lawyer for the news outlets asked a federal judge last month to unseal evidence that also includes deposition transcripts and affidavits from investigators. The media outlets said they don't have a legal interest in the outcome of the case, but want to protect the public's right to transparency.
The plaintiffs said deputies were looking for another man in November 2015 when they arrived at Livingston's home without a warrant. The lawsuit contends one of the deputies provoked an altercation that ended with him shooting Livingston multiple times at close range.
Lawyers for the sheriff's office argued in court documents that Livingston engaged in aggressive acts that caused the deputy's response. The deputy, Nicholas Kehagias, resigned. A grand jury declined to indict him.
Kehagias has said Livingston reached for his stun gun and that the deputy feared for his life.
The defendants argue other plaintiffs similarly provoked deputies on separate occasions and deny a pattern of excessive force.