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$6 million settlement for families claiming excessive force by sheriff’s deputies

Published: Jun. 21, 2021 at 2:37 PM EDT
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HARNETT COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The insurance company for the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office just agreed to pay $6 million to settle a lawsuit filed by residents accusing deputies there of using excessive force. $6 million is the maximum payout allowed under the insurance policy carried by the sheriff’s office.

Deputy Nicholas Kehagias, who is accused of perpetrating most of the violence against residents who filed suit in Harnett County, is now employed by the Pender County Sheriff’s Office.

In 2015, Kehagias went to the home of John Livingston in the middle of the night looking for someone without a warrant. After being told by Livingston that the man he was looking for didn’t live there, Kehagias went inside anyway and his dispute with Livingston turned physical. After a struggle that lasted for several minutes, Kehagias shot Livingston, killing him. Kehagias said he fired in self-defense.

A Harnett County grand jury declined to indict Kehagias on criminal charges for Livingston’s death, which led to protests outside the courthouse and widespread media coverage. Other residents also stepped forward to say that Kehagias had brutalized them, too, without cause. While still proclaiming he’d done nothing wrong, Kehagias resigned several months later from the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office.

The son of John Livingston told WRAL that the $6 million payout is bittersweet, and he’d rather see a guilty verdict for Kehagias. He said knowing Kehagias still has a badge and now carries a gun for the Pender County Sheriff’s office is scary.

Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coates said this settlement is not an admission of guilt, and he still feels the officers named in the lawsuit acted appropriately.

Pender County Sheriff’s officials say Kehagias has no disciplinary action on his record since being hired in April 2019. However, Pender County Sheriff Alan Cutler recently requested District Attorney Ben David conduct a review on Kehagias after media outlets started asking him about Kehagias’ prior history.

It is not clear what happened as a result of that review, but at last check, Kehagias was working as a PCSO patrol officer.

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