Ray screenshot

A lawsuit filed in federal court alleges that two Franklin County Sheriff’s deputies violated two women's civil rights while pulling them out of a vehicle. (from video courtesy Michael L. Hawkins & Associates)

An internal investigation into the conduct of a Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy accused of excessive use of force and violating two women’s civil rights cleared him of any wrongdoing. 

The State Journal obtained that investigation, as well as Sherrif's Deputy Phillip Ray's personnel files, via an open records request to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. 

Conducted nearly two months after an incident on Sept. 20, during which Deputy Phillip Ray pulled two women out of a vehicle driven by a man who had evaded police for around 10 minutes, the investigation claims that no policies were violated in the early hours that morning.

A lawsuit filed against the sheriff’s office last month alleges that Deputy Ray was "viciously yanking” plaintiffs Maysia Harris and Hannah Clark “from the vehicle and slinging them to the ground” after stopping the car at Prince Hall Village Apartments in East Frankfort.

The internal investigation — conducted by Sgt. Lucas Deborde, later reviewed and submitted to Sheriff Chris Quire by Capt. Daniel Wills — found that Ray’s maneuver was appropriate given the circumstances. The investigation was completed on Nov. 8.

Full video of the incident can be seen on The State Journal’s Youtube page.

Ray’s personnel files include a mixed bag of praise and pause. He was awarded an “outstanding achievement” designation from the jailer in 2016, but near the end of his training at the sheriff’s office a supervisor warned that Ray “poses a risk” to himself, other deputies and citizens of Franklin County based on his observations and those of "every other" field training officer that rode with Ray.

The lawsuit was filed two weeks ago in U.S. District Court, Kentucky Eastern District, with Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove presiding. It names Ray, Sgt. Nathaniel Doty, Quire and Franklin County government as defendants.

The incident

Central to the investigation is less than a minute of time before 3 a.m. that morning in which Ray is seen pulling both Clark and Harris, neither of whom were charged with any crimes, out of the vehicle and slinging them to the ground with his firearm drawn in the other hand. 

Dash camera video provided to The State Journal of the incident shows that both Clark and Harris had their hands up before Ray grabbed them. Harris held her hands up high outside of the window starting shortly after the vehicle stopped.

The investigation claims that Ray’s use of force was “necessary to gain control,” during a “complex, fluid and inherently dangerous situation.”

“The actions of the operator of the vehicle and of the occupants gave officers concerns as to the potential unknown danger that could exist in the vehicle,” the investigation reads. “... The passenger side rear occupant was given verbal commands and did not respond to those commands. Deputy Ray removed this occupant with a justifiable amount of force necessary to gain compliance.

“Passengers were removed with the least force necessary to limit and reduce injury to both occupants and law enforcement.”

Since audio is from an FPD cruiser’s dash cam, it is unclear for how long or if Ray actually did command Harris, the rear side occupant who through her attorney claims to have been concussed, or what those commands were.

Deborde wrote that Ray can be seen clearly “giving commands to the occupant,” at minute mark 10:31 and receiving no response. However, Ray is shown in the video already moving to grab Harris two seconds later at 10:33; she is on the ground by minute mark 10:37.

The investigation claims that Ray used a “straight arm bar technique” on Harris, and that the technique is taught by the Department of Criminal Justice Training Academy. 

“As forceful and violent as this action may seem it is a manner in which to gain compliance which limits potential injury to both the detainee and officer,” the investigation reads.

Delano Washington, the car’s driver who was charged with several crimes due to the incident, is heard in the footage yelling at Ray when he slings Harris to the ground.

The investigation notes that Doty, who detained Washington, claims that Washington was “extremely belligerent and was screaming obscenities throughout his detainment.”

The dash cam footage does not show Washington physically struggling with law enforcement. After his car was stopped by a sheriff’s cruiser, Washington laid out on the ground and immediately surrendered himself prone on the ground with his hands up. He is seen yelling at and speaking to officers arresting him before being put in a sheriff’s office vehicle, after which his actions are no longer on video.

FPD officers, retracing Washington’s chase route, located a bag of marijuana on the West Plaza Connector where a sheriff’s deputy claimed to have seen Washington discard items; FCSO deputies found an unopened beer can. No weapons were found anywhere, but two “small nuggets” of marijuana and an unspent 9mm round were found in the passenger compartment.

In interviews conducted after the incident, Washington told Wills that he fled because he was scared and thought he could evade law enforcement because his knowledge of Frankfort’s streets. Clark told Doty that she told Washington to stop, and that she requested he take her home — the investigation states that she lived at Prince Hall Village Apartments.

Ray’s history

Ray has a 10-year history as a public safety employee in Franklin County. 

Prior to joining the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office under former Sheriff Pat Melton in late 2017 and completing training in 2018, he was employed as a deputy at the Franklin County Regional Jail starting September 2011.

Per personnel files from both places of employment, Ray has drawn both praise and criticism for carrying out his duties, with instances of poor performance noted by superiors.

In 2016, former Jailer Rick Rogers emailed Ray alerting him of his “outstanding achievement” at FCRJ that year as supervisor for the transport team and conducting investigations into inmate activity, particularly with regard to inmates distributing drugs.

Though the lawsuit claims that FCSO hired Ray knowing he was likely to be “violent,” and “used unnecessary and excessive force,” no information in either of Ray’s personnel files points to that conclusion.

However, no excessive use of force is documented in Ray’s files. They include several other criticisms, though.

In mid-2015, Maj. Richard LeMay wrote a memo to the jailer regarding a complaint Franklin District Court Judge Kathy Mangeot had about Ray’s performance — though it references multiple mistakes, the only incident LeMay mentioned was when Ray and another jail employee transported a civilian without a judge’s order.

Ray’s performance evaluations at both the jail and the sheriff’s office are generally positive, with sheriff’s office higher-ups closely evaluating his performance at the beginning of his tenure there.

Two memos written in September 2018 to Melton and other management at the sheriff’s office note “very worrisome habits.” 

“As a field training officer for this department, I feel as if I would not be doing my job if I did not alert you to some concerns I have,” Deputy Ben Sullivan wrote.

Sullivan wrote of Ray refusing to take suggestions, reckless driving habits as a result of “tunnel vision” when responding to calls, and not knowing traffic stop or dispatch procedure.

Sullivan stated that Ray once pulled out in front of traffic on Interstate 64, nearly resulting in the car being hit on the passenger side. Recalling a traffic stop in which Ray was tasked with giving dispatch a license plate number, Sullivan said that Ray could not relay license plate information one time because he “forgets the alphabet sometimes," in reference to the phonetic alphabet traditionally used in military and law enforcement contexts.

“I not only think that he poses a risk to his own safety, but other deputies that may need his assistance and citizens of Franklin County,” Sullivan wrote.

A memo from Deborde written two days later also notes an instance of “tunnel vision” on Ray’s part.

Ray’s personnel file in late 2019 also details an instance in which Ray, heading westbound on I-64 and attempting to get off on an exit “failed to negotiate the curve of the ramp” and hit an embankment.

Aside from that incident, very few documents between the completion of his training in 2018 and the investigation in late 2020 — beyond pay raises and various training certifications — reference Ray's conduct.

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