Family sues cops over 2013 death


First Posted: 10/26/2014

CHILLICOTHE (AP) — The fatal shooting of a southern Ohio woman during a police drug raid has prompted a lawsuit amid a lengthy ongoing investigation by Ohio authorities.

The Columbus Dispatch reported in Sunday’s editions that Krystal Barrows’ mother sued Ross County’s sheriff and a sergeant who reportedly told investigators his tactical rifle fired accidentally during the raid last Dec. 11. Barrows was sitting on a couch in the trailer that was raided. The bullet fired from outside pierced a door casing and struck her in the forehead, and she died the next day at age 35, the newspaper reported.

The lawsuit filed this month in Ross County Common Pleas Court seeks at least $125,000 for wrongful death and other claims.

“The family wants some answers,” said attorney Kevin Shoemaker, representing Patsy Barrows-Wise, Krystal’s mother. “This investigation has taken an inordinate amount of time, and she continues to struggle to know what really happened to her daughter.”

A special prosecutions team continues to investigate the shooting after the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation probed the case.

BCI sent its report to county Prosecutor Matt Schmidt on Feb. 13. Since he works closely with the sheriff’s office including Sgt. Brett McKnight, whose gun fired the shot, Schmidt asked the special prosecutions unit of the Ohio attorney general’s office to take over.

Attorney General’s spokesman Dan Tierney said the unit has conducted additional tests and re-interviewed witnesses and participants. He said an independent expert on “unintentional discharges” has also been called in.

“Indeed, this is a unique use-of-force case,” Tierney said. “The situation of an unintentional discharge of a weapon is not commonly what we see. The prosecutor has to feel confident enough in the information to answer any possible grand jury questions.”

Sheriff George Lavender Jr. said he couldn’t discuss specifics of the case, but he defended McKnight. The 38-year-old sergeant has been with the department since 2003.

“This is a good officer …. and a dedicated employee,” Lavender said. “We feel this was just an unfortunate, tragic event.”

Major Crimes Task Force investigators had been told the trailer was loaded with guns and drugs. The team used flash-bang grenades, and as police used a battering ram to charge in, McKnight’s .40-caliber tactical rifle fired. The Dispatch reported that McKnight told investigators it was unintentional and he didn’t even realize at the time it had fired.

Several people were arrested on outstanding warrants and more charges are possible. Detectives said they seized guns, drug, money and what they believed were stolen items from the property and investigation is continuing.

Schmidt expects the Common Pleas lawsuit to be dismissed.

He defended McKnight in a letter to the state, saying he believed the shooting was clearly accidental. He said officers such as McKnight put “themselves in very dangerous situations — and all human beings, even well-trained officers, sometimes make errors.”