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  • Asheville Citizen-Times

    Suit alleges Fletcher police, Henderson Sheriff deputies killed man by improper restraint

    By Joel Burgess, Asheville Citizen Times,

    2024-06-11
    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1yKL0u_0to7AN7z00

    A new federal lawsuit says police and sheriff's deputies shocked and beat a Fletcher man, ultimately killing him with an improper restraint that involved up to five officers on top of him before he lost consciousness handcuffed and facedown in his apartment complex parking lot.

    "Christopher Hensley, a 35-year-old father of two, was tased, kicked, punched and ultimately killed on June 15, 2022, by defendants ... when he was suffocated for at least four minutes while in police custody," said the suit brought almost exactly two years later by Hensley's mother, Catherine Hensley of Miami, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina in Asheville. The suit was filed June 11 by Catherine Hensley's attorney, Catharine Edwards, of Raleigh.

    As defendants the suit named the Town of Fletcher, Henderson County and seven officers from those law enforcement agencies. It is seeking currently unspecified monetary damages for alleged violations including gross negligence, assault and battery, pain and suffering and wrongful death.

    Fletcher Police Chief Dan Terry told the Citizen Times June 11 department had not yet been officially served with the suit.

    "Once received we will appropriately follow and adhere to the judicial process. We, being the police department, will not be making any additional statements related to the case," Terry said.

    Henderson County Sheriff Lowell Griffin said deputies — who arrived to help Fletcher police after Hensley's wife made a domestic disturbance call — acted correctly and that "in today’s litigious society" such legal actions are "to be expected whenever unfortunate circumstances occur."

    "The District Attorney found no criminal liability on the part of our officers, and we stand behind our officers’ actions," Griffin said, adding his office would not comment further because of the pending suit.

    More than a year after Hensley's death, following what District Attorney Andrew Murray called an "extremely voluminous" criminal probe by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Murray declined to bring charges against officers. Murray did not release all or parts of the SBI report, which by state law is not public record.

    Murray said Hensley died of a heart attack caused by "multiple contributing factors" and that "two or three factors were within his power to prevent," including the ingestion of cocaine and methamphetamine before officers arrived and after they arrived the "length and degree of physical exertion he was enduring."

    A pathologist with the N.C. Medical Examiner's Office classified Hensley's death as a homicide, attributing physical restraint "in the setting of cocaine and methamphetamine toxicity."

    The lawsuit, though, says the family requested an independent autopsy. In addition to an autopsy, private pathologist, Dr. Daniel L. Schultz of Tampa, Florida, reviewed bystander video footage, the autopsy said. Schultz wrote that while "chronic cocaine abuse with acute cocaine and methamphetamine toxicity" were contributory factors, "but for the restraint procedures, my impression is that he would not have succumbed to the respiratory/cardiac events as they unfolded," the suit says.

    This story will be updated.

    Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He's written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Got a tip? Contact Burgess at jburgess@citizentimes.com, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter @AVLreporter. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.

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