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Kentucky State Police pay $130K settlement in 2020 excessive force lawsuit

Home security video from April 9, 2020. Trooper Thomas Czartowski is pictured just before striking a man with his flashlight.
Home security video
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Provided by Christopher Wiest
Home security video from April 9, 2020. Trooper Thomas Czartowski is pictured just before striking a man with his flashlight.

The Kentucky State Police have settled a federal lawsuit involving two troopers who beat Alex Hornback at his Shepherdsville home during an April 2020 arrest and allegedly lied about it under oath.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings dismissed the case on Jan. 23 after the state police agreed to pay Hornback, his father, and their lawyer $130,000, according to a copy of the settlement agreement obtained from the agency by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting through an open-records request.

KyCIR reported on the lawsuit in a February 2022 story highlighting court cases in which state troopers were accused of giving false testimony about using force or omitted essential details.

Thomas Czartorski, one of the two troopers involved in the Hornback beating, which was captured by a hidden home-security camera, agreed to pay an additional $5,000. Neither the agency nor the troopers admitted wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

After Czartorski resigned from the state police in February 2021, an agency official filed a criminal complaint against him for allegedly lying under oath. He has since been indicted on a felony perjury charge in Jefferson County Circuit Court and has pleaded not guilty. Czartorski could be sentenced to up to five years in prison if convicted. His attorney did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

James Cameron Wright, the other trooper who participated in the beating and allegedly lied about it under oath, remains on duty. He was never disciplined or prosecuted in connection with the Hornback incident. Wright declined an interview request for this story.

Kevin Hornback, Alex Hornback’s father, told KyCIR that he thought Wright was “the instigator” of the beating, and that he should have been fired and prosecuted.

“Originally, honestly, we did not want money,” Kevin Hornback said. “We wanted them both prosecuted. And you see how that went. So, at some point, you've gotta take the money because they’re not going to do anything to ‘em.”

Unanswered questions about accountability

On April 9, 2020, Wright, Czartorski, and a third trooper, Kevin Dreisbach, went to the Hornbacks’ home to arrest 29-year-old Alex Hornback for a missed appearance in Jefferson District Court. Hornback’s mother and father met them at the door and led Wright and Czartorski to the basement, where their son was, while Dreisbach covered the rear of the house.

The Hornbacks sued the troopers in federal court in Louisville later that year, alleging that state police used excessive force during the arrest.

Czartorski and Wright testified in their January 2021 depositions that they had a relatively calm interaction with Hornback, despite taking him to the floor, and that they didn’t use any other force or strike him.

The Hornbacks’ lawyer later released a home-security video contradicting the troopers’ statements.

The video showed Wright grabbing Hornback around the neck and slinging him to the floor, though Hornback was not visibly resisting.

The video also showed Czartorski striking Hornback four times on the legs with his flashlight. Wright hit Hornback twice in the back with his right forearm and appeared to have his left knee on Hornback’s neck, pushing his face into the floor. Hornback did not suffer any serious injuries.

In an August 2022 opinion and order, Judge Jennings said the video showed that Wright’s and Czartorski’s sworn statements about the arrest were “untrustworthy” and had “been proven to be inaccurate,” including their claims that they never struck Hornback.

Jennings also said there wasn’t any video evidence that Hornback defied the troopers’ demands or actively resisted arrest.

Czartorski and Wright didn’t file any required use-of-force reports with the state police, and the agency did not investigate the incident until the video surfaced. Czartorski resigned from the agency shortly thereafter, and in July 2021 he was charged with perjury.

Wright kept his job and was never disciplined or charged.

Earlier this month, a KSP spokesperson emailed KyCIR a response to questions about how the agency handled Wright’s involvement in Hornback’s arrest. The statement said that “based upon the evidence and statements provided to KSP,” Wright’s actions didn’t require a use of force investigation. The email didn’t elaborate or address questions about Wright allegedly lying under oath.

Kevin Hornback said FBI agents have recently interviewed him about the two troopers’ actions during his son’s arrest. FBI officials in Louisville did not respond to a request for comment. The U.S. attorney’s office in Louisville declined to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, per the office’s policies.

R.G. Dunlop is an award-winning investigative reporter whose work has exposed government corruption and resulted in numerous reforms. Email R.G. at rdunlop@lpm.org.