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UPDATE: Kentucky State Police identify the man officers killed last month

Blue light atop a law enforcement vehicle
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Nearly 200 pedestrians have been struck and killed by drivers along Louisville's roadways since 2014.

Law enforcement officials release few details about a fatal police shooting in Somerset last month.

Update 11/14/2023: The day after KyCIR published this story, Kentucky State Police released the name of the man Somerset Police officers killed two weeks ago. KSP officials provided KyCIR a copy of an incident report on Tuesday morning that shows the victim is a man named Dallas B. Cain, a 51-year-old Black man. The report shows the location of the shooting was at 106 Emerald Court in Somerset. The report does not identify the officers who killed Cain or the events that led up to the fatal encounter.

Original story:

Just before midnight on Friday, October 27, officers with the Somerset Police Department shot and killed a man on a dead-end street lined with duplexes.

In a four-paragraph press release issued the next day, police said officers had responded to a domestic violence complaint and confronted a man who allegedly was armed with a gun. The release noted that the officers fired their department-issued firearms, the man died at the scene, and one officer incurred “non-life threatening injuries.”

But in the two-plus weeks since, police have released no more details. Nothing about the man they killed. Nothing about the officers who shot him. Nothing about how the officer that was injured. Nothing about the events that led to the fatal encounter.

Public scrutiny of police shootings has increased significantly in recent years. High-profile killings in cities across the country have sparked protests and demands for reform, and in the aftermath, some police agencies adopted new policies and promised more transparency. Police shootings in the nation’s more rural areas, however, haven't had the same result. One reason: they often attract little notice.

But they’re not uncommon.

In Kentucky, 65% of police shootings between January 2015 and October 2023 occurred in rural areas, according to a database of nationwide police shootingsmaintained by The Washington Post. More than a third of those rural shootings involved the Kentucky State Police.

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and The Marshall Project disclosed in 2021 that the KSP killed more people in rural areas than any other law enforcement agency in the country. But not once was a Kentucky state trooper prosecuted for shooting a citizen, the story found.

The Kentucky State Police are leading the investigation of the Somerset police shooting.

In an email, a state police spokesperson said it’s “standard operating procedure” to not disclose details of an investigation until witnesses have been interviewed and “pertinent facts gathered.”

But law enforcement should be more forthcoming about fatal police shootings, said Pete Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies. He said if there is a compelling reason to keep information confidential, then the agency needs to explain what that reason is. Otherwise, Kraska told KyCIR, basic information — including the identity of the victim, the officers involved, and the specific location of the shooting — should be disclosed.

“Police killings are under extreme scrutiny, and it's not good enough just to say, ‘this is under investigation. We're not releasing any information about it. Even the basic facts about it whatsoever,’” Kraska said. “Not appropriate.”

Local officials silent

Somerset, in southern Kentucky, is home to about 12,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The city’s police department had not fatally shot someone in the last eight years, the database maintained by The Washington Post shows. There is no national database of police shootings.

Local officials declined to discuss the shooting with KyCIR.

Somerset Police Captain Shawn Dobbs provided the bare-bones statement that the department had released shortly after the shooting. Dobbs did not respond to questions from KyCIR, including whether the officers were wearing operative body cameras.

A representative of the Pulaski County coroner’s office pronounced the victim dead at the scene, according to the Somerset police press release. Deputy Coroner Keith Price referred questions about the victim to the Kentucky State Police.

Pulaski County Judge-Executive Marshall Todd refused to discuss the shooting. Somerset Mayor Allen Keck said that as far as he knew, “officers followed all procedures and policies appropriately.” Citing the ongoing state police investigation, Keck declined to say more.

In some other areas of Kentucky, law enforcement agencies provide more information about fatal police shootings.

In Louisville, for example, police policy states that within 24 hours of a fatal shooting, the department will release the name of the officer involved. And within 72 hours of the shooting, a department spokesperson will update the media on the “current stage of the investigation.”

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg also recently announced a policy that requires police to release body camera footage within 10 days of a police shooting. Previously, the Kentucky State Police investigated police shootings in Louisville and drew criticism for being slow to release information to the public.

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.

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