The widow of a man shot and killed by Delaware County Sheriff’s Office deputies last year claims that gunfire should have been a last resort, knowing that they suspected the victim had mental health issues.
Deanna L. Puskas, now living in Marion, on Thursday filed a wrongful death suit against Delaware County and deputies Zachary Swick, Troy Gibson and Robert Spring.
The deputies responded to the June 6 call for help from Puskas after her husband, Brian, 47, began to throw items into the front yard of their Sunbury-area home after returning from his third-shift job as a mechanic at NetJets.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus, states that protocol requires deputies “to de-escalate the situation and to be properly trained in a situation such as this.
“These defendants did not follow that protocol with respect to Mr. Puskas,” the lawsuit contends. “Rather, their actions escalated an already tense situation.”
Body camera footage from one of the deputies shows an agitated Puskas raising his arms up when ordered to do so. However, he refuses repeated orders to get on the ground.
The lawsuit states that three days before the incident, deputies followed Mr. Puskas home after observing him speeding and having concerns about his erratic behavior. The lawsuit states that county officials were “on notice of the obvious need to train and supervise deputies with respect to the proper exercise of their discretion when interacting with impaired individuals,” but failed to do so.
In July, Pickaway County Prosecutor Judy Wolford ruled that the deputies had tried to deescalate tensions outside the home in the 11000 block of Kilbourne Road in Kingston Township.
In a report to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, she wrote: “the officers were in fear for their own lives as well as the lives of other officers and Mrs. Puskas” when they opened fire on Puskas, who had picked up a gun, one of several in his front yard.
The standoff inside and outside the home lasted more than 15 minutes before the deputies’ gunfire. At least 20 police vehicles responded, but no ambulances arrived until after the gunfire, according to the suit.
At one point, a police dog was released to distract and subdue Puskas, but it was drawn instead to a shirt thrown in the yard. That allowed Puskas to pick up his gun, prompting the deputies’ use of deadly force.
“Several months ago, following an independent investigation and review by the BCI and a prosecutor from another county, our deputies were exonerated in this incident,” Sheriff Russell Martin said in a written statement.”However, we will respect this next legal process as it unfolds.”