LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

Louisville police run-in with lieutenant colonel leads to investigation, more training

Lt. colonel with brain injury was handcuffed, considers suit


The man's clothes were dusty, and he had difficulty speaking. Questioned by a Louisville Metro Police officer inside Mid-City Mall, he couldn't provide his own address.

Judging the man to be a homeless panhandler, the police officer asked him to leave, and a confrontation ensued - a Taser was drawn, other officers were called and the man was taken down and handcuffed for several minutes.

But the man cuffed and threatened with jail in the Jan. 29 incident was neither homeless nor panhandling. He was a Purple Heart and multiple Bronze Star recipient and a Kentucky National Guard lieutenant colonel going on a routine errand.

Lt. Col. Donald Blake Settle has a poor memory and difficulty speaking as the result of injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, incurred in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan and a vehicle rollover. And on this day, he had stopped to chat with an acquaintance while shopping for a gift card.

His case has resulted in an internal police investigation, sharp questioning from Fort Knox officials, and a potential lawsuit. But it also has prompted a new mandatory training program for police on how to deal with military veterans coming home with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I wish it had never happened," said Louisville Metro Police Lt. Col. Vince Robison, who met with Settle and Fort Knox officials in July while helping to prepare the training for next year. "I wanted to see that we tried to do the right thing and become better. Whether we were right or wrong, we can always become better."

In an interview, Settle said the story is less about what happened to him that day and more about the number of soldiers returning with brain injuries and understanding the challenges they face.

"I don't want what happened to me to happen to somebody else, regardless of whether they are in the military or a regular civilian," he said, speaking sometimes in a halting voice, searching for the right words.

"Unfortunately this is real familiar," Eddie Reynolds, outreach director of the Brain Injury Association of Kentucky, said of Settle's experience. There are more than 250,000 Kentuckians with brain injuries and they are seven times as likely as the average person to have a run-in with the law, he said.

Settle, who has served in the Kentucky National Guard for 29 years and been deployed six times in Iraq, Jordan and Afghanistan, is now in the Fort Knox wounded warrior program for military troops.

Settle is not working now, spending most of his time doing occupational therapy, group therapy and getting treatment for his injuries, though he is assisting and speaking with other soldiers as much as possible. He and his wife, Adria, a teacher, have two children, 12 and 4, and are expecting a third child in a few weeks.

"My 50-meter target I have to focus on right now is this child," he said.

Settle, 50, in sweat pants and filthy from doing remodeling work, had stopped to chat with someone he knew at a wine tasting in the mall's atrium when spotted by Officer Daniel English, who thought he was acting strangely, according to Robison.

Settle, who had recently moved to a home outside Elizabethtown, couldn't remember his address when English asked.

"He approached him and it went downhill from there," Robison said, saying the officer reported that Settle seemed confused and upset that he was being stopped.

Settle said he told the officer he had been evacuated from Afghanistan with brain trauma and memory issues, and the officer told him he needed to leave the mall.

"I asked him, 'Have I done something wrong?' and he said 'There is no panhandling here,' " Settle said, adding that he denied he was a vagrant and asked to speak with a supervisor.

When the officer asked for identification, Settle said he reached for his wallet, which he kept in his front pocket because he was wearing a cast on one arm, and "the next thing I know he's grabbing the back of my arm and telling me to get my hand out of my pocket and up in the air where he can see it."

"When I look around he had his Taser right in my face," Settle said, claiming he again asked to speak with a police supervisor and told the officer he could verify that he was a soldier in the wounded warrior program. Robison confirmed the officer twice pulled his Taser but did not use it.

After he was escorted outside, Settle said he placed his military ID on the ground, as the officer had a Taser pointed at him, and was approached by several other officers, and told them he was a soldier with a brain injury.

"I could see where this was going and I did not want to get thrown on the ground or pushed against a police car," he said. "And they are saying 'Shut up and do what you're told.' "

Settle said he saw one officer give a signal and they "took me down hard," putting him face down on the ground and with his hands handcuffed behind his back for about 15 minutes.

Settle said he was told he was going to jail, but nobody would tell him why.

"They said, 'Don't worry about it,' " Settle said. "I said what have I done wrong? And I couldn't get an answer."

But eventually, after calling officials at Fort Knox, Settle said, officers came back to him, referred to him as "colonel" and thanked him for his contribution to the country.

"I said this has nothing to do with me being a colonel. I am a soldier but most importantly I'm a citizen and a resident."

Settle said he was told to leave the mall and get his gift card somewhere else on the way out of Louisville.

Robison said while officers cannot restrict a citizen from property without the owner's request, it is common on "trouble runs" in which there is a conflict to remove the person from the area.

The department declined the newspaper's open records request for the internal investigation report, saying it was not a public record based on state law.

However, emails obtained by the newspaper show that an officer involved told a Fort Knox official that day that Settle was "aggressive" and "hostile toward the officer," but that he was not arrested after his identification and condition were verified.

Robison reiterated that the officers claimed Settle acted aggressively toward them and "they felt there was an imminent assault that was going to occur."

"We have different sides of a story," he said. "Traumatic brain injury or not, if there is a fear of an imminent assault, they need to react to that."

Settle denied he was aggressive or hostile, saying he was professional and "if anything, I was concerned I was going to be shot." He said he did move toward an officer who had gotten in his face, though he did so to talk to him and was not a threat as there were officers all around him at that point.

And, he said, if he was aggressive or threatened an officer, "Why wouldn't they do a report?"

Officers cleared

An internal investigation into the conduct of Officers Trey McKinley, Donald Pugh, Jeremy Linton, English and Joseph Vidourek as well as Sgt. Kirby Shobe ended with exonerations and no disciplinary action taken, according to a June 20 letter from Police Chief Steve Conrad.

In a letter outlining that decision, Conrad told Settle, "I am sorry your experience with the Louisville Metro Police Department was unpleasant."

Robison said the officers would probably not speak about the incident because of the possibility of a lawsuit, but that he would notify them. None of them responded Friday.

Robison acknowledged in an interview that the officers did not file an incident report - "I wish there had been" one, he said, adding, however, there was not enough evidence that Shobe knew all the facts of what had happened to punish him for failing to write a report.

"Based on the information he said he had, he didn't feel it warranted an administrative incident report," Robison said, adding that he met with Shobe and three of the officers involved and told them he believed it should have been done.

"You always err on the side of caution because what, to me, this looks like, is that we were trying to cover something up," Robison said, later clarifying, however, that it didn't appear there was any "conspiracy" to cover anything up, just a "poor job" in not documenting what happened. "If there had been an administrative incident report, it would clearly be documented and we would look at that and say we acted appropriately, we need more training or what we should do here."

Fort Knox officials came to Louisville to meet with Robison and Conrad in July to discuss concerns about how Settle was treated and general concerns about soldiers returning with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries and their interactions with police. The goal was to "ensure similar incidents are not handled in the same fashion," Robison said in an email.

Robison said he apologized and called the situation a "bad misunderstanding." And they discussed the mandatory training for next year, with the Army agreeing to help.

Settle said he was told - and Robison confirmed - that he would have to sue the city to get a copy of the investigation. He has hired attorney Thomas Clay and is looking into filing a lawsuit.

"I want answers," Settle said. "This is not about money. It's about principle."