DRCNet Activist Guide 2/95

The gary shepherd case
by Ronald Thomas Coslick

Attorneys are investigating the killing of Gary Shepherd, a disabled veteran who used marijuana for medical relief. Gary was ambushed and killed in his front yard by police sharpshooters after protesting the warrantless landing of a helicopter near his home in rural Kentucky. Federal civil rights actions have been brought against officers of the Rockcastle County Sheriff and the Kentucky State Police by Shepherd's infant son Jacob and his widow, Mary Jane Jones.

The incident leading to Gary's killing began on a Sunday morning in August of 1993, when a helicopter on loan from the Kentucky National Guard was landed by officers of the Governor's Marijuana Strike Force in a field adjacent to Gary Shepherd's rural home. An officer familiar with Gary approached and told him that he was going to come in and cut down the dozen plants which were maturing around the perimeter of his property. Gary denied him entrance, saying it would happen "over [his] dead body." Using Gary's invocation of this metaphor as a pretext for his murder, the officer departed and called in additional officers, who covertly blockaded all routes to Gary's house and began to monitor his movements.

Playing with his son in a sandbox that afternoon, Gary was unaware that the State Police Special Response Team (known locally as the "death squad") had been summoned and was watching him through cross hairs. Gary was also unaware that crowds of people were gathering at distant roadblocks which prevented access to his home, where they were being told by police that Gary had taken his wife and child hostage and was firing a rifle at helicopters. Gary's brother Bill and his cousin Charles, a former police officer and trained hostage negotiator, attempted to intervene but were denied any opportunity to communicate with Gary.

At 5:30 p.m., Gary was again approached by the police. This time an officer with a bull horn walked to the end of the driveway and asked Gary to come over and talk to him. Believing the encounter to be informal, Gary limped to his porch, picked up a rifle that was leaning there against the house, and turned to meet the officer. When he had reached the midpoint of his yard, a second officer camouflaged within a nearby tobacco patch ordered Gary to freeze and drop his weapon. He froze with his arms in the air, crying, "no, I don't believe as you do!" A concussion grenade suddenly exploded in front of him, followed closely by shots from automatic weapons. Gary was fatally wounded by five exploding bullets to his neck and chest. His wife was grazed on the head by a fragment from one of the bullets, and his son was splattered with his blood.

Although a police investigation of the incident found no wrongdoing, requests for copies of the official report have been denied. Gary's survivors have been subjected to repeated harassment, including physical threats and demands that they leave the state. Other witnesses are afraid to speak out for fear of similar retribution.

The Shepherd family is now pursuing a lawsuit in which they intend to prove the wrongful nature of Gary's killing. They are presently attempting to raise $1000 to cover the cost of the investigation. Donations and encouragement can be sent to:

You might also wish to write to the US Dept. of Justice, urging them to look into this police abuse:

Additional information about this case is available from:

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DRCNet Activist Guide 2/95

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