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Gary Bressler’s family, celebrating Christmas without him, await answers on why KSP troopers shot him

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

As we are celebrating Christmas with our loved ones, the family of Gary Bressler is spending their first Christmas without him. Bressler was shot in his own driveway on Nov. 3 in rural Dry Ridge by Kentucky State Police troopers who were responding to Bressler’s own 911 call for help. He died there.

Bressler, 48, was suffering from depression and, his family believes, was calling out for help. Instead, his wife and three young children watching, he was shot down within minutes of the arrival of two troopers who drew their guns and took positions behind their car, about 40 feet away from Bressler who was carrying but not brandishing a decorative sword.

The KSP investigates its own officer-involved shootings, and it takes what seems to be a very long time to get information. The family is still waiting for answers and resolution.

Bressler’s widow, Heather, did finally get the return of her cellphone — her lifeline to the outside world — on Wednesday, thanks to newly appointed 15th Judicial Circuit Commonwealth Attorney Leigh Ann Roberts, according to Heather’s attorney Paul Hill. Roberts serves Owen, Carroll, and Grant counties.

Who cares about how and why Gary Bressler died? Who cares about a depressed, poor, jobless guy in rural Kentucky, shot by the Kentucky State Police? Who cares that shootings like this happen with enough frequency to make Kentucky one of the top states for police-involved deaths — at the hands of the state’s top police force?

The family is waiting for answers — and the public should want answers too.

Here — in case you missed it — is the NKyTribune’s original story, published Dec. 16, about the shooting of Gary Bressler:

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

Heather Bressler stood by in horror and disbelief as her husband Gary was shot down in the driveway of their Dry Ridge home by Kentucky State Police who responded to Gary’s 911 call in the early hours of Nov. 3.

When she went to her husband, distraught and in tears, to provide CPR, one of the troopers told her to “get her screaming kids” into the house — or he would arrest her.

The evening of Nov. 2 started like any other at the Bressler home on Chipman Ridge Road. The family was together “having a good time,” Heather said, and everything seemed normal.

They had pizza and watched TV and were “having fun” all evening. Later, Gary and their daughter, 14, were watching television, the twins, 11, had gone to their room, and Heather was in the kitchen tidying up.

Gary Bressler Sr.

The daughter heard her restless dad make the 911 call, go into his bedroom to get a decorative long sword, and then walk outside. She alerted her mom.

“I didn’t know anything was wrong,” Heather said.

She explained that for the last several months, Gary, 48, seemed “depressed,” and he was taking a mild medication prescribed by his doctor. He had lost his job and was job-hunting and that led to bouts of “sadness” — which he was not one to talk about.

“He’d be fine but get agitated,” she said. “But he just sat in his chair and kept it to himself. He was dealing (with his depression) in his own way . . . but he was always there for everybody else.”

He sometimes opted out of family activities — like the pumpkin-carving he had always enjoyed.

Heather and Gary had been together for nearly 20 years and were married for 11. They had six children, three of whom are still at home. He was a good husband and father, she said, and — no — there was no violence in the home that evening.

When Heather followed her husband outside on that fateful early morning, he told her to call 911 which she did. She said Gary was just standing in the driveway, holding the sword, which was pointed to the ground. He wasn’t speaking and he wasn’t brandishing the sword. She says the sword remained pointed to the ground during the moments to come. And Gary was silent. She tried to get him to respond, but he did not.

The Bressler home on Chipman Ridge Road

Soon, a police car from the Grant County police department arrived and parked on the road. That officer did not get out of his car.

By then all three kids were outside, too, wondering what was going on.

When the Kentucky State police car arrived, the Grant County car drove away.

Heather was standing behind her husband, begging him to talk to her.

Two troopers — Zachary Lusk and Douglas L. Holt — got out of the car and stood behind it with guns drawn, about 40 feet away. “Put it down,” one of them said. No other words were exchanged, Heather said. Until she heard, “Drop it,” and the sound of three shots. Lusk fired the killing shots.

Within mere minutes of the arrival of the two troopers, her husband lay on the ground, dead. It was about 1:45 a.m.

Heather remembers the screams of her children.

The family believes Gary Bressler was calling out for help when he called 911.

Now, after burying their husband and father, it’s the family who wants answers.

Paul Hill, the family’s attorney, wants answers too — but few are forthcoming.

“I don’t think Gary Bressler should have been shot,” Hill says with forthrightness.

Heather Bressler

“This family is trying to get on with their lives. The children are back in school and they are trying to find ‘normal.'”

So far, the actions of the Kentucky State Police have not made that easy. For one thing, KSP took Heather Bressler’s cell phone, her only contact with the outside world. KSP said they needed it to verify that she too called 911. KSP already possesses a recording of all 911 calls.

But without the phone, family members couldn’t call her in the wake of her unspeakable tragedy. And one morning, she stood with the children waiting for the school bus — when messages had been sent, via telephone, that there was to be no school.

“To me, it’s adding insult to injury to keep Heather’s cell phone for so long.”

In addition, Hill said, details from KSP have not been forthcoming, though he says he understands investigations take time.

Unfortunately, KSP, an agency in the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, does not equip troopers with body cameras. They say they can’t afford them — or the expense of storing the video data indefinitely. Governor Andy Beshear has said he has plans to include pay raises for the troopers and the cost of body cameras in his budget for the next fiscal year. But that’s too late for the Bresslers.

A second issue is that KSP handles its own use-of-force investigations, so basically the state police have jurisdiction over any officer-involved shootings. The KSP Critical Incident Response Team is now handling the investigation, which is headed by Sgt. William Howard. (Howard did not respond to the NKyTribune‘s inquiries, but this story will be updated with his comments if and when they are received.)

“This is an obvious concern,” Hill said. “We hope we get a legitimate investigation into what happened that compelled an officer to shoot Gary Bressler from 40 feet away.”

Other states bring in outside, independent investigators or turn them over to the Attorney General’s office.

Howard’s findings will go to Commonwealth Attorney Leigh Ann Roberts in Carrollton.

Attorney Paul Hill

Attorney Paul Hill is awaiting any details from the KSP, but he is fairly certain a lawsuit will be filed on behalf of Heather Bressler and her family.

The Marshall Project, in conjunction with the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting and R.L. Dunlop, reported the results of a long investigation titled, “Shooting First and Asking Questions Later,” about the high rate of fatalities at the hands of the Kentucky State Police. Another story, “Where Lots of Police Shootings Draw Little Scrutiny,” reported that KSP fatally shot 41 people from 2015 through 2020, more than any other law enforcement agency in the state. In fact, no officer was prosecuted for any of those 41 deaths. And many of the deaths were in rural communities, about a quarter of the victims were not armed, and a majority were suffering from addiction or mental health problems.

• • • •

Josh Brazan of Scripps’ WCPO has followed this story from the beginning. See his stories:

• KSP officers involved in fatal Grant County shooting identified

• Family calls for more transparency, accountability in Kentucky State Police investigation

• Family still seeking answers after Kentucky State Police trooper shoots, kills man.

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One Comment

  1. Maddie tapp says:

    Why not shot him in the leg should not of been a kill shot i respect the cops but not the ksp they don’t care. I hope they are arrested them as murder

Reply to Maddie tapp Cancel Reply