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Media outlets ask to unseal evidence in deputy shooting case

RALEIGH (AP) A North Carolina sheriff’s office can’t prove a compelling reason to keep evidence secret while it fights a lawsuit alleging a pattern of excessive force that culminated in a deputy fatally shooting a man at his home, a group of media outlets argued.

A lawyer for the news outlets filed a motion to intervene in the case late March 29, asking the federal judge to unseal deposition transcripts and other evidence. The group includes The News & Observer, The Fayetteville Observer, WRAL-TV, WTVD-TV and The Associated Press.

The underlying lawsuit was brought by plaintiffs including the mother of John David Livingston, who was fatally shot in 2015 by a Harnett County deputy. Others allege excessive force in separate instances.

The media outlets argue the public has an interest in seeing evidence that shows how the law enforcement agency operated. They argue the defendants, who include deputies and sheriff’s officials, can’t prove there’s a compelling reason to shield the information from public view.

The evidence is “of heightened concern to the public because government actors are the defendants,” lawyer Amanda Martin wrote. “Despite the importance of this case, the defendants seek to seal the essential portions of the record.”

Martin said the newspapers and television stations have no legal interest in the outcome of the case and are only acting to protect the public’s right to transparency.

Lawyers for the sheriff’s office asked a judge earlier this month to keep affidavits and transcripts from several law enforcement officials under seal, arguing that they include confidential records related to criminal investigations.

Livingston was 33 in November 2015 when deputies looking for another man arrived at his Lillington home with no warrant to ask about the other person, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit contends one of the deputies provoked an altercation that ended with him shooting Livingston multiple times at close range.

The deputy, Nicholas Kehagias, has said he feared for his life and that Livingston grabbed for his stun gun. A grand jury declined to indict Kehagias, who has resigned from the sheriff’s office.

A News & Observer investigative series helped bring attention to Livingston’s death.

Lawyers for the sheriff’s office argue in court documents that Livingston engaged in hostile and aggressive acts that caused the deputy’s response. They said other plaintiffs similarly provoked deputies and deny a pattern of excessive force.

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