WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. — The family of Gary Wayne Bressler Sr. said they are not sure what exactly happened in the moments before he died early Wednesday morning, fearing they might never learn the truth. They say Bressler was the man killed in a trooper-involved shooting.
Kentucky State Police have not identified the person they are calling a "suspect." While the agency investigates the incident in Grant County, Bressler’s cousin said he worries about the integrity of a KSP investigation into its own troopers.
"Maybe things can get lost or missing," Edward Howell said. “Maybe they won’t try to prosecute one of their own. I just think it needs to be in somebody else’s hands on the investigation…I’m very upset about that. That’s how things get swept under the rug.”
Howell lives in Arkansas and has been communicating with Bressler’s wife, Heather, and other family members who still live in Kentucky. According to Howell, Bressler's wife was outside with three of the couple's kids as KSP troopers shot and killed her husband on the front lawn.
“She looked out the window as Gary was walking around the car and they just started shooting,” said Howell, who is speaking on behalf of the family. “They shot him three times.”
According to a KSP spokesperson, troopers from Post 6 were responding to a 911 call on Chipman Ridge Road in Williamstown early Wednesday morning when a trooper-involved shooting around 1:45 left one man dead.
Bressler’s family says he was the person who called 911. They think he might have been suffering a mental health crisis and was looking for help. Bressler's wife tells us he was holding a sword. Based on her account, troopers got out of their vehicle and asked him to drop the sword once, then immediately started firing.
WCPO has asked KSP multiple times how many troopers initially responded, whether that “suspect” was armed and how many troopers fired their service weapons. KSP is not releasing further details until “vital witnesses have been interviewed and pertinent facts gathered,” according to a statement.
In Kentucky, the state police have jurisdiction to investigate any officer-involved shootings, including their own. The KSP Critical Incident Response Team responded to the scene in Grant County and is now handling the investigation.
The practice of law enforcement agencies investigating officer-involved shootings committed by their own personnel is becoming rare. In 2020, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine instructed the Ohio State Highway Patrol to bring in outside, independent investigators for all trooper-involved shootings. The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office has a similar policy. In Ohio, these kinds of investigations are often turned over to the Attorney General’s office and his Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
This is not a practice required by Ohio law, however. The Cincinnati Police Department firearms discharge policy does not call for any outside investigatory involvement for shots fired at individuals.
“We are committed to full and fair investigations of every officer-involved shooting, including those involving the Kentucky State Police,” Kerry Harvey, Kentucky’s Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary said in a statement. “ We will always commit appropriate resources to see that a thorough, objective investigation is done in each and every case. We are satisfied that at present we have the right resources to continue to fulfill our commitment to thoroughly and fairly investigate every case.”
KSP is an agency within the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. A cabinet spokesperson further defended this practice by explaining that “KSP has vast knowledge and experience, as well as additional technology and resources not readily available to all local law enforcement, that further assist with these investigations.”
Howell was surprised to find out this was the standard procedure in Kentucky.
“I thought that was a little weird that an outside agency doesn’t do the investigation, [that] it’s through their own department,” he said.
According to a report from The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the criminal justice system, KSP troopers shot and killed at least 41 people from 2015 through 2020. The report, which analyzed data compiled by the Washington Post in partnership with the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, also showed KSP killed more people in rural communities than any department nationwide and no trooper was prosecuted for involvement in any of those 41 deaths.
For Howell, another major red flag is the lack of body camera footage. Kentucky State Police does not currently equip troopers with body cameras, although plans to do so are in the works.
“My administration believes in transparency,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said in a statement to WCPO 9 News. “I believe that body cameras can provide protection to law enforcement officers by documenting exactly what happened during a situation.”
Beshear and KSP Commissioner Phillip Burnett Jr. said they are working with the Office of the State Budget Director to request pay increases and funds for body cameras in the upcoming fiscal year.
“Recording devices increase officer safety, while strengthening transparency when responding to calls for services,” Commissioner Burnett said in a statement.
Ohio and Indiana have both recently started to equip state police personnel with body cameras under certain circumstances, but plans for KSP to get body cameras in the future won’t help Bressler’s family get answers today. Howell says he’s remembering his cousin as a great father and loving member of the family.
“He was a good guy, always cracking jokes,” Howell said. “An awesome dad to his kids. Him and his wife had been married for 15 years or better. He was just a real good guy, always working.”