WGHS Student

Katie N. Key Killed

After Being Stalked

The parents of a West Greene High student who died during a hostage situation on Jan. 16, 2007, at the 107 Cutoff residence of her mother have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Greene County Sheriff Steve Burns and several of his deputies in connection with the incident.

Knoxville attorney John E. Eldridge filed the suit in Greene County Circuit Court on Friday, Jan. 11, on behalf of Tammy Fellers and Gary Key, next-of-kin of Katie Nicole Key, 17.

The suit asks that a jury trial be held and that the plaintiffs be awarded "the statutory maximum compensatory damages" from the sheriff's department and the Greene County government.

It also asks that the plaintiffs be awarded $500,000 for each of the officers named in the suit.

Katie Key, a West Greene High School senior, was shot to death early Jan. 16, 2007, during an armed standoff between Greene County sheriff's deputies and 29-year-old Jason Lynn McCamey, who had allegedly broken into her stepfather's residence off the 107 Cutoff and was holding her at gunpoint in a second-floor bedroom.

Sheriff Comments

Sheriff Steve Burns told a Greeneville Sun reporter on Saturday that he had been served on Friday with a copy of the lawsuit.

While saying that he could not comment on specifics of the lawsuit, Burns did say that he hopes members of the public will not draw any conclusions until they after hear "both sides" of the case.

Describing the events of Jan. 16, 2007, as a "tragedy," Burns said his sympathy goes out to the families of both Katie Key and Jason McCamey. He also said he believes the Sheriff's Department did everything possible to peacefully resolve the Jan. 16, 2007, hostage situation.

Burns said he expects that the allegations made in the lawsuit will be refuted when an answer to the lawsuit's complaint is filed.

Lawsuit's Allegation

The lawsuit names as defendants Sheriff Burns, "in his official capacity;" Officer (Capt.) John Huffine, "individually and in his official capacity;" Officer (Det. Sgt.) Mike Fincher, "individually and in his official capacities;" "Unknown John Doe Officers of the Greene County Sheriff's Department individually and in their official capacities;" the Greene County Sheriff's Department and Greene County, Tennessee.

"This action is also pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) 8-8-302 for damages for the wrongful death of Katie Key as a result of the misconduct of Greene County Sheriff's Department officers ... ."

The complaint notes that Tammy Fellers and Gary Key are residents of Greene County and the "natural parents" and next-of-kin of Katie Key.

The Greene County Sheriff's Department is part of Greene County, Tennessee, a governmental entity under the Governmental Tort Liability Act ... , according to the lawsuit's complaint.

"On Jan. 16, 2007, at approximately 2 a.m. at the residence of Tammy Fellers, Katie Key was killed by a single shotgun blast at the hands of Jason McCamey," the complaint says.

At about 10 p.m. the previous day (Jan. 15, 2007), Jason McCamey had entered the residence of Tammy Fellers "by blasting the back door out with the discharge of a shotgun," the complaint states.

"Katie Key, immediately called 911 while hiding herself in an upstairs bedroom closed," the complaint said. "It was a room from which she would never escape.

"The Greene County Sheriff's Department responded to Katie Key's 911 call, but failed to take appropriate action. The response from the Greene County Sheriff's Department was led by the sheriff, himself, Steve Burns.

"The actions, or inactions, of Sheriff Burns and the other members of the Greene County Sheriff's Department were the actual and legal cause of Katie Key's death," the complaint states.

Failures Alleged

The complaint also lists a series of "actions or inactions" by the Sheriff's Department that it alleges contributed to Katie Key's death.

"Among the defendant's actions, or inactions, which led to the foreseeable death of Katie Key was the failure to investigate and arrest Mr. McCamey despite their affirmative undertakings on behalf of Katie Key and their knowledge of probable cause to arrest Mr. McCamey without a warrant on several charges; the failure to properly secure and/or control the crime scene and hostage situation; and the failure to provide adequate officer support and or engage the services of a special response team to properly handle the foreseeable risk presented by the hostage situation."

Complaint Describes Events

The lawsuit's complaint said that Katie Key was a senior at West Greene High at the time of her death and had begun dating Jason McCamey, then 29, during the fall of 2006.

"After her parents found out, they tried to dissuade her from further contact with Jason McCamey," the complaint says. "Little by little, Katie Key came to her senses and ultimately tried to end the relationship. In so doing, she sought the assistance of the Greene County Sheriff's Department on numerous occasions leading up to her death.

"Unfortunately, Katie Key's reliance on the defendants to fulfill their duty to protect her led to her untimely death."

On Jan. 6, 2007, according to the complaint, as Katie Key was leaving a restaurant, Mr. McCamey jumped into her car uninvited and refused to get out.

"The incident resulted in violence when McCamey kicked Katie Key's vehicle dash in, slapped her and pulled her hair," the complaint said. "The Greene County Sheriff's Department responded to the 911 call, but did nothing and Jason McCamey fled on foot with no chase."

Events Recounted

The same evening, according to the complaint, Katie Key received a message from McCamey indicating that he was outside her house and was watching her.

"Upon her call for assistance, a Sheriff's Department unit was dispatched to the residence with a police dog," the complaint said. "Miss Key told the officers about the vehicle incident that night and the dangerousness of Mr. McCamey, and that she believed him to be somewhere on the property. Officers never used the dog to search for Mr. McCamey and left.

"The next morning, Katie Key found evidence that someone had slept in the barn behind the house," the complaint said. "Later that day, she received a text message from Mr. McCamey saying he had slept in the barn out back.

"The next day, Jan. 7, 2007, Tammy Fellers, Katie Key's mother, received two text messages with sexually explicit photographs of her daughter, Katie, on her cellular telephone, sent by Jason McCamey," according to the complaint.

On Jan. 8, 2007, according to the lawsuit's complaint, Katie Key and her mother spoke with Sheriff's Department Officers Mike Fincher and John Huffine about McCamey.

"After interviewing Katie and her mother, the officers asked that Katie return on Jan. 10 and provide them with whatever evidence she had on Mr. McCamey," the complaint said.

On Jan. 10, 2007, Katie Key met with Capt. Huffine and made a statement in an effort to lodge specific complaints regarding McCamey, according to the complaint.

"At that time, Katie provided officers with substantial evidence against Mr. McCamey, including the cellular phone with the sexually explicit photographs, MySpace communications, electronic mail messages and diary entries," the complaint said. "At that point Katie Key emphatically told the officers that she was scared of Jason McCamey and needed their assistance in protecting her from his stalking. The defendant officers told Miss Key, and her mother, that warrants for Mr. McCamey's arrest would immediately [be] issue[d] pursuant to their complaints."

The complaint alleges that the Sheriff's Department officers had "a special duty" to protect Katie Key after she came forward with evidence against McCamey.

"Katie Key and her parents provided the officers with an abundance of probable cause to arrest Mr. McCamey for stalking, child pornography and violation of the age of consent," the complaint states.

It also alleges that the Sheriff's Department, under state law, was authorized to arrest McCamey without a warrant "based on the stalking and child-pornography evidence" and should have known of the risk that McCamey would "commit acts of serious bodily harm against Katie Key."

On the night of Jan. 15, 2007, after Katie Key called 911, Sheriff's Department officers responded and found the rear door of the home shattered and a shotgun shell and broken glass on the porch.

"Upon entering the kitchen, officers heard a lot of noise in the upstairs area of the home," the complaint said. "As they began (to move) up the stairs, they made contact with Mr. McCamey, who stated that he had a hostage and two weapons. Officers retreated and pandemonium ensued.

"Four hours later, on Jan. 16, Mr. McCamey shot and killed Katie Key, then killed himself," the lawsuit states.

The complaint concludes that the Greene County Sheriff's Department had a duty to protect Katie Key.

"... the plaintiffs allege that had the sheriff, the sheriff's department and the John Doe officers involved not been negligent and/or grossly negligent and/or reckless in their response to the distress call, Katie Key would be alive today."

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