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Family of Desman LaDuke struggles to find answers in the wake of his death

A screenshot of a press release regarding the death of Desman LaDuke
A screenshot of a press release regarding the death of Desman LaDuke

The death of 22-year-old Desman LaDuke continues to draw scrutiny as family members question whether everything was done to avoid the tragic outcome of what they describe as a “mental health crisis.”

LaDuke was laid to rest over the weekend, but the pain — and the questions surrounding the Nicholasville man’s death — remain raw.

The family says they called emergency services on October 22 as LaDuke was struggling with suicidal ideations. Police responded to the call and began negotiations with the young man, but after about two hours the talks appeared to fall apart as police say LaDuke came to a rear window pointing two handguns.

A neighbor told LEX18 a police command – “drop your weapon, we don’t want to hurt you” – was heard. But then, as a brief video shot by Sam Aguilar reportedly shows, a shot rings out as a group of officers is assembled by a nearby house.

It’s a moment LaDuke’s aunt Melissa Marks told ABC36 she felt could have been avoided.

"The minute the emergency response team showed up, they came there for a reason," Marks told the station. "And it wasn't get him out of there."

But police said in a statement that despite repeated pleas and orders for him to stop and drop the weapons, LaDuke “ultimately aimed both handguns at the nearby officers.” They also say the negotiators were trained in responding to mental health issues.

But the family and the NAACP are asking for more.

"We're demanding that the police department and the shooter be held accountable for these actions," the group's Whit Whitaker said.

The NAACP is calling for an independent investigator and a mental health liaison who could be on the scene at crisis interventions.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.