Grand jury dismisses assault charge against Army sergeant in road rage case
By TOM JACKMAN | The Washington Post | Published: April 18, 2019
A grand jury in Hardin County, Ky., dismissed a felony assault charge against an Army sergeant involved in a February road rage incident, after watching a surveillance video of the incident and hearing testimony from the sergeant and the other driver on Thursday.
Police in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, had obtained a second-degree assault charge against Sgt. 1st Class Kai Waters, 33. The charge carries a minimum five-year prison sentence with conviction. Waters said that she was acting in self-defense and that she was pleased with the grand jury's actions, though she said she still had work to do to restore her military career. She testified before the grand jury on Thursday morning and said afterward, "I was happy they allowed me to speak and give my side of the story, and happy they were able to see the evidence and make the best decision for my case."
Waters, a 15-year veteran with combat tours of Afghanistan and Iraq and a clean military record, told The Washington Post last week that she had driven off the post at Fort Knox toward her home in Elizabethtown when another motorist began aggressively tailgating her, then bumped her car from behind over an 8-mile stretch of highway in western Kentucky. At a stoplight, Waters said, the other driver called her a "black b----," said she didn't like "your kind" and challenged her to a fight.
Waters dialed 911 and pulled into the nearest gas station. While still on the phone with Elizabethtown police, Waters said, the white driver pulled in behind her, ran over to her car and attacked her. Surveillance video from the gas station shows Waters screaming at the other driver and fending her off, while maintaining her phone connection with police. At some point in the confrontation, Waters said, she grabbed a ceremonial knife given to her by soldiers from her previous posting and stabbed the other driver in the leg.
When Elizabethtown police arrived, they arrested Waters. She spent the next three nights in the county jail. When she was released, a judge ordered her to post a $10,000 bond, undergo psychiatric evaluation and remain confined to Fort Knox, though she lived in her own home. An officer who provided first aid to the other driver was credited with saving her life and given an award by the local chamber of commerce. The charge of second-degree assault filed against Waters carries a minimum five-year prison sentence and a maximum of 10 years.
In March, Waters and her attorney, Jeremy Aldridge, obtained the gas station surveillance video from prosecutors, though not the recording of the 911 call Waters made. With the support of her superior officers at Fort Knox, Waters posted the video and a detailed account of the event on Facebook and launched a GoFundMe page to raise $10,000 for her legal costs. The page swiftly raised $15,000 in pledges.
Waters said the officers at the scene did not seem interested in her side of the story, that she was denied access to an attorney once taken to the police station and that a detective asked her what she was doing in that part of town, which is an upscale area.
Elizabethtown Police Chief Jamie Land has said race had nothing to do with his officers' decision to charge Waters and not the other woman. He did not want to discuss the case while it was pending, but he told The Washington Post, "It's not as cut and dried as Ms. Waters is making it appear. The story she's presenting is not exactly the complete truth." Land added, "This did not start at the gas station parking lot."
Land did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Hardin County Commonwealth's Attorney Shane Young said last week that he was not involved in the charging decision, and prosecutors in Kentucky do not handle felony cases until after they've been through a preliminary hearing and certified to circuit court. Young told The Post he would present all the evidence to the grand jury, allow Waters to testify and let the jurors make a decision on whom to charge.
Young said Thursday that in addition to the Waters and the other driver, the Elizabethtown officer who investigated the case testified. He said the other driver "has not been charged yet." Initial charges are typically handled by the county attorney, not the commonwealth's attorney.
Aldridge, Waters' attorney, said, "I'm pleased that Hardin County's grand jury got it right, even when the police might not have, and the justice system worked in this particular case." Aldridge said he would resubmit Waters' complaint to the county attorney's office "in the hopes they charge" the other driver.
Waters said she was not focused on either a criminal or civil case involving the other driver, a 58-year-old Elizabethtown woman.
"I have no hard feelings for her," Waters said. "I just pray for her that she gets help. I think she was just going through some stuff and I'm just happy that this is over with."
The other driver has declined comment on the case and told WAVE 3 News that she could not comment while the case was pending.
Waters said she was going to work on restoring her military career after she lost her security clearance and her job as a chemical, biological and radiological nuclear specialist following her arrest.
"It's not really over for me," Waters said. "I've still got to work on fixing my records and my security clearance."
"No matter the outcome," Waters said, "my life will be forever altered by this situation." She said she hoped Hardin County would consider filing charges against the other driver.
"I just want her to be held accountable for her actions," Waters said, "but I do forgive her for what she's done."