Soldier, charged with assault, says tape proves she's the victim
By TOM JACKMAN | The Washington Post | Published: April 15, 2019
The incident was described by the local police as just another road rage case that ended in violence. On a highway outside Fort Knox in western Kentucky, two women reportedly became embroiled in an argument while driving and stopped at a gas station. Then one woman stabbed the other in the leg.
The assailant was identified in an email to local news media as Sgt. 1st Class Kai Waters, 33, of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. She was charged with second-degree assault, and from her mug shot it was clear: She is a soldier.
Soon after, a local TV station ran a story lauding the heroism of one of the responding officers, who reportedly saved the stabbing victim's life by tying a tourniquet around her leg as she bled. The local chamber of commerce gave the officer an award.
To Waters, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was all too much. She said she was the victim of a bizarre attack after an unknown driver tailgated her for eight miles as she drove away from Fort Knox, bumped her from behind, then pulled up next to her at a light and called her a "black b----" and said she didn't like "your kind." Waters said she drove to the nearest gas station and dialed 911, but the other driver pulled in behind her and attacked her while Waters spoke to the police call-taker.
Waters said she reached for a ceremonial knife she'd received from her troops at her previous post, and used it in self-defense to stab the woman in the leg. She climbed out of her car and, a surveillance videotape shows, fended off repeated forays by the older woman with shoves and kicks. Then, to what Waters said was her great relief, the Elizabethtown police arrived.
And the officers immediately handcuffed the sergeant and placed her in the back of a squad car, Waters said. She said the officers wouldn't listen to her story, didn't review the surveillance tape or her 911 call, wouldn't allow her to see a lawyer when she asked for one, then tossed her in the Hardin County Jail on a Friday night, where she couldn't appear before a judge until Monday. When she did appear before a judge, he ordered her to post $10,000 bond, undergo psychiatric examination and be confined to Fort Knox, although she lived in her own townhouse in Elizabethtown.
"Since the day this incident happened," Waters said in an interview, "it pretty much has ruined my life." Since enlisting in 2003, the one-time drill sergeant has "loved my job in the military. But I know for a fact my whole career is never going to be the same." She has lost her position as a chemical, biological and radiological nuclear specialist. "There's no coming back from this."
But Waters hasn't given up. She launched a GoFundMe page to try to raise $10,000, and has already raised $11,000. She posted the surveillance video of the gas station incident on her Facebook page, and her detailed recounting of the incident has racked up more than 340,000 page views. And she plans to testify before a Hardin County grand jury on Thursday, in hopes that the case will be dismissed. She could still, then, face Army discipline.
Elizabethtown Police Chief Jamie Land said the case "has created quite the buzz, unfortunately. I understand her side of it. A lot of people are getting emotional about it."
Land didn't want to discuss details of a pending case, but he said: "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," but he declined to elaborate.
Shane Young, the Hardin County prosecuting attorney, said he had seen the surveillance tape and listened to Waters's 911 call, but couldn't comment on the merits of the case. In Kentucky, prosecutors do not receive felony cases until after a county attorney has taken it through the preliminary hearing stage, and Young said he did not have the discretion to dismiss a case even if he wanted to.
As a result, Young said, he allows defendants to testify before grand juries if they want to do so, and in Waters's case, "My plan is to give them [the grand jury] everything. I'm going to show them everything I've got and let them be fully informed and make a decision."
The complainant in the case, a 58-year-old Elizabethtown woman, did not return a phone call seeking comment. She told Louisville's WAVE 3-TV reporter Connie Leonard that she wanted to tell her side of the story, but that because she was a witness, her attorney had advised her to wait.
Waters is not waiting. The Chicago native wants the world to know she was the victim in the case. She said her drive out of Fort Knox, shortly after 5 p.m. on Feb. 22, should have been a pleasant 20-minute trip to her home in an upscale part of Elizabethtown. But almost immediately, the other car was closely behind her. "She was pretty much butt-to-butt the whole time," Waters said. "She even hit my car once," and photos show gray paint on Waters's rear bumper.
At a large intersection, the other driver pulled alongside her and "she started flipping me off," Waters said. "I returned the favor. I asked if she was OK, if she had a problem. That's when she called me a black b---- and said something about 'your kind.' She said, 'You need to pull over right here right now so I can beat your ass.'"
Waters took out her phone and dialed 911. She said she did not do anything to start the hostilities, and was obeying the rules of the road. She pulled into the gas station while speaking to the police call taker, and the other woman pulled in behind her.
"I thought, 'This woman is about to kill me,'" Waters said. "Now she's right at my vehicle. I didn't know what to do at that point." She told the woman, "You know I'm on the phone with the police. That's when she attacked me."
Waters said she reached for the engraved ceremonial knife she'd gotten from soldiers she'd commanded as a drill sergeant at Fort Drum, and doesn't know when she stabbed the other woman. It does not appear to happen after Waters gets out of her car, while the video shows her repeatedly fending off and then kicking the other woman.
"The whole time I'm on the phone with the 911 operator," Waters said. "I thought that would deter her, but she just kept coming at me."
Finally, the video shows the other woman stopping and going to her car. Waters then runs to read her license plate number to the 911 operator.
The police arrive. And Waters was immediately arrested.
Waters's lawyer, Jeremy Aldridge, said he understood how officers arriving on the scene to find a bleeding woman, and a woman holding a knife, would initially arrest the woman holding the knife. "But I cannot explain," Aldridge said, "and am embarrassed to be part of a county that watches the video, sees this, and they haven't dismissed the case."
Waters and Aldridge were not able to see the video until after her preliminary hearing on March 8. Aldridge said he agreed to waive the preliminary hearing, and send the case to the grand jury, in exchange for receiving the tape from Hardin County prosecutors. He and Waters still have not heard the tape of her 911 call.
"She's attacked while she's sitting in her car," Aldridge said. "Anything she does after that is justified under the Castle doctrine [of self defense], or the common law of self-defense."
Waters said her "company chain of command and leadership have been overwhelmingly supportive."
Waters's commanding officer at Fort Knox, Lt. Col. Alicia Masson, said in a statement that Waters is "a trusted leader and this turn of events is in total contradiction to her performance and character. I understand the police department has a job to do, but now that the truth is seen by video that our soldier was attacked, I hope there will be swift correction to this situation and her rights returned. I stand behind her and am anxious for justice."