Family, Spencer settle lawsuit over shooting death

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 20, 2012

By Shavonne Potts
SPENCER — The family of Christopher Dupree Kluttz, a 42-year-old shot dead in his home by a Spencer police officer in 2009, has accepted a $90,000 settlement from the town’s insurance company.
On Feb. 6, 2009, Officer Preston Gene Houpe shot Kluttz three times. The officer said Kluttz came after him with a knife.
Kluttz’s father, Arthur Kluttz, filed suit in February 2011, alleging the officer was negligent. The lawsuit held the town responsible because Houpe was acting as an “agent” of the town.
Arthur Kluttz filed the suit through his attorney, Jake Sussman of Tin, Fulton, Walker & Owen in Charlotte.
Reports at the time of the shooting said Christopher Kluttz had called a suicide hotline. Rowan 911 communications requested an officer check on him, and Houpe responded.
When Houpe got to Christopher Kluttz’s home, Kluttz was intoxicated, but he had calmed down, according to police reports. Houpe left.
When he returned two hours later, Houpe said Kluttz threatened to “kill him” and “everybody” and lunged at him, so Houpe fired at Kluttz.
The lawsuit said town officials knew Christopher Kluttz was suffering from mental illness — depressive and panic disorders, as well as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder — and required medical assistance.
The lawsuit also claimed the police department, at some point before the shooting, had denied Houpe’s application for employment as an officer, “finding him unfit for duty.” It said among other things were “problems in the Defendant Houpe’s prior work experience with at least one other police department.”
Houpe at one time worked for the Statesville Police Department, which dismissed him. He filed a lawsuit against the agency, citing issues including false arrest, slander and wrongful termination. Houpe received a settlement in the case and has since had his record expunged.
Spencer Police Department records show Houpe was hired in February 2007 as a part-time reserve officer. By July of that same year, he began filling in as a temporary full-time officer.
In November 2007, Houpe was hired as a permanent officer. He received a promotion in February 2008 to master police officer.
In May 2008, he requested to become a reserve officer, a position he has maintained since, except for a brief time where he filled in as a full-time officer during a vacancy. He was a full-time officer at the time of the shooting.
Back to scene
The lawsuit said Houpe returned to Christopher Kluttz’s home without notifying Rowan communications and entered without Kluttz’s consent.
Houpe said in a December 2011 deposition he went back as part of routine patrol and Christopher Kluttz invited him in.
Houpe also said he followed protocol and Kluttz left him no choice because he was in “imminent immediate danger” and “had to use deadly force.”
Retired Rowan District Attorney Bill Kenerly released a statement in October 2009 clearing Houpe of any criminal charges. The State Bureau of Investigation looked into the case and found no wrongdoing.
Also during the deposition, Houpe said if he were placed in the same circumstances again, he would do the same thing.
Houpe said he hated that the incident happened and he feels for the Kluttz family.
Houpe and the town of Spencer, through attorney Patrick Flanagan of Cranfill, Sumner & Hartzog of Charlotte, sought in February to dismiss the case.
Before the court reached a decision, Kluttz accepted an offer previously made by the town’s insurance company and released all claims against the defendants, Flanagan said.
On April 6, Arthur Kluttz via his attorney filed a voluntary dismissal with prejudice, meaning he cannot sue again for the same matter.
Not satisfied
His wife, Shirley Kluttz, said the family didn’t sue for the money, but wanted to know the truth.
She said she believes what happened was a “cover-up,” and that the truth lies with the only other person who was there that day — her son.
“The most truthful, honest witness to what really happened is no longer with us,” she said.
“Chris was honest, a compassionate, caring person and did nothing wrong,” Shirley Kluttz said.
Although she and her husband settled the suit, she does not believe justice was received.
“We have not cleared Chris’ name,” she said.
She and the rest of her family will continue to feel the loss, she said, and she is glad she’s old so she doesn’t have to live a long life with the loss.
“Arthur and Shirley Kluttz are pleased that the litigation is done,” said their attorney, “although they continue to mourn the tragic loss of their son, Chris.”
Contact Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.