A Kentucky police officer will return to work after he was placed on administrative leave for four months over a morning he spent praying outside a Louisville abortion clinic in February.
In the early hours of Saturday, February 20, the Louisville Metro Police Department officer, whose name has not been made public, drove to the EMW Women’s Surgical Center and joined his father in praying the rosary outside the clinic. The clinic was not performing abortions that day, according to the officer’s lawyer.
A picture of the officer showing him carrying his firearm near an LMPD cruiser was posted on a Twitter account run by volunteer escorts at the clinic. He was off-duty but wearing his uniform with a coat over it, his attorney said. In March, the abortion clinic released surveillance footage showing the officer pulling up in his cruiser just before 6 a.m., getting out and putting on a jacket, and remaining with another person outside the clinic for about 45 minutes, at one point holding a sign reading, “pray to end abortion.”
Shortly after he started his regular patrol duty that morning, the officer was ordered to return to his division’s office and was placed on administrative leave with pay, meaning he was prohibited from making arrests, working cases, or working overtime hours. During the months he was on administrative leave, the officer lost a substantial amount of pay, which he relies on to support his wife and four young children.
LMPD sent the officer notices of potential violations of LMPD’s Standard Operating Procedures, as well as a Kentucky law.
The Thomas More Society, which represents the officer, said the law group sent the LMPD a “complete legal analysis” of the allegations and requested that the matter be resolved quickly and that the officer be allowed to return to work.
The officer’s attorneys also said that they discovered through an open-records request to LMPD that the department did not take any disciplinary action against other officers who were on-duty and uniformed when they marched with Black Lives Matter protestors and in LGBT parades.
“They have no grounds at all to even discipline him,” Matt Heffron, senior counsel at the Thomas More Society, told The Daily Wire.
“It’s been four months now, and the police department has just been letting him twist on the vine,” Heffron said.
The attorney criticized the LMPD for “letting the procedure drag on and on as a form of implicit punishment,” and suggested the department could be “politically motivated.”
“They have implicitly punished him for praying,” Heffron said. “Why would you do that to a loyal officer who’s never had any discipline problems, [and] gotten several commendations?”
The LMPD did not respond to a request for comment on why the investigation took four months to complete.
The abortion clinic said in a statement that “the officer engaged in political activity while in uniform and carrying his service weapon on a main thoroughfare in downtown Louisville. This conduct undermines public trust and confidence in LMPD and intimidates patients and care providers.”
During a March 2 meeting of the Louisville Metro Council’s Oversight and Audit Committee, LMPD Chief Erika Shields confirmed that an internal investigation had been opened into the officer’s conduct, but suggested that the policies pertaining to this type of incident are not clear enough.
One council member told Shields during the meeting that the incident “makes this particular community see LMPD as an enemy, quite frankly” and asked whether Shields would be willing to appoint an officer as a “liaison” to the clinic.
“Even the fact that we’re dealing with these allegations is a huge breach of trust,” Councilwoman Cassie Chambers Armstrong said.
Another council member wondered whether officers’ “political beliefs come into play as far as them being able to carry out and enforce laws on that public sidewalk.”
“We know that the officer was protesting. We know that there was some sort of bias at play here. And we also know that people have been harassed at this clinic,” Councilman Jecorey Arthur said.
Shields responded, “For some of you it’s viewed as bias, and for others it’s viewed as prayer. And so that’s where as an employer, it’s not black and white. And the policies have to be written in such a manner so that the subjectivity is taken away.”
However, she said, “It is imperative that our officers do not immerse themselves in any action that can be deemed political because we’ve lost all credibility at that point.”
Councilwoman Paula McCraney said she had visited the clinic when there were protesters present and that some were harassing people and “making people feel less than a human.”
“I’m sick and tired of it,” McCraney said, adding that she helped a woman who was there for an abortion. “It is humanity that we are referring to.”
Chairman Brent Ackerson told the police chief that he hoped the investigation would not “drag on forever.”
“There’s no reason that this file should take any time at all,” Shields said. “I’ll give it a couple of months.”
Shields is the fourth police chief to lead the LMPD since the death of Breonna Taylor in March of last year, which prompted the city to devolve into riots. She previously resigned as Atlanta’s police chief two days after a police officer fatally shot Rayshard Brooks, after which riots in Atlanta erupted.
Last month, the Louisville city council approved legislation to allow abortion clinics to enforce a 10-foot buffer zone outside the entrance as a foil to pro-life protesters attempting to approach a person entering or leaving the clinic.
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