A Kentucky police officer who was placed on administrative leave for months over a morning he spent praying outside a Louisville abortion clinic while off-duty is suing both the police department and the city.
Officer Matthew Schrenger filed a federal lawsuit on Monday accusing the city of Louisville and the Louisville Metro Police Department of violating his constitutional and civil rights, including his First Amendment rights.
“A quiet, off-duty prayer, on a public sidewalk, resulted in Schrenger being immediately suspended for over four months, stripped of his police powers, and placed under investigation,” the complaint states.
The suit names Police Chief Erika Shields, the Louisville Metro Police Department, Mayor Greg Fischer, and the City of Louisville, Kentucky as defendants.
In the early hours of Saturday, February 20, Schrenger 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 Schrenger 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 Schrenger 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, Schrenger 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. He was locked out of his work computers and relieved of his police vehicle. During the months he was on administrative leave, Schrenger, a 13-year Louisville police veteran, lost a substantial amount of pay, which he relies on to support his wife and four young children.
LMPD sent Schrenger notices of potential violations of LMPD’s Standard Operating Procedures, as well as of 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 Schrenger be allowed to return to work.
Schrenger’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. Those officers were even commended within the force, his legal team claimed.
“It just can’t be allowed that city officials and police chiefs do this sort of thing to really commended, loyal officers,” Matt Heffron, senior counsel at the Thomas More Society, told The Daily Wire.
“You certainly don’t treat them so noticeably different than other officers doing the same thing at approximately the same time,” Heffron said. “That makes pro-life, religious officers as second-class citizens in the police department. That can’t be.”
Heffron said the lawsuit will likely be amended to request injunctive relief, which would mean a court ordering the police department “not to treat officers differently in the future.” If Schrenger wins the case, the city will also have to pay all of his attorney’s fees, Heffron added.
“Officer Matt Schrenger’s real ‘sin’ in the eyes of certain city hierarchy was that his quiet prayer was for the end of abortion,” Heffron said in a press release. “They left his career and his livelihood dangling. Now the city government will face the consequences of their actions, which are illegal under the Civil Rights Act and under the Constitution.”