Letcher County jail evacuates after flood cuts off running water Friday, Jul 29 2022 

Brown flood water inundates the streets of Hindman, Ky. in Knott County. Water comes up a few feet from the ground.

Katie Myers

Downtown Whitesburg, Ky., in Letcher Co., sees devastating floods after heavy rain in late July.

The Kentucky Department of Corrections evacuated 117 people held at the Letcher County Jail after intense flooding in the area cut off the facility’s access to running water.

Letcher County jailer Bert Slone said the water crested a few hundred feet from the jail, but much of town could be without water for two weeks.

Gov. Andy Beshear has confirmed 16 flood related deaths so far, with more deaths expected in the coming days. 

The incarcerated people held at the jail didn’t have a chance to tell loved ones on the outside where they were headed, Slone said, but that they will be able to make phone calls once they’ve arrived at another Department of Corrections facility. Corrections officials have not yet responded to a request for comment or to confirm where the evacuees were headed.

“One of the hardest things to do is to put yourself in the place of a parent, an uncle an aunt a brother or sister that you could have someone in a jail and somebody would move them and not tell you anything about it,” Slone said, but added that the Department of Corrections doesn’t release transportation information ahead of time for security reasons. “We’ve talked to a lot of family members today and tried to explain why we moved them.”

Jails are required to provide hot and cold running water as well as at least one water fountain, according to Kentucky’s jail standards. Letcher County jail staff brought in bottled water, but they asked the Department of Corrections to transport the people held there because they didn’t expect the water to be restored for weeks.

The North Fork of the Kentucky River winds back and forth between Slone’s house in the Upper Bottom part of town and Letcher County’s jail and courthouse on Main Street, less than a mile away. Slone’s brother pulled in the driveway early Thursday morning to warn that a flood was coming.

Slone went inside to gather his family. He said it only felt like a couple of minutes had passed, but when he went back outside the truck was gone and the water had already surrounded the house, trapping the family inside.

Cellular service was down as well, so Slone communicated with jail staff using Facebook messenger and contacted the state to start arranging for an evacuation.

The water receded enough for Slone to get to the jail around 5 p.m. Thursday. Department of Corrections staff from all over the state started gathering to help transport the 117 people held in the jail, with the first convoy carrying incarcerated women leaving around 1 a.m. Friday morning. The last of three transportation convoys left the jail around noon, Slone said.

The whole town has been assessing the damage, including Slone’s staff. 

“I just had a guard come in the door, and his family lost their home. I hadn’t seen him for several days,” Slone said.

Flood waters have disrupted running water across the region, according to Mark Lewis, the general manager of the Letcher County Water and Sewer District, a water distributor that buys water from nearby sources, including the city-run water plant that supplies water to the jail. 

Lewis said the county’s water and sewer district services more than 3,000 customers and purchases water from Knott County Water, City of Jenkins and the City of Whitesburg. Lewis said the Letcher County district was assessing damage to their distribution systems, but they couldn’t get water flowing again until the other water sources start supplying water again.

“We are kind of at the mercy of the other entities, they have to have water to provide to us,” Lewis said.

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Incarcerated people pay more as inflation hits Kentucky prison stores Thursday, Jul 28 2022 

The Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, Kentucky.

Department of Corrections

The Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, Kentucky.

Savvy Shabazz sets aside money every month for loved ones serving time, so they can buy toothpaste, soap, food and other essentials from prison commissaries.

Shabazz, who served five years in Kentucky state prisons from 2002 to 2007 before he founded the Life Coach Each One Teach One Reentry Fellowship, remembers the frustration of lacking basic goods behind bars and the burden of paying more at prison stores than he would on the outside.

“[Lacking essentials] can cause a lot of frustration, it can cause a lot of tension,” Shabazz said. “One thing that I do understand from my previous incarceration is that if you put people’s backs against the wall, they’ll come out fighting.”

He knows the incarcerated people he supports need even more help now, because shopping at the Kentucky Department of Corrections just got a lot more expensive.

Keefe Group, the private contractor operating prison commissaries in Kentucky, increased prices by 7.2% on July 1 with approval from the corrections department. Keefe did not respond to requests for comment. But a corrections department spokesperson attributed the price jump to inflation, which hit 9.1% in June.

“This increase in canteen prices is not unlike the price increases currently experienced by the general public in purchasing food and hygiene items,” department spokesperson Katherine Williams wrote in an email. 

The corrections department splits revenue from commissary sales with Keefe, earning 22% commission on sales from prison stores (known as canteens) and vending sales, plus 15% on visitor area vending sales, according to a copy of the state’s contract with the Keefe that KyCIR obtained via records requests.

The state awarded Keefe the contract in 2014 on a two-year term and has renewed the agreement three times since then. Keefe, which serves over 650,000 incarcerated people weekly across more than a dozen states, according to their website, receives exclusive rights to sell within Kentucky prisons and does not receive money directly from the corrections department under the contract, which expires July 28.

The contract is now out to bid, according to the corrections department, and no information about proposed prices will be released until the new contract is awarded.

The recent increase is the biggest price hike since the agreement began and comes as an addendum to the company’s deal with Kentucky signed on June 22 by correctional officials. Commissary prices went up by 2% in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

Prison commissary goods are typically marked up compared to retail store prices. A 3-ounce Speed Stick deodorant costs $1.98 at the Louisville Walmart Supercenter but $4.52 at prison stores. Now, after the price increase in July, the same deodorant stick costs $4.84 – or 32 cents more. 

A stick of deodorant for $4.84 may not sound like much, but to some incarcerated people making 48 cents a day, that’s worth as much as 40 hours of prison labor. Shabazz said incarcerated people have few options to adjust to price increases.

“It's hard enough dealing with inflation when you're not incarcerated, but to be incarcerated–you're limited,” Shabazz said. “We have a lot of different ways to manage: we can go get an extra job, we can go pick up some extra hours. People who are incarcerated, they can't do that.”

When wages aren't enough, and when loved ones can't help, incarcerated people who lack money for commissary are often forced to either find another way to come up with the funds or go without.

A 2018 article published in Qualitative Sociology titled “Ramen Politics: Informal Money and Logics of Resistance in the Contemporary American Prison” found packets of ramen has become an inter-prison currency within some facilities. Some people “literally sell the clothes off their backs” for ramen, while others incurred debt from other incarcerated people with a personal stock.

Shabazz said some incarcerated people resort to crime in order to get what they need to survive, or protect what little they already have.

Many incarcerated people do hold jobs at the Department of Corrections, but Shabazz said prison wages are not enough for incarcerated people to support themselves. Incarcerated workers can make anywhere between 48 cents to $2.42 a day, depending on the specific job and if they’re also receiving time credit off their sentences for working. People getting time off their sentences in exchange for work earn less.

Savvy Shabazz served five years in Kentucky state prisons before starting the Life Coach Each One Teach One Reentry Fellowship.

Shabazz recalled working a construction job in prison, where he and others were tasked with building renovations for a national organization for 63 cents a day.

“It was harsh temperatures. I worked there during the winter, I worked there during the summer,” Shabazz said. “And for the individuals that we worked with that were coming in as contractors, they were getting paid $25 or $30 per hour.”

In 2020, roughly 28% of Kentucky’s prison population, 3,566 people, worked an excess of 5.5 million hours in prison labor, according to the Department of Corrections 2020 Annual Report.

The workers received just over $570,524 in compensation, while the counties that used them saved more than $40 million in estimated labor costs, because the workers are paid so little.

Meanwhile, more than $9.1 million was spent on commissary items in Kentucky prisons between January and July alone, calculated by adding the totals of corrections department sales reports.

Kentucky law requires all canteen commissions be used “exclusively for the benefit of the inmates of the department.” In 2020, roughly $1.7 million in commissary revenue was spent on life skills training and reentry programs, according to the corrections department.

KyCIR requested a breakdown of commissary revenue and how it was spent but did not receive it in time for publication.

Mike Wessler, communications director for the Prison Policy Initiative, a criminal justice public policy think tank, said the amount spent on food, medicine and hygiene items shows many prisons are not meeting the basic needs of incarcerated people.

He wrote in an email that by providing meals that lack variety and nutritional value, the corrections department forces people to rely on overpriced commissary food to survive. Various research studies, journal articles, and lawsuits filed over the years have highlighted concerns about the quality and nutritional value of prison food.

Wessler argued that while failing to meet incarcerated peoples’ nutritional needs is bad, allowing a private corporation to profit off incarcerated people is worse. And, he added, “the paltry wages incarcerated people are paid make this system even more troubling.”

 “When you earn pennies an hour doing work that is often forced,” he wrote, “it can literally take days to afford something as simple as a jar of peanut butter.”

Shabazz said while some commissary funds go to help incarcerated people, the department has not made reentry and rehabilitation a priority and allowed funding to flow into private pockets.

“The DOC needs to take responsibility for releasing people into their families and communities unprepared,” Shabazz said.

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Shawnee Park police shooting highlights arrest warrant policy gaps Wednesday, Jul 20 2022 

Shawnee Park Louisville police shooting crime scene.

Stephanie Wolf

Louisville police tape off the scene at Shawnee Park on the evening of July 10, 2022.

As the Louisville Metro Police Department continues investigating the officer-involved shooting at Shawnee Park last week, the department also faces scrutiny from community members who say officers endangered bystanders.

The Dirt Bowl basketball tournament drew hundreds of people to Shawnee Park on July 10. The games were over for the day when officers attempted to arrest 30-year-old Herbert Lee, who was wanted on multiple outstanding warrants, but some of the crowd still lingered. 

Lee allegedly ran from the police and shot at them, hitting one officer’s bulletproof vest, before they returned fire. Lee was shot in the “extremities,” according to LMPD officials, and has since been released from the hospital. He’s now being held on a $1 million cash bond and faces several charges, including attempted murder of a police officer.

“It’s gonna be in the back of my head till the day I die,” said Bruce Sweeney, who was at the scene and coaches a youth basketball team called the Breewayy Warriors, named in honor of Breonna Taylor

“There are kids out here. And they had to see this,” he said. “It sickens me.”

Police officials did not answer questions from KyCIR about their decision to engage Lee at the west Louisville park. 

But the incident highlights broader concerns about how LMPD serves warrants and what precautions officers should take to keep the public safe. KyCIR reviewed the department’s protocols for serving warrants and found no guidelines for how officers should handle arrests in a public setting.

The department’s standard operating procedures require officers to fill out a risk assessment form that is reviewed and approved by a commanding officer before executing a warrant inside a building or residence so officers can consider the safety of the building and weigh the risks of entering. However, the nearly 900-page document mentions nothing about approaching someone in a park, on the sidewalk, or in any public space where other people might be around. 

LMPD isn’t the only police department without a clear policy for handling situations like the one at Shawnee Park last week. But, according to a model arrest policy by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the location, timing and manner of an arrest should be planned carefully “to minimize the danger to officers, suspects and third parties.”

Kungu Njuguna, a policy strategist for ACLU Kentucky, said incidents like the Shawnee Park shooting only increase divides between police and the Black community, especially since this happened after the Dirt Bowl, an event with a longstanding history in the West End. 

“It adds to that generational trauma of distrust and the belief that the police aren’t here to protect us, they’re here to harm us,” he said.

Questions about accountability

LMPD officers gathered at Shawnee Park shortly before attempting to arrest Herbert Lee.

LMPD body camera footage

LMPD officers gathered at Shawnee Park shortly before attempting to arrest Herbert Lee.

The department is conducting an internal investigation of the Shawnee Park incident, despite a previous agreement that Kentucky State Police would investigate all of their officer-involved shootings. Louisville’s newly created Inspector General’s Office also announced an investigation into the shooting.

A department spokesperson said officers were patrolling the tournament when they recognized Lee, who at the time had about a dozen outstanding warrants against him, including theft of a firearm and possession of a handgun by a convicted felon. LMPD Chief Erika Shields said during a press interview shortly after the shooting that officers were “very judicial” to wait until the tournament had ended to serve the warrant. 

But Mike Lawlor, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven, said the officers’ decision to pursue Lee in the park was reckless. Unless the situation was urgent and the person presented an immediate danger to the public, he said LMPD should have waited.  

“The police knew or should have known this guy was carrying a firearm,” Lawlor said. “He had a track record of this. He had known convictions for it.”

If any bystanders had gotten hurt in the shootout, he said the city would likely have a lawsuit on its hands, “and the argument would be that you knew or should have known that it was likely innocent people would be injured here, yet your officers did it anyway.”

Lawlor said there should always be some type of accountability when it comes to serving warrants or pursuing suspects, despite the location. 

“More and more police departments are putting very severe restrictions on high-speed chases and no-knock warrants because they’re just a recipe for disaster,” he said. “Innocent people can get killed.”

Three months after Breonna Taylor was killed by police during a raid on her home in 2020, the Louisville Metro Council voted unanimously to ban no-knock warrants in the city. And this year LMPD reimplemented a policy to reduce deaths and injuries caused by vehicle police chases, after seeing a significant increase in bystander deaths and injuries.

The Shawnee Park shooting didn’t involve a no-knock warrant or a car chase and nobody died in the incident, but it still highlights concerns about when the pursuit of a suspect outweighs the risks — and how unclear protocols and risky decision-making have the potential to end in tragedy.

Community impact and distrust

On July 14, four days after the shooting, police officials released a partial and edited version of the body camera footage from the incident, saying the rest would be available “upon the completion of necessary reductions based on Kentucky open records law.” (Prior to 2020, it was LMPD policy to release body camera footage within 24 hours of a police shooting.)

That evening, activists gathered at the Carl Braden Memorial Center in the Parkland neighborhood for a press conference, where they expressed frustration about the incident – and skepticism about what police claim happened at Shawnee Park. 

“Louisville Metro Police Department, you have failed this city again,” said community activist Chris Will, commenting on the limited footage. “Why would you not show the interaction from the beginning right to the end?”

One activist at the gathering, who goes by A.B., questioned why officers chose to arrest Lee in a public place, “with women and children at a family event.”

“The police was there to protect us,” he said. “Not to add to our trauma to this community and our kids.”

Another activist, Jeff Compton, suggested that officers wouldn’t have approached the situation the same way if it happened in a white community.

“For them to chase him in the middle of the park with kids playing in a family environment … Would you guys do this if it was St. Matthews? Would you do it if it was in Georgetown?” he said. “No, you only want to do it in our communities.”

Editor’s Note: LMPD released full body camera footage of the Shawnee Park shooting on Wednesday, shortly before KyCIR published this story. 

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Louisvillians are dying under house arrest Thursday, Jun 16 2022 

Jackie Wulf holds a picture of her son, Jason Wulf, who died of a drug overdose while on home incarceration in April.

Jared Bennett

Jackie Wulf holds a picture of her son, Jason Wulf, who died of a drug overdose while on home incarceration in April.

Jackie Wulf says her son, Jason Wulf, used to call her pretty much every day.

That is, unless he was using methamphetamine.

So when Jason was held in the Louisville jail this past winter awaiting a court date, his mother suspected something was wrong after the calls became more infrequent.

When they did speak, Jackie asked if he was still participating in the jail’s recovery program.

“He’d say, ‘No mom, there’s more drugs in here than there is out there,’” she said. 

She remembers Jason as a social teenager and a caring son who grew to be a loving father of two boys but always seemed to get caught up with the wrong people.

The family was trying to get Jason the help he needed. He was waiting for the jail to send him to a treatment center for an assessment, but the process was slow, and Jackie believes her son started using again while inside the jail.

Jason Wulf accepted a plea deal on charges of assault and illegal possession of a firearm. He was released from jail in late February and sentenced to home incarceration, also known as electronic monitoring or house arrest, while waiting for a scheduled hip surgery ahead of his prison sentence later this month.

Home incarceration meant Wulf wore an ankle bracelet that tracked his every move and sent alerts to the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections if he strayed from approved routes or lingered outside.

It meant Wulf couldn’t visit his family home in Fairdale, where he grew up, explored the surrounding forests and made crafts out of wood and resin in the garage.

Instead, the terms of home incarceration bound Wulf to the Fern Creek apartment where, a little over a month prior, he overdosed on fentanyl-laced methamphetamine.

“They say, ‘Here’s your rules. This is what you can and cannot do,’ Jackie Wulf said. “Then they let him go right back there where he overdosed. They let him go right back in that situation.”

Wulf suffered another overdose on April 2, shortly after returning to the apartment. This one was fatal. He was 41.

Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Charles Cunningham Jr., who presided over Wulf’s case, declined to answer questions for this story.

Deaths of people in home incarceration seldom receive public attention but have been common in Louisville for years. Forty-six people on home incarceration have died since 2017 in Louisville, including seven in 2022 alone, according to data KyCIR requested from Metro Corrections. Investigations into four of those deaths are pending. But medical examiners determined that 28 people died from overdoses, while three were victims of homicide and one died by suicide. The rest died of natural causes.

Eight people died inside the Louisville jail between November 2021 and March of this year, prompting an administration change and policy reviews. People under home incarceration have died at rates of nearly one every six weeks over the past five years, but judges are assigning people home incarceration more than ever. The deaths of people on home incarceration haven’t prompted the same scrutiny; the program is seen as a positive tool to keep people out of jail.

Marcus Jackson, an ACLU of Kentucky organizer who works on incarceration and sentencing reform, said home incarceration creates a minefield of potential violations that could send an incarcerated person back to jail.

Jackson spent time in a state prison as a young man when he was convicted of injuring someone in a shooting, though Jackson says he wasn't involved in the shooting and witnesses later came forward to confirm his innocence. He applied for home incarceration back then, but the state denied his request because he was serving time for a violent offense.

Now, as an organizer, Jackson sees home incarceration as an alternative not that different from time in jail or prison. Both options overlook more effective alternatives to incarceration for people wrestling with addiction, such as substance abuse treatment or therapy.

“There's no evidence of rehabilitation associated with home incarceration, or incarceration in any form,” Jackson said, adding that this is a missed opportunity to reach people when they may be more open to help.

Home Incarceration at LMPD

Authorities first started using home incarceration on a large scale in the 1970s, and its prevalence has grown as surveillance technology has advanced. The advocacy group MediaJustice estimates that the use of electronic monitoring has grown by 140% in the past decade.

Metro Corrections Major Darrell Goodlett said there’s no record of exactly how many people were put on home incarceration in recent years, but that officers supervise around 700 people in the program daily. That’s up from an average of 571 people in 2021, according to a fact sheet prepared annually by the jail. 

That number includes people sentenced to home incarceration and defendants in criminal cases awaiting trial. 

Home incarceration also comes at a price. Participants pay the jail $10 at enrollment, then $6 a week for supervision, but Goodlett said these fees aren’t enforced and are adjusted depending on income. 

People in jail have a constitutionally protected right to adequate care, although correctional facilities often fail to fulfill those responsibilities. Those incarcerated at home, however, are on their own. In fact, they must sign a document that says that they are “wholly responsible for their own well-being.”

Goodlett said five officers are assigned to home incarceration during the day shift, and their role is limited.

“Our responsibility is to monitor that the person is where they're supposed to be, and not where they're not supposed to be," Goodlett said. 

The terms of Louisville’s home incarceration program outline 20 conditions. Incarcerated people are supposed to remain inside their approved residence at all times, except for corrections-approved trips for things like doctor’s appointments or to and from work.

“Inside means no decks, patios, porches, taking out the trash, etc.,” according to the jail’s terms, which don’t mention rules regarding visitors.

Signals from the GPS monitor can be used as evidence of a violation and could send an incarcerated person back to jail. Tampering with the monitoring device is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Jeffrey Hudson of Louisville wears a GPS monitor as part of the terms of home incarceration.

Jared Bennett

Jeffrey Hudson of Louisville wears a GPS monitor as part of the terms of home incarceration.

Goodlett said the only requirement for a suitable dwelling for home incarceration is a working landline or cell phone, so the incarcerated person can contact officers at the jail.

One of the home incarceration deaths included in jail records was that of a man confined to a home with no electricity or heat that investigators said he was “rehabbing.” The man was found dead on a mattress on the living room floor after an apparent overdose in December.

James Kilgore was on home incarceration for a year after his release from prison in 2009. Kilgore, a researcher and advocate who has chronicled home incarceration’s growth in recent years, said unsuitable living environments are part of the problem with home incarceration.

“There's this assumption that the courts make sure that home is a safe place. That home is somehow going to protect you from all the issues that have landed you in jail,” Kilgore said. “But in fact, for many people home may be the worst place to be. That may be where the root of all their problems is located.”

"A Middle Ground"

Jefferson County District Court Judge Julie Kaelin said judges weigh many factors while deciding if home incarceration is right for someone who shows up in court.

“You're thinking about, what does the person's history show me? And what does their current life situation show me?” Kaelin said. “Are they working? Who do they live with? Do they have a stable place to live? Do they have someone willing to say I will make sure they get back to court?”

Kaelin said that home incarceration is increasingly seen as a positive alternative to putting more in the overcrowded jail. Kaelin remembers a time during her stint as a public defender from 2006 to 2010 when the county regularly ran out of GPS monitors, forcing people who were eligible for electronic monitoring to wait in jail until more devices were available.

“I think that there was a big push to get more because [home incarceration] is seen sort of like a safe haven for when (judges) are not really sure what to do,” Kaelin said.

Kaelin said judges see home incarceration as a middle ground for when they don’t want people to sit in jail, but the person can’t make bail, or the judges suspect the individual won’t come back to court.

Supporters of home incarceration usually assume that if a GPS-monitored individual wasn’t on home incarceration, they’d be in jail.  But that’s not always true.

Because it's seen as a less invasive form of incarceration, Kaelin said that since at least 2020, judges may be putting some people on home incarceration who would otherwise be released without any supervision or jail time.

Although it is often praised as a step towards keeping people out of jail, Weisburd said home incarceration actually expands the footprint of correctional facilities out into the community, said Kate Weisburd, an associate professor at the George Washington University Law School who has studied home incarceration policies.

After reviewing the records from the Louisville jail, Weisburd said the practice appears to be “replicating prison” by placing onerous restrictions on people’s freedom.

“Maybe being on an electronic monitor is not as physically and mentally abusive as being in a jail cell," Weisburd said. "But the fact that so many people are dying while they're on a monitor is a huge red flag that we're getting this very, very wrong.”

In St. Francisville, Louisiana, a grand jury recently brought negligent homicide charges against an ankle device company called American Electronic Monitoring and two of its employees when a man under their supervision murdered his estranged wife.

Sam D’Aquilla, the district attorney for the parish where St. Francisville is located, said the GPS signal on the man’s ankle alerted the company of several violations, including instances when the man drove past the victim’s house despite a restraining order, but the company never notified authorities.

Lawyers have made similar arguments in civil cases in New York against GPS-provider Behavioral Interventions.

SCRAM Systems, the Colorado-based vendor that provides monitoring devices to Louisville, doesn’t directly supervise the people wearing its devices; A spokesperson for the company said jail employees are responsible for the monitoring, and referred questions to the Louisville Department of Corrections.

Goodlett said officers conduct searches and follow up on tips to determine if someone is violating their terms by using drugs or possessing firearms. Still, only five officers are assigned to home incarceration during the day shift, and they are stretched thin.

“We would love to be able to get into those homes and look around more often. It's just really difficult to do that,” Goodlette said. “But we do catch those things.”

Home Incarceration And Treatment

Jeffrey Hudson, 37, believes home incarceration is the best option for him. He’s been incarcerated since February in a house maintained by the Grace and Peace Behavioral Health substance abuse treatment program and is facing charges including burglary and fourth degree assault that Hudson says were driven by his addictions. He can travel to and from program activities during the daytime but otherwise has to have trips cleared by a home incarceration officer a week in advance.

Jeffrey Hudson has been on home incarceration since February. He's been living at a home provided by the Grace and Peace Behavioral Health substance abuse treatment program.

Jeffrey Hudson has been on home incarceration since February. He's been living at a home provided by the Grace and Peace Behavioral Health substance abuse treatment program.

Home incarceration means Hudson misses the little things that would make his newfound sobriety all the more sweet, like seeing his son off to prom, visiting his mom on Mother's Day, and watching the Thunder Over Louisville fireworks with his family. 

"That's one of the barriers of [home incarceration], it's really strict,” Hudson said.

Hudson’s looking forward to July, when the court could decide to remove the ankle bracelet and end his home incarceration.

“It's just gonna just take the weight off,” Hudson said. “Other than that, I get to move around freely and go away and be able to live life.”

Still, when coupled with the treatment program, Hudson said he's happy just to spend another day out of jail.

“This life here, the worst day is way better than my best day when I was getting high,” Hudson said.

But Hudson’s situation is rare. Judge Kaelin said she and other judges sentence people to home incarceration coupled with a treatment plan as part of a “last-ditch effort,” when the individual has run out of options.

People on home incarceration can pursue treatment on their own, but Kaelin said there aren’t enough resources available for everyone who needs help. Kaelin also said some services may require approval from an insurance company or may be provided by a religious institution with rules people in need of treatment can’t follow, so the pool of resources is further diminished.

“It's very easy, I think, for people to say, well, if they really wanted help, they would just go get treatment,” Kaelin said. “And in reality, we are nowhere near having the type of availability that would allow someone who wants treatment to just walk in and get it anytime any day.”

Goodlett said that people on home incarceration are struggling with the same drug crisis that has caused overdose deaths in Louisville to nearly triple since 2015. He said Metro Corrections provides overdose prevention kits including Narcan to newly released people who need treatment or face drug-related charges, and social workers in the jail can help people find a community treatment center.

Kathy Turner, communications director for the Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, said the city is considering extending an opioid addiction treatment program currently offered at the jail to people on home incarceration.

“We want to better understand the barriers to access for individuals, research any best practices that may already be in place across the country that could be replicated, engage with the judicial and legal systems and any other agencies or community partners to understand any barriers to implementation of the service,” Turner said in an email. Turner said that research and expansion requires approval from federal and state regulators and could take another 12 to 16 months to get off the ground.

Ultimately, Jackie Wulf believes her family made the right call pushing for home incarceration for her son Jason, but the decision has troubled her since Jason’s fatal overdose.

She wanted him out of jail, but she never felt comfortable with Jason at the apartment where he had previously struggled with the addiction that eventually killed him.

Wulf said that neither jail nor home incarceration was the solution her son needed.

“Home incarceration should be in a treatment center,” she said. “Not where you allow anybody to walk through the door and bring anything they want in.”

Contact reporter Jared Bennett at jbennett@kycir.org

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Red Flags and Repeat Offenses: A woman’s death shines light on cracks in city’s domestic violence response Monday, May 2 2022 

What began as an argument between Christopher Gordon and Angelica James in November 2020 escalated to a violent assault that police said lasted several minutes. Angry at James for talking to the mechanic working on her car, Gordon tossed her to the ground and beat her with his fists before taking the car, police said. James went to a neighbor’s home to call for help.

When police arrived Gordon sped away down Greenbelt Highway in south Louisville, topping 100mph in less than three miles before the officers got orders to end the chase. 

Gordon was arrested two months later and charged with a felony fourth degree domestic violence assault. Fourth degree assault is usually a misdemeanor, but since Gordon had already been convicted of the offense twice in two years, police charged him with the enhanced felony in the 2020 incident. 

He could have faced up to five years in prison. But the Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney declined to prosecute the case. Instead, in Jefferson District Court, Gordon was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser misdemeanor offense for the third time since April 2019. Judge Annette Karem sentenced him to two years of supervised probation in lieu of a year of incarceration. She ordered him to stay away from James and threatened to put him in jail if he didn’t. 

Now, Gordon is charged with James’ murder. 

Police say he fatally shot James and wounded her 10-year-old son outside her Newburg home in late February. Gordon also left the scene with a 2-year-old son he shared with James, sparking an Amber Alert that was broadcast throughout the area. He pleaded not guilty in Jefferson Circuit court last month and a judge set his bond at $250,000.

The Louisville Metro Police Department reports at least eight of this year’s 54 homicides are domestic violence related. That’s already on par with the yearly average for the decade between 2010 and 2020. In that time, police reported more than 51,640 domestic violence incidents and 93 homicides — one fatality out of roughly every 555 violent domestic assaults reported.

The offenders who kill are often serial abusers.

More than half of the 82 offenders accused of a domestic violence murder between 2011 and 2020 had prior domestic violence offenses, according to annual reports from the city’s domestic violence fatality review commission. And more than a quarter of perpetrators had a family history of domestic violence, the commission found.

Gordon had both. Between August 2015 and November 2020, Gordon was accused of and ultimately pleaded guilty every year to misdemeanor crimes involving domestic violence assault, harassment, trespassing or violating a court protective order, according to a review of court records by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

During the same time, his late father was also in and out of court dozens of times for violating court protective orders and harassing his mother at her home where Gordon often stayed.

The case against Gordon now, and his long record of charges that led up to it, shows how the cycle of domestic violence can escalate when offenders avoid accountability, according to criminal justice experts and domestic violence prevention advocates.

“All the signs were there,” said Cassie Drochelman, the interim executive director of the Mary Byron Project, a nonprofit focused on ending domestic violence.  “I don’t think anyone can look at this case and go, ‘Well, no one knew that this was coming.’”

Prosecutor’s policies and plea agreements, lenient judges, a forgetful defense attorney and a mistake by a probation officer were among the many factors that helped Gordon escape serious punishment over the years, according to KyCIR’s review.

collage of Christopher Gordon court appearances

Christopher Gordon has appeared in court multiple times over the years for charges related to domestic violence. Each time Gordon was accused of assault, he was on probation for a prior conviction, according to court records.

Gordon, now 32, was convicted of reckless homicide in 2013 after police said he shot and killed a 17-year-old boy in an argument about a moped two years earlier when Gordon was 19. He’s since been accused at least 10 different times of assaulting or harassing women with whom he shares children, according to a KyCIR review of online court records.


Judges in Jefferson District Court ordered Christopher Gordon first to probation with each new offense in lieu of immediate incarceration, oftentimes at the prosecutor’s suggestion.

Instead of probation, he should have been in jail, Drochelman said.

“He needed to not be able to continue to harm people,” she said. “This woman who is now dead did not receive the justice that she should have. And that’s heartbreaking.”

James’s killing highlights gaps in the city’s court system that harm victims and embolden offenders — many which were highlighted in a 2018 external audit that found it to be a fragmented and inconsistent apparatus that puts victims and offenders at risk of slipping through cracks. 

That report listed more than 80 recommendations to improve the system. But city officials have been slow to make any changes. Just 14 of 80 recommendations to improve the system are complete. 

Emily Sack, who LMPD commissioned to complete the review in 2018, said in an interview last week that the flaws in Louisville’s system aren’t unusual — and she was hopeful that the people tasked with remedying the issues were passionate about making improvements.

The last two pandemic years were very challenging for reform work, said Sack, a law professor at Roger Williams University.

“But I think now is really the time to sort of recommit to that,” she said. “And I think it’s very possible to make some really important improvements.”

State law requires officers to complete a report called a JC-3 on all actual or suspected cases of “domestic violence and abuse” and “dating violence and abuse.”  In 2021, LMPD filed more JC-3 reports than in any year since 2011, according to police data. Police also recorded more assaults, intimidation charges and homicides than in recent years.

LMPD Chief Erika Shields expects nearly a quarter of homicides this year will be tied to domestic violence — a trend she said earlier this month is “terrifying.”

Every domestic violence related death is reviewed by the city’s fatality review committee. 

Drochelman said she expects that Angelica James’s killing will “be a really hard one for them.”

“To me, something fell through the cracks,” she said. 

Gordon’s attorney, Rob Eggert, declined to make Gordon available for an interview for this story. In a March court hearing, Eggert questioned the police narrative that Gordon killed James, suggesting the fatal bullet may have come from “friendly fire.”

LMPD detective Bradley Beckham said in court then that James’s older sons shot at Gordon when they witnessed him shooting at their mother. Police collected nearly 30 shell casings from the scene, and about a dozen came from the .40 caliber handgun Gordon allegedly used, Beckham said. 

James’s teenaged son allegedly fired a 9mm handgun 15-20 times, and two shots were also fired from a .380 caliber handgun, he said — but at Gordon’s court hearing in March, Beckham said he didn’t know who fired that gun, which was still missing.

Beckham said a medical examiner speculated that the fatal shots came from Gordon, based on the direction of the bullets. But Eggert said it’s impossible to know without a report from the Kentucky State Police crime lab, which isn’t complete.

 An unused tool

Misdemeanor sentencings in district court are limited to one year of incarceration. In Louisville, prosecutors with the Jefferson County Attorney’s office, who handle cases in district court, opt first for probation because it can be ordered for up to two years instead of immediate jail, lengthening the time the court is able to monitor a person, said Erin White, chief of the Jefferson County attorney’s domestic violence unit. 

On probation, a person convicted of a misdemeanor crime can be required to pay fees, attend classes, check in with probation officers, keep away from victims and generally stay out of trouble. If they don’t, they can be sent to jail.

Each time Gordon was accused of assault, he was on probation for a prior conviction, according to court records. And each time, he’d spend a chunk of time in jail or on house arrest. In all, he’s been incarcerated for at least 3 ½ years since 2015, according to court records.

When the Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney had the opportunity to prosecute Gordon’s 2020 assault charge as a felony in circuit court, it was the first time he could have faced the threat of a lengthy prison sentence after assaulting a woman. 

But “evidentiary challenges” prevented the prosecution, said Erwin Roberts, the first assistant for the Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney. 

In an email, he said jail calls between James and Gordon, the detective in the case being unable to obtain an interview or statement from James and the victim recanting her story to a private investigator all contributed to the decision to forego felony charges and resolve in district court. He said that was “the best outcome for the case.”

“No one in our community understands the dangers of domestic violence better than these prosecutors who have the responsibility to prosecute the most dangerous offenders in our community,” Roberts said.

The ability to enhance a misdemeanor domestic violence assault charge to a felony after three convictions within five years was added to state law in 2000 when legislators passed an omnibus sexual offense bill that aimed to stiffen penalties for offenders and support victims. 

The point of the law is to give prosecutors more tools to protect victims against serial abusers, said former state Rep. John F. Vincent, who added the enhancement legislation to the bill.

The courts need “more teeth” when dealing with repeat offenders, said Vincent, who is now a circuit court judge in Boyd County. 

“The tools that we provided prosecutors should be utilized to protect victims,” he said.

In Louisville, fewer than a third of the 374 people charged with domestic violence assault and eligible for enhancement between March 2017 and March 2022 were indicted on the higher felony charge in Jefferson Circuit Court. Of those that were indicted in that time, more than 85% — 86 people — pled guilty, according to a review of court records. 

More than 250 had their charge dismissed or amended to lesser crimes in Jefferson District Court. 

In the 2018 assessment of the domestic violence services available in Louisville, Sack said prosecutors aren’t charging repeat domestic abusers with felonies as often as they should be.

“This type of repeat offender enhancement is an important tool in domestic violence cases,” she said. “But it appears to be underutilized.”

Prosecutors, she said, had “differing perspectives” on what was required to pursue the felony conviction for repeat offenders.

“The County Attorney’s office believes that the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office requires the third offense to be serious in order to move forward,” Sack said. “The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office says that it does not require the third offense to be serious, but only that there be good documentation of injury.”

She recommended in her report that the two prosecuting agencies in the city work together and find ways to better use the law. The recommendation is still marked as incomplete. A spokesperson for the Jefferson County Attorney directed questions about the recommendation to the Commonwealth’s Attorney. A spokesperson for that agency did not respond to a request for comment.

‘A good feeling’

In June 2017, Gordon was in district court after an assault charge a few months before triggered multiple probation violations for past domestic abuse offenses.

Police said he got into an argument with the mother of two of his kids and he slapped her and pulled out some of her hair.

In court, prosecutors played a recording of jail calls between Gordon and the woman in which she said she was tired of him beating and kicking her and she hoped he never gets out of jail.

“You deserve it,” she said. “You can’t keep your hands off of females.”

The prosecutor with the Jefferson County Attorney’s office asked Judge Jennifer Leibson to revoke Gordon’s prior probation agreements and send him to jail for a total of more than 2 years on multiple offenses.

Leibson opted for less than half of that and ordered him to a year in jail with no chance for early release or any opportunity to work or look for jobs while incarcerated. 

The sentence was Gordon’s stiffest yet for domestic violence related offenses.

But less than nine months later, he left the city’s Community Correctional Center — a lower security jail located downtown — for a medical appointment and never returned. 

Indicted for felony escape, he was back in court in August 2018 and a prosecutor with the Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney asked Judge Mitch Perry to send Gordon to prison for three years.

Perry instead decided to put Gordon on house arrest for 90 days and then probation for five years. Perry said it was “a break, a huge break.”

“I have a good feeling about this,” Perry said. “You’ve been in trouble basically your whole life. And if we don’t have your attention now, we’re never going to get it.”

Less than two weeks later he was charged again with another assault. This time, police said Gordon went to the same woman’s house, spit in her face and slammed her head against a wall. Days later, he returned to the woman’s home and refused to leave, violating the conditions of a court protective order and resulting in a new criminal charge for Gordon.

For those offenses, Jefferson District Court Judge Katie King allowed Gordon to avoid jail sentences of 90 days and 270 days on the condition he keep away from the victim and stay out of trouble for two years.

Less than three months later, police said, he went to the woman’s home again, kicked in her door and dragged her to a vehicle where he began beating her with his fist. His sister drove the vehicle away and Gordon began strangling the woman. She eventually jumped from the moving vehicle to escape. At the time, she was 32 weeks pregnant.

Presented with a plea agreement for probation, district court Judge Julie Kaelin told Gordon she was apprehensive about accepting the deal due to the severity of the charges. 

In this instance, Kaelin did not have a copy of Gordon’s criminal record. So, she asked his attorney, Justin C. Brown, for a summary of his past.

Brown, who had represented Gordon at least three times before in cases related to domestic violence or violating a protective order, told Kaelin that Gordon had one prior domestic violence assault charge that was amended down to a harassment, and an escape conviction from 2018. He did not mention any of the seven other cases in which Gordon was accused of assault or harassing a woman.

Jefferson Circuit Court Clerk

District Judge Julie Kaelin addresses Christopher Gordon (left) and his attorney, Justin Brown (right).

With that, Kaelin accepted the deal, saying she was doing so because he didn’t seem to have an extensive history with assault. She sentenced Gordon to probation. 

Three months later, he was back in court on a new charge after police said he punched the same woman in the face and stole her car. He pleaded guilty to fourth degree domestic violence assault a month later and Judge Katie King ordered him again to two years of probation.

Kaelin declined to comment for this report. Brown said that at the time, he couldn’t remember the extent of Gordon’s criminal history.

King did not return a request for comment for this story.

Each of the offenses violated the terms of his probation in Jefferson Circuit Court — from the 2018 escape charge — and put Gordon at risk of three years in prison.

But in a court hearing in April 2019, Judge Mitch Perry declined to send Gordon to prison.  Instead, he allowed Gordon to remain on probation and threatened that he had “better toe the line.”

“If you hit anyone, especially a woman, in the face, you have no hope with me,” Perry said. “If you ever do that again I will send you to serve every day.”

Gordon returned to Perry’s court in September 2019, again for a new violent offense that violated the terms of his probation, and he again avoided prison time.

“You cannot hit people. You especially cannot hit a woman,” Perry said. “If I find credible evidence that you’ve done that or you’ve done that in the past, make no mistake I will punish you severely.”

Two months later, in November 2020, Gordon assaulted Angelica James.

Perry declined KyCIR’s request for an interview.

The November 2020 assault charge should have sparked another hearing in Perry’s court for another violation of Gordon’s 2018 probation. But a probation officer failed to report the arrest to the judge, according to court documents filed the day after James’s killing.

A Kentucky Department of Corrections spokesperson said the conviction should have been reported to the court.

At the time, Gordon was under the strictest level of supervised probation in district court: Misdemeanor Intensive Probation (MIP). The program requires weekly check-ins with probation officers, night curfews and random home visits.

Probation officers assigned to the MIP program have high case loads and some told Sack in her 2018 review that they were being burdened by cases that didn’t require the high-level of supervision they were expected to provide.

“Probation officials felt that the MIP Program was effective at supervising domestic violence offenders, but that other types of cases were taking up slots in MIP which were not meant for this type of victim-sensitive intensive monitoring,” Sack said in her report.

She recommended local officials investigate how cases were assigned to the MIP program. The recommendation is marked as incomplete.

A special court?

Much of what’s wrong with Louisville domestic violence response could be helped with a specialized domestic violence court, said Sack in her 2018 report.

Currently, domestic violence cases are divided among five separate courtrooms in which judges also handle an array of other criminal matters. A 2019 pilot program that aimed to narrow that focus with four designated domestic violence courts was halted after pandemic protocols virtually shut down the courthouse.

Specialized domestic violence courts can better serve victims, reduce recidivism among offenders and allow prosecutors and judges to become familiar with individual domestic violence cases, which are complex and intimate, according to the Center for Court Innovation, a criminal justice nonprofit based in New York City that studies court practices and strategies.

In her 2018 report, Sack said they could also help increase the number of trials in domestic violence cases.

Fewer than 1% of 9,122 domestic violence charges were taken to trial in Jefferson District Court between October 2014 and September 2017 — a rate that’s low compared with other urban courts, according to Sack’s report.

“Where domestic violence cases are treated like any others, they are bargained like typical cases, particularly for misdemeanors,” she said. “But domestic cases are not like typical misdemeanors, and frequently indicate far more dangerous behavior.”

More trials, even ones that don’t end with a conviction, are good for the long-term improvement of domestic violence response because they put the issue in front of people, Sack said. Trials can expose shortcomings in evidence collection, show where judges and prosecutors need more training and send a message to offenders that plea agreements aren’t guaranteed.

A specialty domestic violence court is considered a “major project” from Sack’s 2018 report. 

In an interview last week, she said that’s one thing she’d expect to be a priority as work to remedy the court’s issues begins again.

But Jefferson District Judge David Bowles, who helped lead the domestic court pilot project in 2019, said he doesn’t think they’re a good idea.

He said Jefferson District Court judges aren’t elected to work specifically with domestic violence cases and he worries about the outcome if a judge assigned to a domestic violence court is “overly harsh or overly lenient.”

“Defendants should have the opportunity to be heard by different judges in multiple courts,” he said.

Chief District Judge Annette Karem did not respond to a request for comment on when, or if, the pilot project will restart.

No uproar

Elizabeth Wessels-Martin said her stomach sank when she saw the Amber Alert buzz across her phone last month and read the subsequent news coverage. 

As the chief executive officer for the Center for Women and Families, she had a sense then of the domestic violence abuse that was likely connected to the incident, and now she questions where the system failed: Why didn’t the prosecutors pursue the felony case? Why wasn’t Gordon under closer supervision?

James was doing everything she was supposed to, Wessels-Martin said. She’d reported her abuser to police, and she’d sought at least one court protective order. 

“There are supposed to be systems in place that provide protection,” Wessels-Martin said. “I don’t understand it.”

Domestic violence is a public health issue that has tentacles of trauma that stretch well beyond the direct victims, she said. In James’s killing, there are many victims: She was a mother to four children, she had parents and other family, friends and neighbors.

But missing from the aftermath of James’s death, and from the countless more cases of close calls and abuse across the city, is the uproar, said Wessels-Martin.

“We don’t get all worked up about this. That’s what frustrates us,” she said.“How many people have moved on without Angelica James?”

Reporter Jacob Ryan can be reached at jryan@kycir.org

The post Red Flags and Repeat Offenses: A woman’s death shines light on cracks in city’s domestic violence response appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Advocates say family drug courts could save Kentucky children, but state support is still limited Friday, Apr 1 2022 

Chaly Downs was addicted to heroin and fentanyl when child protective services took custody of her children — an intervention she says should have happened sooner. 

“My children weren’t being taken care of,” Downs said. “I can see now that they were really suffering more than I could realize in the state that I was in.” 

At the peak of her addiction in 2019, the 37-year-old mother of four found herself praying for help.

headshot of Chaly Downs

Chaly Downs

Chaly Downs, 37, graduated from Jefferson County’s Family Recovery Court in 2021.

“I just called out to God and I was like ‘I don’t know how you’re going to do it or what you’re going to do, but God,’” she said, “‘please do something.’”

Just two days later, a CPS worker knocked on her door. 

Downs was then offered an opportunity that she said saved her and her children’s lives — a spot in Jefferson County’s Family Recovery Court, one of only two programs in the state designed to reunite families and help parents overcome substance misuse. The state’s only other family recovery court is in Clay County in Southeastern Kentucky.

Advocates say family recovery courts — also known as family drug courts — are crucial in protecting children from abuse and neglect, which often go hand in hand with addiction. In fact, nearly half of the Kentucky children who died or were severely injured from maltreatment in 2020 also experienced substance misuse in their homes.

Despite their undisputed effectiveness in protecting children, and even though Kentucky has some of the highest rates of child maltreatment and opioid abuse in the nation, family recovery courts are still not widely available throughout the state. 

The state previously funded several family drug courts, but they were eliminated in 2010 due to budget cuts. Now, over a decade later, the state legislature has decided to restore some of this funding — but only in Jefferson County. 

And while this revival of state funding, although limited, is a step in the right direction, advocates say funding for these courts should have been available in more counties across the state, especially in a budget year that left $1 billion unspent.

For six years in a row in its annual report, the state Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel has urged the state to expand family recovery courts throughout Kentucky — a recommendation that they say has been largely ignored.

“We need more action,” said Dr. Melissa Currie, a forensic pediatrician and member of the panel since it was created by the Kentucky legislature in 2012. “Long term, family drug court outcomes have shown positive results for parental employment and certainly for reducing child abuse and neglect.”

Experts say benefits outweigh cost

The Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel is charged with reviewing the details of hundreds of severe cases every year  that result in the death or life-threatening injury of a child and providing recommendations to the state for preventing such cases.

“The vast majority of our overall cases are considered preventable,” Currie said.

Substance misuse within families continues to be a major risk factor in the child maltreatment cases that the panel reviews. And its annual report shows that families who struggle with substances are also more likely to be dealing with mental health concerns, poverty and domestic violence.

“It needs to be made a priority in order for the funding to show up,” Currie said. “There needs to be a better understanding of the potential benefits of family drug court, in avoiding incarceration of parents and improving the chance that they will get help and will stay clean and sober.”

But with only advisory power, Currie said, there is only so much the panel can do to persuade the state to act. She’s concerned that many of the agencies who are mentioned in these recommendations may not even be reviewing them at all.

“There’s been no requirement or really nothing to compel agencies to look at the report to see what it says,” she said. 

To address this issue, the Kentucky legislature passed a bill this week that will require state agencies to respond to recommendations and either communicate plans to implement them or give reasons for why they are reluctant to do so. 

The child fatality panel specifically recommends that the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts be responsible for developing a budget proposal for the expansion of family recovery courts. This is the same agency that had to cut them from the budget 12 years ago.

Prior to that, family drug courts were available in several regions throughout the state, including Louisville and Lexington. But in 2010, Kentucky’s judicial branch faced a $7 million budget deficit, resulting in the elimination of many programs that were considered non-essential. 

According to former chief judge for the Jefferson County Family Court Patricia Walker FitzGerald, the return of family drug courts are long overdue.

“The legislature has to make a commitment to fund drug courts,” she said. “The traditional ways in which the courts have addressed family issues are not effective. We do too little too late.”

Cindy Kamer, a court liaison for Seven Counties Services who helps oversee the program in Jefferson County, said the cost of implementing family recovery courts throughout the state would be more than worth it long term.

A cost analysis of Jefferson County’s program shows that while it takes around $250,000 to operate, the program is creating significant savings when it comes to the costs of substance-exposed births, out-of-home care for children, jail and probation, emergency room visits and Medicaid. 

The result is an overall savings of over $800,000 — and that’s just in Jefferson County.

A trauma-informed approach to recovery

Family recovery courts focus on welfare of abused and neglected children while also providing the support that parents need to address their addiction. The court currently has two judges and partners with state agencies and community organizations to provide resources such as substance use treatment, parenting classes, therapy and assistance with housing, transportation and employment if needed. 

Kentucky was without family recovery courts entirely for nearly a decade. Jefferson County’s family recovery court was relaunched in 2019 after the National Council of Jewish Women raised nearly $600,000 to help fund the program. 

After several years of advocacy, the court finally secured a spot in the state budget through the Department for Community Based Services. The court will receive $375,000 each year for the next two years, under the budget approved by the General Assembly.

A second court was started in Clay County last year after it received a federal, three-year grant with the help of Volunteers of America. State funding is not currently available for this program.

“Whereas other drug courts are really punitive in nature, we are really focused on a positive reinforcement model, while still holding participants accountable,” said Cindy Kamer, a court liaison for Seven Counties Services who helps oversee the program. 

Kamer said the program is also centered around addressing trauma, for both parents and children. 

“We recognize that substance use doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and that a parent doesn’t just wake up one day and decide that this is how they want to spend their lives,” she said. 

Participants learn how their past experiences have led to their current behaviors, as well as how their current behaviors have created hardships for their children.

“They learn how to help rectify that to ensure that we are not creating this multi generational system of trauma,” Kamer said. 

The impact

When Chaly Downs was brought into the program in 2019, she had a lot of her own trauma to work through. And she also lived in a household with drug abuse while growing up.

“I’ve been through a lot. And it got to the point where using [drugs] was like you and I breathing air right now,” Downs said. “ You have to have oxygen to stay alive.”

Downs has been sober for over two years now, has a job at Voices of the Commonwealth and has since been granted custody or partial custody of her kids. And they are thriving.

“I cannot go back. My kids are the reasons why I get up and go so hard everyday,” she said. “My main goal is to make sure they have a solid foundation so they can succeed and be better than me.”

The family recovery court model is also different from typical drug courts or CPS cases, because in addition to the 18-month program, they also stay in contact with participants to ensure they are safely transitioning back into parenthood.

“Some of them are parenting sober for the first time in their lives,” Kamer said. “And they don’t always have support in place, because a lot of them have had to cut those off. So we stay involved even after the children are returned.”

According to national data from the Center for Children and Family Futures, parents who participate in family recovery court are twice as likely to complete treatment for addiction and be reunited with their children.

Since 2019, Jefferson County’s program has served over 140 children and has seen 46 of them reunited with their families.

 “We know what impact this has in our communities, in particular, when you look at the rates of child abuse and neglect in Kentucky,” Kamer said. “So to be able to cut that even by a small percentage is hugely impactful for us.”

Contact Jasmine Demers at Jdemers@kycir.org.

The post Advocates say family drug courts could save Kentucky children, but state support is still limited appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

False testimony didn’t end these Kentucky state troopers’ careers Monday, Feb 28 2022 

When the commander of Kentucky State Police Post 4 had the opportunity to recommend a trooper of the year for 2020, he chose James Cameron Wright, a field training officer whose strengths included “molding probationary troopers into excellent troopers.”

“His motivation, dedication, and pride that he exudes while wearing our gray uniform is what sets Trooper Wright apart,” Capt. Daniel White wrote last March.

The nomination didn’t mention that Wright had participated in the April 2020 beating of Alex Hornback in the basement of his Bullitt County home, gave false testimony about it under oath, and denied seeing a fellow trooper pummeling Hornback with a flashlight while kneeling next to him. 

The post commander knew about the incident. Less than two months before nominating Wright for the award, spurred by a federal lawsuit alleging excessive force, White had requested an internal affairs investigation into the troopers on the scene that night.

But Wright was neither disciplined nor prosecuted, even though the other trooper who took part in the beating resigned under threat of termination and now faces a criminal charge of perjury.

The lawsuit, filed by Alex Hornback and his parents against the state police in October 2020, is pending. Their attorney, Chris Wiest, declined to make Alex Hornback available for an interview until the case is resolved.

Wiest contends that both officers lied about striking Hornback, and should be facing criminal charges.

“You cannot lie under oath,” Wiest said. “Today, we do not need people that are willing to cover up use of force incidents [in law enforcement].”

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting examined five cases, including Hornback’s, in which someone with state police either gave false testimony about using force or failed to disclose the details. 

Five of the nine troopers involved suffered no administrative punishment or criminal consequences, and at least some of them continue to testify against criminal defendants, according to a review of state police and court records.

Some troopers downplayed or misrepresented in arrest citations the force they had used. On other occasions, they misrepresented the facts under oath about what they or others had done, recordings and documents obtained by KyCIR show.

A common thread in each of the cases: independent video evidence that contradicted the troopers’ accounts.

The Kentucky State Police has long been beset by issues including controversial training, a high number of fatal shootings, and little independent oversight. Unlike many law-enforcement agencies, state police do not require troopers to wear body cameras. But after several news outlets, including KyCIR and The Marshall Project, detailed a lack of accountability at the state police, Gov. Andy Beshear proposed $12.2 million in this year’s budget for troopers to be equipped with body cameras.

State police declined to make Wright or post commander White available for interviews, or to answer most questions about the five cases. Instead, agency spokesperson Capt. Paul Blanton said in a statement that the state police “holds all personnel, both sworn and civilian, to the highest of ethical standards.”

Similar testimony, different outcomes

The three troopers didn’t know they were being recorded when they went into Alex Hornback’s home to serve him with an arrest warrant for failing to appear in court. 

Wright and Trooper Thomas Czartorski were deposed under oath in January 2021 in the family’s lawsuit. Both testified to a relatively calm interaction where Hornback was taken to the floor during the arrest, but no other force was used.

The troopers also didn’t file any reports indicating they used force, even though agency policy required that they disclose it.

Czartorski and Wright both denied in their depositions that they struck Hornback.

“He did not need to be [hit],” Wright said. 

Wright also testified that he placed his knee on Hornback’s “shoulder”, that he never put his arm around Hornback’s neck, and that he didn’t “recall” seeing Czartorski strike Hornback with his flashlight. 

The third trooper, Kevin Dreisbach, entered the room after Hornback was already on the floor. Dreisbach testified in his January 2021 deposition that neither Wright nor Czartorski said they struck Hornback, and that he thought they would have told him had they done so. 

After the depositions, the Hornbacks’ lawyer released a home-security video that clearly showed Wright grabbing Hornback around the neck and slinging him to the floor, though he was not visibly resisting. The two troopers were kneeling side by side while Czartorski struck the 29-year-old Hornback with his flashlight, and Wright hit Hornback twice with his right forearm. Wright’s left knee was on Hornback’s neck, pushing his face into the floor.

In Capt. White’s request for the internal-affairs investigation, he acknowledged that the video contradicted Czartorski’s testimony. But he didn’t mention Wright’s. 

Czartorski resigned from the agency on February 2, 2021, in lieu of being fired, and has been charged with perjury.

The state police said its investigation found Wright did not violate standards of conduct. 

State police didn’t answer emailed questions about Wright’s sworn testimony. Spokesperson Blanton’s response simply stated: “KSP does not condone employees being untruthful.” 

KSP reluctant to conclude troopers were ‘untruthful’

In two cases reviewed by KyCIR, consequences for trooper misconduct were relatively swift.

After Trooper Aaron Tucker downplayed the severity of a physical altercation in the sallyport at the Bowling Green jail in March 2019 and was caught on video, a state police internal investigation found that the force he used “appears to be excessive.” The probationary trooper was fired in May 2019. 

In March 2020, Trooper Houston Ethan Lewis claimed in an arrest citation that he “assisted” Jared Johnson to the ground and used only “softening blows” during an incident in Rockcastle County.

But after Johnson’s attorney obtained a video from the home that showed Lewis striking Johnson in the head and side numerous times with his flashlight, Lewis was fired, pleaded guilty to assault and to forgery, for the false citation, and was briefly incarcerated.

In other instances, however, records show that state police officials were reluctant if not unwilling to draw conclusions about a trooper’s truthfulness — even when video and other evidence suggested dishonesty.

In 2016, Trooper Jimmy Halcomb told a Harlan County grand jury that he had helped arrest 67-year-old Lewis Lyttle for alleged indecent exposure in a Harlan County parking lot. Lyttle kicked him and another state trooper and refused to obey their commands, Halcomb testified.

“Sgt. (Rob) Farley and me had to pick him up and carry him to the cruiser,” Halcomb testified, according to a recording obtained by KyCIR.

The grand jury indicted Lyttle on charges including felony assault and resisting arrest. Later, videos came to light that showed Halcomb and three other troopers slapping, punching, or kicking a non-resistant Lyttle. 

And contrary to what Halcomb told the grand jury, once Lyttle was handcuffed and lifted to his feet, Halcomb and Farley walked with him to a state police cruiser.

Lt. Jason Adams, who worked out of the Harlan post along with the troopers, investigated their actions. All denied using excessive force.

Farley said he believed Lyttle was about to spit on him, according to Adams’ report. 

But a dozen hospital employees later gave sworn affidavits, saying they watched from inside the building as Halcomb, Farley, Detective Kevin Miller, and Detective Josh Howard slapped, kicked, or otherwise beat Lyttle.  

In recordings obtained by KyCIR, Adams called Lyttle “that idiot” in a conversation with a hospital employee, and disparaged witnesses who alleged state police wrongdoing. 

Misty Mullins, a hospital employee, said in her affidavit that Adams seemed intent on exonerating the troopers.

“After he took my taped statement he even went as far as to tell me that if that old man had exposed himself to my child and I had beaten the old man up that ‘we’ (I guess he was referring to the Kentucky State Police) would not even arrest you for it,” Mullins wrote in her affidavit.

“I told Lt. Adams that it didn’t matter what the old man had been accused of, the officers couldn’t just beat him like that.” 

Although Adams had one of the videos and interviewed several witnesses, he concluded none of the troopers violated agency policy.

Adams could not be reached for comment. He retired in January 2017. Handwritten notes on Adams’ retirement letter state without elaboration that he should not be rehired.

After other videos of the beating surfaced on social media, state police commissioned an internal affairs investigation, which found that Farley — but no one else — had used excessive force in arresting Lyttle. But the investigation also concluded that Farley didn’t violate agency policies on truthfulness, and that there was “no dishonesty” in what Farley or Halcomb told investigators about the incident.

The troop commander blamed the “poor quality” of the first investigation for creating doubt about whether initial statements attributed to Farley were accurate enough to assess his honesty.

Farley was suspended for 120 days in July 2017 and demoted from sergeant to trooper. But the consequences he incurred were temporary: In September 2018, the state police promoted Farley back to sergeant. He declined to be interviewed.

“By not disciplining the other individuals who were present, and giving Farley a slap on the wrist, KSP sends a message to these individuals as well as all troopers: ‘If you engage in this behavior, there are no real consequences,’” said David Ward, one of Lyttle’s lawyers in a lawsuit against the troopers and state police.

Blanton, the state police spokesperson, declined to answer questions about why Farley was the only one disciplined.

The criminal charges against Lyttle eventually were dismissed, and in 2018, state police settled his lawsuit for $130,000. Lyttle died in June 2020.

Evidence withheld from grand jury

State Police Lt. Lonnie Bell led the investigation after Fulton Police Lt. James Buckingham shot and killed Charles Christopher McClure on January 16, 2017.

Kentucky state police employees investigate most fatal police shootings across the state, and often testify before the grand jury that is deciding whether the officer committed a crime. 

The grand jury voted not to indict Buckingham, based solely on Bell’s testimony, and it did not hear about or see a key piece of evidence: Buckingham’s body camera recording of the shooting.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Stacy also never mentioned the video to the grand jury, though he too was aware of it, according to Bell’s later testimony in a lawsuit brought by McClure’s three daughters against Buckingham, the city of Fulton and others. Stacy declined an interview request.

An audio recording of Bell’s testimony shows he told grand jurors about a chain of events that differed in several key respects from the body camera video — and from what Bell later acknowledged in other sworn testimony was true.

Blanton, the state police spokesperson, said Bell “would have to reply himself” as to why he didn’t share the video with grand jurors. Bell, who retired in July 2019, could not be reached for comment. 

“If you’re wanting to sway a jury, either way, you’re going to give them the information that you want them to know. Not the whole truth,” Tobi McClure, Christopher McClure’s sister, said in an interview. “He (Bell) told them what he wanted them to know. “There was no lying and hiding in that video. It was the truth.”

McClure was an emotionally troubled, 43-year old father of three young girls. He was walking through downtown Fulton, in far western Kentucky, smashing car windows with a metal pole that had a knife affixed to one end when he encountered Fulton Police Chief Terry Powell — and broke the back window of his cruiser with the pole. Powell called for backup.

Buckingham arrived, and his body camera footage shows him shooting McClure from the rear driver’s side of Buckingham’s cruiser as McClure swung the pole from the passenger’s side to shatter the vehicle’s rear window.

McClure fell on his back and dropped the pole, which clattered to the pavement several feet away, the video shows. As he struggled to his knees, Buckingham yelled, “Get down, get down,” and shot McClure again, this time from point-blank range, and just eight seconds after the first shot. McClure died soon after at a local hospital.

Bell told the grand jurors that the shooting was justified in part because McClure “raised the pipe in a threatening manner” toward Buckingham.

But in a sworn statement Bell gave in August 2019 in connection with the lawsuit, he acknowledged that he did “not recall” McClure raising the pipe in a threatening manner, or approaching Buckingham with it in a threatening manner, after breaking the window.

“The video doesn’t show that,” Bell stated.

Bell also told the grand jury that McClure’s hands were “hidden” after Buckingham fired the initial shot and McClure fell to the ground, suggesting that he might have been holding or reaching for a weapon.

But Bell acknowledged in his sworn statement that McClure’s hands were clearly visible, and that he wasn’t holding anything.

In addition, Bell told the grand jury that once McClure was on the ground, the knife he had attached to one end of the metal pole, and that had fallen off, “was just inches away,” implying that it still could have posed a threat.

But Bell acknowledged in his sworn statement that the body camera video showed the knife lying on the ground behind Buckingham, at least several feet away and well out of McClure’s reach.

There is no indication in state police records that Bell was investigated, disciplined or prosecuted for his grand jury testimony, and Blanton did not respond to a question about why none of that occurred. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that it was “objectively reasonable” for Buckingham to shoot and kill McClure.

Bell also said in his sworn statement that he had investigated 11 officer-involved shootings since 2011, and none concluded that any police wrongdoing had occurred.

Credibility issues not tracked, routinely shared

When law-enforcement officers’ credibility is questioned, it can have ramifications the next time they’re under oath.

 Police and prosecutors sometimes use what’s called a “Brady list” to keep track of law-enforcement officers with a history of questionable conduct and whose court testimony might face challenges from the defense. But 15 commonwealth’s attorneys polled by KyCIR said they don’t keep such lists.

 The Louisville Metro Police Department keeps its own list of its officers with problematic backgrounds. But the Kentucky State Police does not.

Instead, the agency “provides information regarding that individual trooper’s disciplinary issues, if any, to the prosecutor upon request,”  said Michelle Harrison, executive advisor to the state police legal services branch.

But when asked by KyCIR for records related to prosecutors’ requests and the agency’s responses to them, state police said it had none.

Several prosecutors who replied to KyCIR about Brady lists, said they inform the defense about witnesses’ potential credibility issues on a case-by-case basis prior to trial. 

But Damon Preston, head of the state Department of Public Advocacy, is skeptical that this regularly occurs.

“I think it is highly likely that the officers you are learning about have not had this information disclosed in subsequent cases,” Preston said. “The problem is that defense lawyers don’t know what they don’t know.”

Wright and other current or former state police troopers with credibility issues have been witnesses in cases that resulted in grand-jury indictments.

Although Tucker, the probationary officer, was fired by state police in connection with the incident at the Bowling Green jail, he continues to testify under oath, as a McCreary County sheriff’s deputy. Court records show he has been the complaining witness in at least a dozen  criminal cases since 2020.

Tucker and Sheriff Randy Waters did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Commonwealth’s Attorney Ronnie Bowling said it was “not unusual” for Tucker to testify before grand juries, but Bowling refused to discuss Tucker’s background or whether grand jurors should be aware of it.

Alissa Heydari, a former prosecutor who is now deputy director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said it’s best practice to reveal issues that could compromise the credibility of a witness as early as to the grand jury — even if the case is likely to ultimately end in a guilty plea.

“To have a blanket policy in which prosecutors never disclose material impeachment evidence before trial — particularly about police witnesses — fails to promote accountability and transparency,” Heydari said.

J. Tyler Franklin

Kevin and Sonya Hornback

In 2021, Wright testified under oath before grand juries in at least five Hardin County criminal cases that resulted in indictments, according to court records. Hardin Commonwealth’s Attorney Shane Young said that none of the cases have gone to trial, and that information about Wright’s background would be submitted to the court for review if one did.

But since Wright wasn’t disciplined or prosecuted in connection with the Hornback case, his background largely reflects that he’s been a trooper of the year.

In one case based on Wright’s testimony, his arrest citation said that after he stopped Michael Sietsema for speeding last June 1, Sietsema refused commands to get off his motorcycle and put a bag of suspected drugs inside the gas tank, “destroying” the bag. Wright then struck Sietsema several times with a Taser, according to the citation, after which he “became compliant.” 

Sietsema was charged with offenses including resisting arrest, tampering with evidence, and driving under the influence of a controlled substance. The case is scheduled for trial in March.

Nearly two years after Wright participated in the beating of Alex Hornback, his parents said the pain from witnessing it is still fresh, and intense. 

Wright “really and truly is the instigator,” Kevin Hornback said, “and he is getting praised for it.

“He is the one that grabs him, slams him to the ground. He’s the one that puts his knee in the back of my son’s neck.”

Sonya Hornback, whom Wright threatened with his Taser when she objected as he knelt on her son’s neck, added: “I’d be ashamed to have him as my trooper of the year.”

Contact R.G. Dunlop at rdunlop@kycir.org.


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Experts: Inadequate mental health resources, policies contribute to Louisville jail suicides Thursday, Feb 24 2022 

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one or would like emotional support, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish speakers. 

Three of the six people who died in the Louisville jail over the past four months died by their own hands.

These numbers point to a crisis at the jail, one that jail records suggest has the potential to get even worse: Louisville Metro Department of Corrections staff have taken preventative measures to stop suicidal acts at least three times since the latest death on February 6, according to incident reports obtained by KyCIR.

The frequency of incidents, inadequate mental health services and policies experts find lacking suggest the Louisville jail is not a safe place for someone suffering from a mental health crisis.

Jasmine Heiss, the project director of the Vera Institute of Justice’s In Our Backyards initiative which focuses on mass incarceration at the local level, said correctional facilities are constitutionally mandated to provide adequate mental health and medical care. 

The Department of Justice investigates civil rights violations in jails, and the FBI is investigating one of the six recent deaths in Louisville.

“Very often people act as the constitutional rights of incarcerated people evaporate at the jailhouse door, and that should not be the case,” said Heiss.

The Deaths

In early December last year, Stephanie Dunbar got in two fights in two separate dorms. The 48-year old woman was moved to a single-person cell where she took her own life.

A few weeks later, corrections officers found 41-year old Garry Wetherill attempting suicide. Wetherill was taken to the University of Louisville hospital where he was taken off life support and died January 1.

A jail officer found Lesley Starnes, 36, attempting suicide shortly after midnight on February 6. Starnes was taken to UofL Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Three others have died from other causes since November: Kenneth Hall, 59; Rickitta Smith, 34; and Keith Smith, 66. The cause of death has not been announced, but corrections officers said they administered Narcan on Smith, usually a response to an apparent overdose.

Eight people died by suicide in the custody of Louisville’s jail between 2009 and 2019, with half in 2015 alone, according to data compiled by Reuters. Bureau of Justice Statistics data show suicides in local jails nationwide have been increasing, to 355 in 2019, the most recent data available.

Heiss says the increase of suicidal behaviors in jails over the past two years could be indicators of a larger mental health issues across society writ large.

“People have been struggling during the pandemic, mentally and emotionally,” Heiss said. “Our criminal justice system is so often just showing the symptoms of larger social issues and public health issues, so it makes sense that this would be echoed and magnified there.”

Mayor Greg Fischer announced new steps last week to address the conditions at the jail, including the hiring of two new public services assistant chiefs for jail oversight and consultant Gary Raney, a retired Idaho sheriff and jail death expert who will review the recent suicides, policies and procedures at the jail.

“While suicides in jails are sadly common, every death is a tragedy, and we must work to ensure we are taking all appropriate measures to combat them,” Fischer said in a press release.

Fischer said the jail is working with its healthcare contractor Wellpath to review its suicide assessment and prevention measures, as well as conducting one-on-one reviews with people held in single cells and increasing contact with new arrivals.

Louisville Metro Department of Corrections assistant director Steve Durham said the jail isn’t commenting further on the recent deaths while Fischer’s review is underway, and Durham didn’t respond to questions about jail policies.

Daniel Johnson, president of FOP Lodge 77, the jail staff’s union, said correctional officers are overwhelmed. With more than 150 staff vacancies, they’re unable to keep an eye out for all the signs of an impending mental health crisis, he said.

Two Incident reports dating February 6, the same day Starnes died, and February 7, indicate there was no mental health staff on the premises, leaving jail staff to deal with someone in a crisis without the help of a trained professional.

Wellpath’s contract requires the company to provide a mental health director on-site Monday through Friday, with psychiatric nurses and social workers on site all week for a combined total of 316 hours per week.

But jail officials and corrections officers say Wellpath is facing staffing problems of its own, and the jail is often without a mental health professional on site in case of emergencies.

“After 5 p.m., there is nobody. On the weekends, there is nobody,” Johnson said.

The contract states that incarcerated people can replace paid staff for certain jobs, including suicide watch, and Johnson says this is a common practice at the jail.

A Wellpath spokesperson didn’t respond to questions about its staffing levels or suicide prevention measures.

Jails across the country are shifting towards private medical providers, according to Reuters. The news organization surveyed every jail that holds at least 750 people and found those with private medical providers had average death rates 18 to 58% higher than jails where public agencies provide healthcare. 

“When there is a profit incentive built into the contracts, there sometimes can be a disincentive to promptly respond to things that may be more costly, or burdensome, ” said Heiss of the Vera Institute of Justice.

Anasseril E. Daniel, a psychiatrist and former director of psychiatric services at the Missouri Department of Corrections, says that most suicides can be prevented if jails implement policies that identify mental health concerns before a crisis arrives.

Daniel says the frequency of suicides and attempts in Louisville’s jail suggests a problem with the screening process.

LMDC’s suicide prevention and intervention policy states that new arrivals will be screened for mental health including suicidal behavior when they are first booked.

A more effective policy, according to Daniel, would use screening tools specifically designed to detect suicidal behavior, rather than including this measure as part of a more general screening policy.

Daniel says the National Commission of Correctional Health Care standard that many jails use as the basis for their policies requires using a questionnaire designed specifically to capture subtle signs of someone who may be at risk of suicide.

Jail policy also dictates that people meet with a mental health professional within 14 days if they are flagged for mental health concerns, though Durham said people make follow up appointments sooner as necessary. Two weeks is far too long, Daniel said, and people should meet with a licensed mental health professional within 72 hours.

About a quarter of suicides in jails occur within 24 hours of confinement, and half occur within the first two weeks, according to BJS data. Two people who died by suicide recently in the Louisville jail had been there for less than two weeks.

“We are losing valuable time to identify the at risk individual,” Daniel said.

Once someone is identified the jail can take appropriate steps such as placing someone under constant observation and regular contact with mental health staff.

“All of this points to the global issue of whether this jail is taking suicide prevention as a major issue,” Daniel said. “There must be a paradigm shift in the administration, and beyond that of course allocation of resources, finding appropriate mental health professionals to do the screening, monitoring and evaluation.”

Roberto Roldan contributed to this report.


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Accused of extortion, Louisville’s top prosecutor drops charges – but keeps cash Tuesday, Feb 22 2022 

Two years ago, prosecutors offered a St. Matthews man a deal: give up $380,000 in cash through asset forfeiture, and criminal charges just filed against his family would be dropped.

The case has now been resolved, with no criminal convictions for anyone involved — but police and prosecutors still kept the bulk of the cash.

Patrick Card was arrested in 2019 after the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office and the St. Matthews Police seized marijuana at his house and prescribed pain pills and cash he kept at his parents’ house. Police were serving a domestic violence order on Card after his mother accused him of assaulting her a few days before, a charge that would later be dismissed.

As prosecutors began negotiating to resolve four counts of drug trafficking against Card — the source of what was potentially St. Matthews biggest cash seizure in years — they indicted his mother, father and wife, KyCIR reported in March 2020.

The assistant Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney Josh Porter offered Card a plea deal that would reduce his charges and dismiss those against his family if he forfeited the cash. If he chose to fight the seizure, they’d continue criminal cases against his wife, and then 68-year-old mother and 69-year-old father, according to a written plea offer. 

He turned down the deal. For more than a year and a half, the family faced felony charges in Jefferson Circuit Court. The prosecution ended last October, after the commonwealth’s attorney agreed to dismiss the charges and return a portion of the seized money.

“This supposed ‘offer’ was nothing more than an attempt by the Commonwealth and its agents to leverage the threat of indictment and prosecution for financial gain,” said attorney Daniel K. Robertson, in a motion to have the charges dismissed against Patrick Card’s father, who was ultimately charged with four felony counts of drug trafficking.

The commonwealth’s attorney in February 2021 opposed Card’s parents’ request for their charges to be dismissed, arguing that plea deals that hinge on defendants forfeiting seized cash is not extortion, but “simply ordinary plea bargaining.”

Judge McKay Chauvin refused to dismiss the charges.

“Whether the defendants were offered the opportunity to avoid having charges presented to the Grand Jury if they forfeited money that the police allege was seized from their home in the course of the investigation is, moreover, of no consequence,” Chauvin wrote.

By October, the prosecutor agreed to dismiss the charges against the family and return Card’s watches, his parents’ access to their bank account and some of Card’s cash.

But Card would still have to forfeit $305,050 and three dozen guns.

In an emailed statement, assistant commonwealth’s attorney Ebert Haegele said the forfeited cash was “proven to be proceeds from drug sales,” but he did not explain how.

The rest of the money was from a legitimate source and returned, said Haegele, who is the narcotics division chief.

“Our office’s approach to asset forfeiture is in accordance with Kentucky law,” said Haegele, who is a candidate for judge in Jefferson Circuit Court division 4  

As for the misconduct allegations levied against Porter, Haegele said those were “litigated in state court and proven to be untrue.”

In December 2020, Porter was sworn in as a special assistant U.S. Attorney for the western district of Kentucky.

Card said he agreed to the deal with prosecutors because fighting the case became too costly and tiring.

“I was exhausted and it was taking a toll on my ability to be mentally, physically and emotionally here for my wife and cousin that lives with us,” he said.

He’s now looking to expunge the dismissed charges from his record. A Jefferson Circuit Court judge will rule on his request next month.

Asset forfeiture now routine

Across Kentucky, law enforcement agencies reported seizing more than $86 million between the 2013 and 2021 fiscal year, according to data maintained by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.

The Louisville Metro Police Department reported seizing $35 million between 2013 and 2021, by far the most among the state’s law enforcement agencies.

A 2018 KyCIR investigation found Jefferson County prosecutors routinely used seized money as a bargaining chip in criminal cases. Attorneys for Card and his family argued the deal offered by prosecutors in this case was extreme, and the “very definition of extortion.”

Kentucky state law gives police agencies broad authority to take and keep money if they suspect it’s tied to drugs. For defendants, fighting the seizure is often fruitless and the cost can outweigh the benefit of getting the cash back. 

Police in Kentucky keep 85% of any property forfeited in state court, and prosecutors get the rest, meaning prosecutors netted about $46,000 of Card’s money.  

The money taken from Card in November 2019 was St. Matthews Police Department’s biggest seizure in recent years, state data show.

St. Matthews Police officials did not respond to a request for comment about Card’s case.

Police are restricted to spending the money obtained via asset forfeiture on things with a “direct law enforcement purpose,” according to state law.

There was a brief push to reform elements of the state’s asset forfeiture law in 2020. A bill passed through the House Judiciary Committee would have created penalties for law enforcement agencies that fail to report how much cash and property they seize through asset forfeiture.

“With power comes great responsibility,” said Savannah Maddox, a Republican from Dry Ridge, who sponsored the bill.

But a few weeks later, a week into the pandemic’s arrival in Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order prohibiting mass gatherings due to the burgeoning outbreak of COVID-19. 

The same day, Maddox gutted the asset forfeiture bill and replaced it with language that sought to restrict the governor’s ability to enact a state of emergency.

The measure did not advance.

Reporter Jacob Ryan can be reached at jryan@kycir.org and (502) 814.6559.

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No charges yet for former LMPD detective, despite investigation concluding he broke law Wednesday, Jan 26 2022 

Two internal investigations concluded that a former Louisville police detective pressured multiple confidential informants into performing sexual acts on him and lied about it to investigators — and that his actions broke the law.


LMPD Detective Brian Bailey

But two years after the investigations began, Brian Bailey has not been criminally charged. The commonwealth’s attorney’s office says it’s still deciding whether to charge Bailey, now more than seven months since they received the bulk of the evidence from the Louisville Metro Police Department’s criminal investigation.

Police and court records show one LMPD investigator began introducing doubt that Bailey would face charges in the same report where police concluded he broke the law.

Sgt. Andrew Meyer of the LMPD Professional Standards Unit wrote in a July 8 investigative summary that Bailey could have been charged with, at least, official misconduct and prostitution, both misdemeanors. Police have an alleged victim’s shirt with Brian Bailey’s semen on it, sexually explicit text messages he sent, proof he coerced informants into having oral sex with him in his police car and sexual acts in his office. Police also confirmed Bailey lied in sworn testimony.

Meyer determined that “these acts have destroyed public respect and confidence and they have brought discredit upon the department and upon Detective Bailey as a member of the department.”

But he also wrote that police were “unable” to charge Bailey because the one-year statute of limitations for misdemeanor charges ran out during the LMPD’s two-year investigation.

Two investigative unit reviews of Bailey — the Public Integrity Unit, which looks at criminal matters; and PSU, which determines if an officer violated internal policies — both concluded Bailey broke the law.

Regardless of the evidence and police conclusions, Bailey was allowed to remain with the department until his resignation in June.

The criminal investigation of Bailey began nearly two years ago, in February 2020. But he was first investigated and cleared for the same offense in 2016, when a woman serving as his confidential informant accused him of sexual assault.

(Read: LMPD Cleared Top Warrant Detective Of Sexual Misconduct. Then, More Women Came Forward.)

The woman accused Bailey of touching her breast and sending her pictures of his penis from his work cellphone, but police never interviewed Bailey or looked at his phone.

Indeed, investigators waited eight months before even asking Bailey to talk about her claims.

When he refused, they closed the case, saying the allegations were “unfounded.”

In addition, LMPD didn’t open an internal investigation with its Professional Standards Unit, which is typical LMPD practice to do after a criminal probe is complete to look for violations of police procedure.

It would take another four years — and three more women accusing Bailey of sexual assault — before investigators talked with him. It took another year before police subpoenaed Bailey’s phones.

By then, three women had filed lawsuits against Bailey; his partner Jared Williams, who resigned from the department in January 2021; other officers involved in the 2016 investigation; and the city, among others.

An investigator in the criminal case said Bailey’s “cell phones had been deleted,” according to records in the civil suits.

In an August 25 deposition, LMPD Chief Erika Shields criticized the investigations into Bailey, saying that police should have obtained the texts the detective sent in 2016. She said a more thorough investigation at the time would have likely led to Bailey’s resignation or firing.

“From a Monday morning quarterback, it looks like that there was more that could have been done,” she said.

Criminal charges?

WDRB News and the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting first documented Bailey’s pattern of questionable warrants and accusations of sexual misconduct with confidential informants in February 2021 as part of the news organizations’ ongoing examination of LMPD search warrants in the wake of the 2020 fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.

Before he was taken off the streets, Bailey was notorious for search warrants based on information provided by confidential informants. Bailey obtained more residential search warrants than any other LMPD officer, according to an analysis by KyCIR and WDRB of publicly available warrants. He obtained more search warrants between January 2019 and June 2020 than the next two officers combined.

All but one of Bailey’s warrants reviewed by KyCIR and WDRB was based, at least in part, on the word of confidential informants.

Attorneys raised flags about Bailey’s use of confidential informants, accusing him in court of relying on “boilerplate” affidavits and, in some cases, making up information.

Bailey’s attorney, James McKiernan, declined to comment. An LMPD spokesperson said the department would not comment while the case is still pending. Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney Thomas B. Wine said his office is still trying to determine if criminal charges are warranted against Bailey.

Even though the investigative report centered on possible misdemeanors, Sgt. Omar Lee, who investigated Bailey to determine if he committed a crime, testified in a civil deposition in September that a felony charge of sodomy is possible as felony cases have no statute of limitations.

Kentucky’s sodomy law includes forcible oral sex, which two women accused Bailey of and the standards investigation concluded likely occurred.

Whether Lee’s investigation addressed the possibility of charging Bailey with a felony isn’t clear, because his report isn’t in the civil court record.

Attorney Vince Johnson, who represents two of the three women who have sued Bailey and the city, filed a motion in court Tuesday asking a judge to force the city to turn over Lee’s investigation, including any recommendations concerning criminal charges.

Johnson wrote that prosecutors have had the case for several months but Bailey has not been charged, and attempts to communicate with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office have failed.

“Whether Bailey will face criminal responsibility for his actions is of significant interest to the (women in the suits) and to the entire community,” he wrote.

Investigation: Bailey targeted women addicted to drugs

Four women have publicly accused Bailey of sending explicit photos and forcing them to engage in sexual acts while facing criminal charges.

The complaints in the lawsuits are similar: Bailey forced women facing charges to become confidential informants and then compelled them to perform sexual acts on him under threat of criminal prosecution.

In his standards investigation, Meyer concluded that Bailey targeted low-income women who were addicted to drugs and “would be more willing to perform sexual acts than go to jail,” according to his investigative summary.

“There are similarities in methodology among the allegations,” said Meyer. “These unique characteristics surface throughout Detective Bailey’s conduct toward each of these individuals. The methodology is regarding this apparent method of selection, coercion technique, and specific phrasing used to initiate sexual encounters.”

In text messages to the women, he would refer to himself as “Daddy,” and often asked the women, “Why you scared?” if they were hesitant.

Police have text messages from two of the four women.

One of the women, whose name was redacted, said Bailey got her out of trouble with police and prosecutors about ten times when she provided him with sexual favors.

The woman “believed any time she had been arrested, Detective Bailey called the prosecutor and told them she is working on a ‘big case’ for him, and this got her out of trouble,” Meyer wrote. “There was no big case.”

Other times, she would be pulled over by an officer and call Bailey “and he would call whoever had her stopped and they would let her go,” Meyer wrote.

Screenshots turned over to attorneys and included in court records from the woman involved in the 2016 case show someone she has listed in her phone as “BB” making sexually suggestive remarks and asking to come to her home. She provided the phone number to attorneys for the city and the alleged victims.

One woman told Meyer that Bailey would let her use drugs before performing a sex act on him in his vehicle.

Meyer also reviewed evidence from the 2016 investigation, where the woman turned over text messages Bailey had sent her, including one that said “Please mommy make daddy proud.”

In the deposition, the woman claims Bailey sexually abused her in his police cruiser and his office, where she describes seeing pictures of his family.

She said he texted her every day and she went along with it because he was “preventing me from becoming a felon.”

She claims he told her, “You help me and I’ll help you. You owe me.”

Shields raises concerns about investigation

Shields, who took over as chief in January 2021, initiated an investigation into whether Bailey violated departmental policies last June, shortly after the investigators in the criminal probe obtained DNA evidence on an alleged victim’s t-shirt that proved he had a sexual relationship with her.

At the very least, Shields said in her deposition, the department could discipline Bailey for untruthfulness, as he said in sworn testimony that he did not have a relationship with that informant.

Bailey resigned that same month. In a recent deposition, Bailey asserted his right to not incriminate himself 125 times in refusing to answer questions.

Bailey did talk to LMPD investigator Lee in May 2020, providing an initial 10-minute statement, but asked for an attorney once the investigator told him about allegations against him.

“He gave me ten minutes and locked himself into a story,” Lee said in his deposition.

Bailey’s statement is not available in court records.

Shields acknowledged she was frustrated with how long the second investigation of Bailey has taken, noting that waiting for the Kentucky State Police to finish the DNA testing put the investigation on a “two-year timeline, and that was not reasonable.”

Instead, Shields said she had investigators send the shirt to a private lab to be tested.

“Once the DNA came back and it showed that, in fact, he had in some shape or form had a relationship with this woman, I knew at that point, if nothing else, he – he lied in his statement,” she said.

But both Shields and Lee also criticized Meyer’s investigation and conclusions in their testimony.

Shields said Meyer has “established himself as somebody who jumps to conclusions.”
While saying she “absolutely” has concerns with Bailey’s actions, she was “not going to give Andrew Meyer that much weight.

“I just can’t,” Shields said.

Meyer investigated the officers involved in the Breonna Taylor shooting in 2020 and concluded they should not have returned gunfire because “circumstances made it unsafe to take a single shot.”

He concluded that officers who fired their weapons that night violated LMPD’s use-of-force policy.

Commanders disagreed with Meyer’s findings and overruled them.

Lee defended his criminal investigation of Bailey — and how long it took — saying he didn’t believe he had enough evidence to get a search warrant for Bailey’s phones until the Kentucky State Police finished testing the DNA evidence.

While two of the three women in the lawsuits talked with Lee, one did not, he said, so he did not investigate the claims she made.

And the woman who claimed she had Bailey’s DNA on a t-shirt would not provide her phone as she believed police would find proof she was involved in illegal activity and use it against her, he said.

Asked if he believed Bailey committed crimes against both women involved in his investigation, Lee said, “I believe so, yes sir.”

Shields said Meyer and Lee should have done more to collaborate and obtain key evidence.
While the units generally keep their work separate to avoid compromising criminal investigations, Shields said the initial statements gathered by each unit should be shared.
Asked if she had any doubts that Bailey had committed crimes, she said, “Obviously I have serious concern.”

And if the investigation in 2016 had been more thorough, Shields said, it might have prevented further victims — because it “would definitely have increased the likelihood that he would have resigned.”

Produced through a collaboration between WDRB News and the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit newsroom created by Louisville Public Media.

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