Officer Accused In DUI Crash Had Several Reprimands - News, Weather & Sports

Officer Accused In DUI Crash Had Several Reprimands

Officer John Kelly Officer John Kelly

By James Zambroski

(LOUISVILLE, April 26th, 2005) -- Louisville Metro Police Officer John Kelly is on paid administrative leave after he allegedly crashed his police cruiser while driving drunk off duty last week. And it's not the first time he's been in trouble as a police officer. As WAVE 3 Investigator James Zambroski reports, Kelly has been a discipline problem for years but the department has been unable to fire him.

Kelly has been suspended without pay eight times in his 14-year career with the department.

Personnel records obtained by WAVE 3 News show that he was suspended by former Chiefs Doug Hamilton and Greg Smith for a total of 49 days, and received letters of reprimand from Hamilton, Smith and current LMPD Chief Robert White.

Through it all, Kelly has managed to keep his job.

"It takes about a year to a year and a half to get rid of an officer who's what we call a problem child," said Dr. William Walsh, director of the Southern Police Institute at the University of Louisville.

Perhaps a key to Kelly's job survival is that none of his offenses, until the DUI, were infractions of the law.

"From the perspective of management, management should be aware of him as a persistent offender and this is a discipline problem," Walsh told WAVE 3 Investigator James Zambroski.

Police officers receive protection as government employees, covered by their own civil service and labor agreement.

"Any civil servant today who's protected by the civil service laws, it's a very difficult thing to fire them," Walsh said.

The suspensions ranged from 1 day to 20 days. In 1998, Kelly got an 11-day suspension after he persuaded a lawyer to sneak Kelly's gun through the metal detectors at the Hall of Justice.

"He said he thought that weapons were coming into the courthouse," said Ramone McGee, a Louisville attorney. "So he had asked me if I would take his sidearm through the magnetometer."

The weapon was undetected by Jefferson County Sheriff's deputies manning the security checkpoint.

"As soon as I went through, Officer Kelly told the deputy what he had done and asked me to go ahead and surrender the sidearm, which I did," McGee said.

It was only later that McGee learned that Kelly's investigation into courthouse security was unauthorized and done on his own.

"I wasn't angry about it," McGee said. "I was concerned though, because they had actually talked about bringing charges against both of us as a result of it."

In another incident, Kelly was given a 5-day suspension for botching a domestic violence investigation. Contrary to policy, he neglected to file a report on a complaint from a Preston Street woman.

According to Kelly's suspension letter, the suspect returned to the woman's home, set it on fire and vandalized her car.

Walsh says the key is to detect problem officers early enough to do something about them. "Many departments have early warning systems now where they start to tag officers who are engaged in this type of behavior over a period of time."

The old city police department had such a warning system, but it is unclear whether it carried over to the merged department. WAVE 3 asked LMPD officials to confirm or deny the warning system's existence, but a spokeswoman said the only commander who could tell us was off and that no one else was versed enough on the issue to speak about it.

The Fraternal Order of Police, the labor union representing police officers, declined comment. Officer Kelly could not be reached for comment.

Online Reporter: James Zambroski

Online Producer: Michael Dever

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