LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - LMPD Interim Chief Robert Schroeder and the city’s public safety director, Amy Hess, declined to answer questions Monday about the police department’s response to citywide protests the last nine weeks.
The standoff came to a head when lawyers representing Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s office told council members that their clients, Schroeder and Hess, should not be required to testify because of a new civil lawsuit.
The ACLU along with several others, including Rep. Attica Scott, filed the lawsuit Thursday against Fischer, Schroeder, and LMPD officers for alleged use-of-force violations during the protests that at times became violent.
Metro Councilman Brent Ackerson said the attorneys used the new lawsuit as an excuse not to have to tell the public the truth.
“The facts are going to be what they are,” Ackerson said. “What chief Schroeder did or did not do, is a fact. We just want him to testify about it. What Chief Hess did or did not do, is a fact, just tell us the truth about it. They’re going to have to eventually tell the truth in that federal lawsuit when they get deposed, which will be nine months to a year from now, which then again, further holds the truth back.”
Schroeder’s attorney said the committee already knew their intent not to speak publicly, but the committee’s attorney said he was only told about the possible conflict Monday morning.
A spokeswoman with the mayor’s office, Jean Porter, says Ackerson was well aware but continued nonetheless. Porter issued the following statement to WAVE 3 News:
“We understand that people in our city want answers. We want them too, and we remain committed to sharing information as soon as we can without jeopardizing pending investigations. The Committee chair was well aware before they set up today’s meeting that there are matters that we are legally not allowed to share, and they were advised of our concerns about proceeding at this time, specifically in light of a lawsuit filed late last week where Metro employees were sued in their individual capacities. But the Committee chair proceeded nonetheless. We look forward to returning to Council when all concerns have been properly addressed.”
”There wasn’t ample time,” Ackerson said. “It was a last-minute, you know, a morning call, just to create distractions and delays.”
Ackerson blames the Mayor for the setback in the Committee’s investigation.
”Why won’t you allow these people to go on the record openly? Why do you want to keep this hidden? The mayor has the ability to say no, we’re going to go public.”
The attorneys for Hess and Schroeder said that any questions should be asked behind closed doors and not in a public setting. Ackerson declined, saying the public has a right to see and hear exactly what goes on with its police department. He vowed that the questioning will not be hidden from the public and that the testimony will never be taken in an executive session.
Schroeder’s attorney said that making the chief testify, even about the department’s response to the protests, would be a “violation of the chief’s right to privacy.”
The attorneys stated that state law allowed their clients to waive the option of testifying behind closed doors and do so in public. Neither Schroeder nor Hess agreed to waive that right and testify.
After it was clear that both Hess and Schroeder were not going to answer any questions, Ackerson told them, “there’s the door.”
Hess and Schroeder’s attorney argued that state law prevented their clients from publicly testifying about cases currently being litigated. The council’s own attorney said their interpretation of the law was wrong and that it was overbearing and overly broad. The council’s attorney said that if the law was to be used the way that Schroeder and Hess’s attorneys said, then any public official could hide behind any lawsuit filed indefinitely.
Councilman Anthony Piagentini added that it was not a “shocker” that Fischer’s administration would find a way to not have to answer any questions and provide as little information as possible.
"You, the public, will never get the truth," Piagentini said.
The questions were expected to revolve around a number of issues, from LMPD’s use of force during protests to who gave stand-down orders to officers during the looting of downtown businesses.
Council members have been vocal about trying to get answers, such as who called in the National Guard to respond the night of the shooting death of restaurant owner David McAtee, and what role did a development project play in the investigation into Breonna Taylor’s ex-boyfriend Jamarcus Glover.
“This is a pattern of behavior in terms of this administration, and this police department, seeking to hide information not only from the public, but also from us, as elected officials and so I’m sick of it, and in terms of my mind, asking people to come, politely, is no longer an option,” Councilwoman Jessica Green said.
The attorney representing Hess said that Hess might be able to answer questions in a public setting in 30 days, once some of the lawsuit has been worked through. Ackerson and the council’s attorney agreed there would be no guarantee that in 30 days they would not decline to answer questions again.
The committee will now discuss issuing subpoenas for both Hess and Schroeder in order to get the answers to the questions to which they believe the public has a right.
Read the letter Hess’ attorney issued to the attorney representing the Metro Council regarding the investigation below.