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Loophole allowing embattled officers to keep their certification closes

Published: May. 27, 2021 at 10:45 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - New changes to Kentucky laws will prevent officers who violate their oath from serving in law enforcement again.

Previously, officers mainly had to be convicted of a felony in order to lose their state-issued Peace Officer Professional Standards (POPS) certification, which is required to have a sworn law enforcement position. Senate Bill 80 has already been put to work, lowering that standard and allowing the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council the flexibility to decertify an officer for other things, such as a misdemeanor.

For some, the changes were a long time coming.

“He just keeps getting away with everything,” one victim said in a copy of body camera video WAVE 3 News obtained through an open records request. " ... When does it all stop?”

A Louisville Metro Police Department officer captured the video while responding to a 911 call by the victim. The woman said in the video that her then-husband, William Garrett, broke into her home and violated a domestic violence protection order.

His job as an LMPD officer was something that Garrett was able to keep after his divorce. Despite his guilty plea for breaking the protection order and his loss of the ability to legally carry a gun, former LMPD Chief Steve Conrad allowed him to remain employed with the department for 10 months.

In the end, Garrett resigned on his own. Because his guilty plea for breaking the protective order was a misdemeanor and not a felony, he was able to keep his state-issued officer certification, too.

It’s something that WAVE 3 News has reported was happening repeatedly, with LMPD officers quitting before an internal investigation was done, keeping their certification, and then getting a job somewhere else.

Garrett was later arrested, allegedly for using LMPD computers while on reassignment to access and sell information about investigations to criminals.

Because the charges against Garrett came before the law changed, he still hasn’t been de-certified.

“Too many bad officers have fallen through the cracks,” Senator David Yates told WAVE 3 News.

Kenneth Betts is one example.

“It’s been rough,” one of his victims told WAVE 3 News.

Betts, the former LMPD Explorer leader, now sits in prison on charges relating to child sex abuse. He was able to quit the department, even though the sex abuse allegations had been made public and while an internal investigation was being conducted. Betts was able to get a second job with Audubon Police after Conrad closed the investigation “by exception.”

The loophole made one of his victims nervous for others.

“That thing that happened to me will happen to other people,” he said. “That’s my biggest worry.”

Then there is Christopher Cole. Cole worked for West Buechel Police in 2005, during which time he was arrested for stealing police radios and selling them. A judge in Kentucky told him in a court order not to “seek or accept” employment as a peace officer ever again as part of the settlement deal resolving those charges.

Cole then moved to West Virginia where he bounced from one police department to another and even became the chief of police in the Ohio River city of Kenova. Once he moved back to Louisville, he picked up a job as an officer at Metro Youth Detention Services, despite the court order put in place after his 2005 arrest. While working at the detention center, he was convicted of working a side job while on duty.

In 2019, investigators with the LMPD Public Integrity Unit pushed to get Cole’s certification taken away, but the surprises surrounding the former West Buechel officer didn’t end there. WAVE 3 News found Cole got yet another sworn officer job at the Bullitt County Detention Center. On his application, he wrote that he was terminated from Metro Youth Detention for working two jobs, but that he would “explain.”

Cole did not want to provide an answer after WAVE 3 News visited his house and spoke to his wife. She said her husband was an officer before asking us to leave. The Bullitt County jailer did not want to respond to Wave 3 News’ phone calls.

A few days later, Cole was fired in Bullitt County.

Cole will soon have a hearing for breaking the terms of his probation.

“Keeping those kinds of folks in this industry is doing nothing to help anybody,” Kenton Police Chief Spike Jones told WAVE 3 News.

Jones sits on the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council (KLEC), which was recently given the power to decertify an officer without them even being charged with a crime. Officer Todd Shaw is an example.

Shaw was the former Prospect assistant chief who WAVE 3 News fought a legal battle to expose in an exclusive Troubleshooter Investigation. The information gathered for that report included several inflammatory messages written by Shaw, such as, “If black, shoot them” and, “What has POLICING come to when all you can shoot are white people and injured deer.”

Shaw wasn’t charged with a crime, but Jones said under the newly enacted Senate Bill 80, Shaw could have been decertified.

WAVE 3 News does not know where or if Shaw is working anywhere now.

“None of us want to work alongside someone that’s going to take really a very noble profession and run it down,” Jones said. “So we want them gone as bad as anybody else does. This is just a tool to do that.”

Agencies across Kentucky are also now required to report the names of officers who quit, retire, or are fired during any type of investigation to the KLEC. The KLEC reviews those files and makes a call if they believe that officer shouldn’t represent the profession.

“Senate bill 80 is a positive step in the right direction,” Yates, a co-sponsor for the legislation, said. “It’s not a home run. It’s just one more step.”

The bill is something that could have prevented all the good officers and victims from having to pay for the acts of others.

Yates says the law is heading in the right direction but would like to see a national database of de-certified officers for agencies to check. He hopes that change will come soon.

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