Lexington refutes fired officer’s allegations of racism, wants lawsuits dismissed
Lawyers for the city of Lexington have asked state and federal judges to dismiss lawsuits filed by fired officer Jervis Middleton who has accused the police department of racist conduct.
In recently filed court documents, the city denied that racism played a role in punishment decisions.
Middleton filed two lawsuits challenging his February termination. A March lawsuit, currently pending in Fayette Circuit Court, alleges that the city violated Middelton’s due process rights by failing to have a council disciplinary hearing in the statutorily required time frame and failing to charge Middleton correctly. The charges are administrative, not criminal. The charges stem from Middleton communicating with racial justice protesters in the summer of 2020.
The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council voted in February to terminate Middleton after a 12-hour hearing. Middleton was accused of overall misconduct, sharing internal police information and being dishonest about his communication with protesters. The council found him guilty of the first two administrative charges but not guilty of the third charge.
The lawsuit asks for Middleton to be reinstated with full back pay and benefits.
In both state and federal court, lawyers representing the city of Lexington have asked judges to dismiss parts or all of Middelton’s claims.
In early July, lawyers for the city asked U.S. District Court Judge Danny Reeves to dismiss Middleton’s breach of contract claims in the federal case, arguing the city’s sovereign immunity — a legal concept that means the city cannot be sued without consent — bars Middleton from claiming breach of contract.
City lawyers also pushed back against accusations that Lexington police did not fully investigate Middleton’s racial bias claims.
The court documents said the Lexington Police Department has “an effective anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy, exercised reasonable care to prevent harassment and discrimination, and promptly took steps to correct any alleged wrongful behavior of which the (city and the police department) may have been aware.”
Middleton’s reports of alleged racial discrimination were not timely, the city’s response said.
“He may have unreasonably failed to take advantage of preventative opportunities provided by the defendant, including but not limited to any failure to timely report any incident of alleged harassment to appropriate officials,” the response said.
In his federal lawsuit, Middleton alleges he faced multiple acts of discrimination as a police officer. He alleges those complaints were not investigated until this year, when the administrative charges related to communicating with protesters were filed.
The Fraternal Order of Police filed a grievance concerning those allegations of racial discrimination. However, that grievance was dropped as part of a settlement of a prior disciplinary action against Middleton.
Middleton was acquitted of official misconduct by a Fayette District Court jury in February 2019. He was accused of using police computers to get information about a woman who had accused him of stalking and spying on her after their sexual relationship ended.
As part of the settlement of that disciplinary action, Middleton agreed to be demoted from sergeant to officer.
Lawsuit: White officers got less or no punishment
The more than 70-page federal lawsuit alleges a long history of disparate treatment of white and Black officers. Black officers faced more serious penalties for infractions while white officers accused of much more serious offenses continued to work for the police department, the lawsuit argues.
Between 2017 and 2019, the lawsuit alleges that there were at least 30 documented informal complaints against white Lexington police officers concerning racial bias. All but two were dismissed as “unfounded” by Lexington police.
The remaining two complaints were “resolved with citizens,” according to internal documents. No discipline was imposed, the lawsuit alleges.
According to the lawsuit, incidents in which white officers were accused of serious misconduct but remained on the force include:
A white officer who pulled a gun on a woman he was dating after finding out she was dating a Black man. No discipline.
A white officer who drove under the influence on multiple occasions. His assigned police cruiser was wrecked on one of those occasions, followed by the officer delaying blood-alcohol testing for four hours. The officer received a 60-day suspension.
A white officer who committed excessive force when dragging a suspect from a police cruiser, shoving him and putting his hands on the suspect’s throat. The officer received a three-week suspension.
A white officer who got intoxicated; left her gun unattended for several hours; got into a physical altercation at a wedding party, striking a person several times in the head and face; and got into an altercation with the father of the man who got married. The officer received a 20-hour suspension.
Two white officers who shared pictures of their genitals with private citizens or on public forums were suspended. The only information publicly released and presented to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council when their discipline was approved was that the men were suspended for “inappropriate conduct.”
In its response in federal court, lawyers for the city repeatedly countered Middleton’s claims of racial bias or preferential treatment of white officers.
“Defendants deny any inference of racism from plaintiff’s depiction of the disciplinary action,” the city’s response said.
Middleton also alleges the city did not follow the collective bargaining agreement, which outlines how police officers are disciplined, and state law when it brought the administrative charges against him.
Middleton was initially charged with one count of misconduct. The other two charges Middleton faced were added after the public integrity unit had interrogated Middleton. Those additional charges were added after Police Chief Lawrence Weathers and an internal disciplinary review board had met.
“The presentation of additional charges against Jervis following the disciplinary process violates” both state law and the department’s own general orders, the lawsuit alleges.
In both court proceedings, lawyers for the city argue those claims are unfounded.
A hearing date has not been set in either case, according to court records.