Former assistant police chief in Kentucky accused of sending racist messages to recruit
Todd Shaw performed well as assistant police chief for the town of Prospect, an affluent bedroom community outside Louisville, Kentucky, Prospect Mayor John Evans said.
“He had a clean record, commendations, and, during the years he was here, there were no black marks on his record, no adverse reports about him,” Evans said told CNN Monday.
But Shaw, a veteran law enforcement officer, lost his job after city officials say they learned in a roundabout fashion that he’d sent racist messages on Facebook.
For instance, Shaw told a Louisville police recruit it was OK to shoot teenagers caught smoking marijuana if they were black, according to a letter written by Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell that describes the communications. The letter, dated August 31, was made public after a judge’s ruling last week.
Shaw also allegedly wrote Facebook messages saying public housing projects should be leveled and that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a racist womanizer, “but because someone shot him, I get a day off with pay each year so I will take it,” the letter from O’Connell quoted a Shaw Facebook message as saying.
O’Connell sent the letter detailing Shaw’s messages to the Prospect mayor. Shaw was suspended in September and resigned in November. After the judge’s ruling, O’Connell made his letter about Shaw’s messages public.
Evans and Prospect Police Chief Jeff Sherrard, who hired Shaw five years ago, said they were blindsided. The messages may have been intended to be humorous because a lot of them included LOL, Internet shorthand for laughing out loud, Sherrard said.
“It was apparent they were brought in a joking manner,” Sherrard said of Shaw’s alleged remarks, “though it sure isn’t funny in any shape, form or fashion.”
The messages even caught the attention of the music world. Rapper Snoop Dog posted on Instagram Sunday, “Expose his b**** a**.”
Former officer not speaking
Shaw was a highly experienced law enforcement officer.
He had worked with the Prospect police department since 2012. Prospect is a town of about 4,600 people with a police department of some 12 officers, about half full-time and half part-time. The city is about 91% white, according to the 2010 census.
He’d previously served about 20 years with the Louisville Metro Police and spent a brief period as a Kentucky state trooper, Evans said. Shaw was a charter member of Supporting Heroes, an organization that supports families of public safety workers killed in the line of duty, according to his LinkedIn account.
CNN’s efforts to reach Shaw for comment were not successful. One of his lawyers, Michael Burns, told CNN on Sunday that neither Shaw nor he were commenting at this time.
“It’s my client’s decision,” Burns said.
But according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Burns said Shaw was just “playing” in the Facebook messages.
“His Facebook messages were made privately between colleagues and friends who shared the reality of being police officers in today’s culture where police are demonized and demoralized for doing what is required to keep the community safe,” Burns said in an email, according to the newspaper. “Actions speak louder than words and Mr. Shaw’s actions during his career speak for themselves. He is not a racist in any sense of the word.”
Private vs. public
The racist remarks were made in private Facebook messages from Shaw to one other person, authorities said. They were not posted as comments on Facebook pages that all his friends could view.
Shaw had argued in court that the messages should not be released because of their private nature, but a Jefferson County Circuit Court judge ruled against Shaw.
“While the court understands how embarrassing the documents may be to Shaw personally, they are not of the private nature intended to be shielded from public disclosure,” Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman wrote in her opinion. “The documents reveal opinions and prejudices that bring into question Shaw’s integrity as a law enforcement officer who has been entrusted to serve and protect all members of society. That public concern is magnified based on Shaw’s rank of assistant chief.”
O’Connell, the county attorney, said it doesn’t matter that the messages were sent in private. He noted that they were obtained through police subpoena.
“It’s one thing to feel and believe these things and another to talk out loud about that, especially to a recruit with the largest department in the jurisdiction,” he said.
‘What is the right thing to do?’
O’Connell’s nine-page letter to Mayor Evans contained transcribed Facebook conversations between Shaw and the police recruit, and included pictures Shaw allegedly sent.
One picture showed black men running away and a little boy standing nearby with a speech bubble saying, “Are you my dad?” The headline on the photo: “How to break up a Black Lives Matter protest.”
The Facebook messages were sent as far back as 2010, according to O’Connell’s letter. In one 2016 exchange, the police recruit discusses a training assignment about how a police officer should respond if he comes upon three teenagers smoking marijuana in a park, the letter said.
The assignment asked the question, “What is the right thing to do?”
Shaw replied, “F*** the right thing. If black shoot them,” according to O’Connell’s letter.
Shaw added that the officer could deal with the teenagers’ parents by having sex with both of them, “Unless daddy is black … Then shoot him,” O’Connell’s letter said, citing a Facebook message.
The recruit was not hired by the Prospect or Louisville departments, Mayor Evans said.
How the messages came out
The Louisville Metro Police public integrity unit was investigating allegations that one of their officers had inappropriate sexual contact with a youth in the department’s Explorers program, said attorney Nick Mudd, who represented Shaw in a criminal investigation but not the civil case that resulted in the release of the Facebook messages.
In the Explorers program, police officers introduce teenagers to the basics of careers in law enforcement.
Somebody alleged the Louisville officer had asked Shaw to run a car tag on the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database to get the identity of the car owner, Mudd said.
“He (Shaw) was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing,” Mudd said, while declining to say if Shaw ran the tag or not. Shaw was never investigated as part of the inappropriate sexual contact, Mudd said.
But in the course of the investigation, the public integrity unit subpoenaed Shaw’s Facebook messages and discovered the racist communications, which they forwarded to O’Connell’s office, O’Connell said.
“I thought it was vicious, perverted and despicable,” O’Connell said of the Facebook messages.
Shaw was suspended from his job September 1, the day after the mayor received the letter from O’Connell, and he resigned in November.
CNN affiliate WAVE filed an open records request for the Facebook messages. The judge ruled in the TV station’s favor.
What happens next?
Evans said he wasn’t planning any special community meetings over the Shaw resignation. He noted that the city had instituted sensitivity training years ago.
“When you ask what are we going to do about this, there’s not anything frankly that we could do that we haven’t done,” he said.
But Raoul Cunningham, president of the NAACP branch in Louisville, said he wants to find out more about how Prospect officers are trained.
“Training is not going to remove racism from a racist,” he said Monday. “But training can lead to performance and how and what is appropriate and not appropriate in the work environment.”
Cunningham said he also worries other racist officers have slipped through the cracks.
“It’s been a shocker that he was so blatant, and that is what we have to deal with,” he said. “And then we got to worry about the ones that are sophisticated enough to keep it under wraps.”
Sherrard, the Prospect police chief, said he planned to talk about Shaw at an upcoming city council meeting.
“The only thing I can say is I’m sorry,” Sherrard told CNN Monday. “I vetted him the best I could. I worked beside him for five years. In no way did I imagine that anything like that could come out or that he would say anything like that, even in a joking manner. I was completely taken aback. I brought him in, so I have to take responsibility.”
The racial language so disturbed O’Connell that he said he’s dismissing two dozen misdemeanor court cases involving Shaw, mostly traffic offenses.
On a larger level, he said, “I think the dialogue in the community and the body politic should continue and not just fade away. This kind of issue is raw and important and necessary to talk about.”