Ky. officer accused of sharing information with BLM protester fired

By Beth Musgrave

Lexington Herald-Leader

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Lexington police want to fire a Lexington police officer for communicating with a leader of this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.

Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers and an internal police disciplinary committee have recommended officer Jervis Middleton be fired for violating several department policies for providing information — including details about which officers were working — to protest leader Sarah Williams.

Middleton is challenging his termination, saying the information he provided Williams did not jeopardize the safety of officers and his due process rights were violated. During Thursday’s hearing, lawyers for Middleton, who is Black, said Middleton has faced repeated racial taunts and discrimination from fellow officers. Those officers have never been punished.

Keith Horn, a lawyer for the city, said during opening arguments in Middleton’s disciplinary case on Thursday, that Middleton told Williams what to say to some officers during protests in May and June and sent her some staffing information, including that police were looking for officers to work overtime to work the protests.

Middleton faces charges related to overall misconduct, sharing internal police information and for being dishonest about his communication with Williams. Middleton at first denied he had given the information to Williams and only admitted it after being shown text and other messages from Williams’ phone, Horn said.

Officer Middleton’s “conduct during a highly stressful and potentially vulnerable time during the history of our community, the most significant policing event in our community in 20 years, demonstrates that he should no longer be a police officer,” Horn said.

Keith Sparks, Middleton’s lawyer, said Middleton has faced ongoing racial discrimination and taunts from other police officers. Those officers were never punished, Sparks said.

Some of those taunts included an officer who told Middleton to “turn your black a– around.” Sparks said Middleton complained to the public integrity unit, which is charged with investigating complaints. But the lieutenant in the public integrity unit has since denied Middleton filed a complaint or told him about it.

“The officer who hurled that insult is now a lieutenant,” Sparks said.

Fellow officers also created at least five memes featuring Middleton, which made it appear that Middleton was a threat to white women. “They were racially inappropriate,” Sparks said.

Middleton was also referred to as a “token” by fellow police officers, Sparks said. No one was ever punished.

Middleton was also frustrated after seeing so many Black people killed by police, Sparks said.

Middleton saw ongoing racial discrimination in his department that had not been acknowledged and wanted to see changes, Sparks said, explaining why Middleton sent some information to Williams.

Moreover, what Middleton said and told Williams caused no harm to any police officer, Sparks said.

“He did not encourage violence,” Sparks said. “He simply called out racism to a local community activist.”

Sparks also questioned why police sought a search warrant for Williams’ phone and for her Facebook pages. Williams and others were arrested in mid-June on a variety of charges, including inciting a riot. Williams said she was walking to her car after the protest when she was arrested.

Using a warrant to get Williams’ cell phone and Facebook information “was completely unfounded,” Sparks said.

Williams said in a social media post earlier Thursday said she was scheduled to testify in a police disciplinary hearing. The criminal charges against her are still pending.

Sparks also claims Middleton’s due process rights were violated during the investigation.

Both sides will have four hours to present their respective cases.

Police disciplinary hearings, where the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council act as the jury, are conducted if the officer does not accept the punishment recommended by the police chief or an internal police disciplinary committee, which consists of the upper command staff of the police department.

The council is expected to begin deliberations around 9 p.m. Thursday. Those deliberations will be an executive session or behind closed doors. The council can agree with Weathers’ recommendation to terminate Middleton, recommend a lesser punishment or dismiss the charges.

Police disciplinary hearings are rare. In most cases, police officers accept the chief’s recommendation.

No information about Middleton’s disciplinary case could be released prior to Thursday’s hearing. Under state law, public officials are barred from releasing information on such cases until the discipline is finalized or the case goes to a police disciplinary hearing.

This is not the first disciplinary action Middleton has faced.

Middleton was acquitted in February 2019 by a Fayette District Court jury of official misconduct after 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.

Middleton also faced internal disciplinary action over the incident. Middleton and the city eventually reached an agreement in October 2019 that demoted Middleton from sergeant to officer. That agreement was reached hours before a public disciplinary hearing was set to begin.

Documents from that disciplinary case showed Middleton was accused of asking officers to drive by and run license plate numbers of cars that were at the home of the woman with whom he once had a relationship.

Middleton has been an officer since 2007 and once served as a police spokesperson.

(c)2021 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)

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