Black police Officer Jervis Middleton was terminated from the Lexington, Ky., police force after a three-hour hearing, accused by officials of giving “sensitive” department information to a Lexington activist during last summer’s protests.
The Lexington City Council also announced it will review questions coming out of the Feb. 18 hearing about how the police department investigates racial discrimination in its ranks.
None of the information Mr. Middletown was accused of disclosing led to any harm to any officer, nor did it jeopardize any police operations.
City council conducting bias hearings on the police department is akin to the fox who guards the hen house, Lexington activist April Taylor told The Final Call. “I mean, to me and for most community members, no matter what their race is, but especially for Black community members, it’s pretty obvious that our city government which includes city council and our mayor and officials, are easily in collusion with the police department to escape any accountability.”
The backdrop behind the city council investigation is the protest movement that roiled the city for 59 straight days following the murder of George Floyd last May. Led by Sarah Williams and numerous grassroots organizations under the Lexington Police Department Accountability’s banner, they called for meaningful and substantive police reform.
Ms. Williams, who was arrested twice during the protest, gave The Final Call an exclusive interview with her attorney, Daniel Whitley, concerning the hearing, demonstration, and trial of Mr. Middleton.
“We’ve known how racism, White supremacy functions. This beast is not new to us. You know, racism, White supremacy, lies … to justify their methodic acts of genocide and violence that they perpetrated for centuries. These things at this moment are no different; whether it’s the White women that holler ‘he raped me,’ when nothing occurred to justify hanging us from a tree, or now when you have White men in power and some elevated (Black) people who are the gatekeepers.
“Jervis did join us marching in the streets in plain clothes. I’m sure that his fellow officers disagree with his actively associating with justice, freedom, and liberation. There’s the assertion that Jervis provided me with a large amount of information that compromised the functioning of the police department, but what a lot of these racist White supremacists don’t understand or lack the ability to comprehend is that I’m actually knowledgeable and possess the ability to do a lot of this research, which is what I’ve done. So, I already had the information,” Ms. Williams said.
Attorney Whitley said there is a small minority of Black people in a sea of White people that are not afraid to speak up on issues. “I think that in larger cities where there is a large body of African Americans, it’s easier, but for Blacks in a small town to stand up and say, ‘we’re not going to tolerate that’ … takes a lot of bravery. These small towns can ruin you, and now you see how they’re attacking Ms. Williams’s character. It takes a lot of courage.”
The Final Call obtained the official police memorandum dated Sept. 28, 2020 detailing the charges against Officer Middleton, which stated in part: “Officer Middleton made disparaging and hostile remarks about officers and Command staff personnel in addition to providing sensitive and personal information about Lexington Police employees to Ms. Williams, which enabled her to use the information in a manner that affected the efficiency of the employees as well as the department. Some of the information provided was personal. It could cause embarrassment, if exposed, to other employees or members of the public.”
What was not told was the length and breadth of racism that is said to exist in the department. Officer Middleton pointed out during the hearing that he has been subjected to repeated racial discrimination and taunts during his 14 years on the force.
The Black community is comprised of 14.5 percent of the population of Lexington, known for horse farms and thoroughbred racetracks. It is the second-largest city in Kentucky. Out of 600 police officers, 48 are Black, according to the Lexington Police Department.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reported, “Black people in Lexington get 23 percent of all traffic tickets and warnings despite making up just 14 percent of the driving-age population. Less than one percent of the city’s business contracts go to Black-owned businesses. Black Lexington residents make up 20 percent of all Covid cases and one-third of all hospitalizations. The 2018-19 report card for the district showed that Black teachers make up 7.3 percent of total teachers. White teachers make up 88.3 percent of the roster. Black students make up 22.9 percent of the district’s student body. White students make up less than half.”
All of this give legs to allegations that systemic racism is ingrained in the city and affects all government facets, especially the police department, analysts said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, in a press release written in response to the Middleton hearing, stated, “The ACLU of Kentucky is concerned Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council fired Officer Jervis Middleton amidst longstanding calls for a radical transformation of policing and transparent relationships with the public.” The civil liberties group said some discipline may have been appropriate but Mr. Middletown “was more swiftly investigated and harshly punished for sharing non-critical information than officers who use excessive force against protesters or create the culture of racism and hostility Middleton reported to no avail.”
As reported by The Lexington Herald-Leader, Vice Mayor Steve Kay asked the city’s human resources department to present how discrimination is handled across all city departments, not just the police. That presentation is scheduled for the March 2 council work session.