LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDKY) – The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council has voted to fire a police officer accused of sharing sensitive information with Black Lives Matter protesters last summer.
Officer Jervis Middleton was accused of giving protest organizers information about specific officers.
The council found Middleton guilty on two of three counts of violating operational rules and resolved to terminate him.
Middleton’s lawyer argued that his client was exercising free speech by speaking up about racism within the department.
Protest organizer Sarah Williams testified at an hours-long hearing that other officers used racial slurs against Middleton, who is Black.
Williams said she believes firing Middleton will have a chilling effect on other Black officers who may want to address systemic problems within the department.
Speaking on behalf of Lexington police chief Lawrence Weathers, attorney Keith Horn said Middleton’s actions inflamed tensions between police and protesters, instead of deescalating “the most significant policing event in Lexington in 20 years.”
The council debated the evidence for more than two hours and ultimately reached a conclusion just before 1 a.m.
FOX 56 did an open records request for the text and Facebook messages that were discovered during the investigation. Friday afternoon, the department released 14 pages of information that was discussed during Thursday’s disciplinary hearing for Officer Middleton.
An attorney for the police department opened the proceedings saying “the case before you today is about a police officer who exercised poor judgment and acted counter to the mission of the Lexington Police Department during the most significant policing event in Lexington in 20 years.”
All afternoon, several higher-ranking members of the Lexington Police Department testified about the investigation of Officer Middleton and the three misconduct related charges leveled against him.
“During the course of the communications, Officer Middleton 1) shared info about police operations and 2) provided information about other officers to incite them while they were trying to maintain order during the protest.”
Officer Middleton’s counsel argued the investigation is part of a larger problem of systemic racism within the police department.
“He simply called out racism to a community activist fighting for law enforcement to recognize they had the problems in their own department they refused to resolve,” counsel for Middleton told the Urban County council. “He spoke as a citizen.”
The department’s Public Integrity Unit reportedly questioned Officer Middleton about the allegations into sharing sensitive operations information. They said he initially lied to his superiors. After being confronted with screen shots and verbatim messages, the department’s investigators say Middleton said he was just venting to Ms. Williams.
A Lexington police commander testified about one incident from the summer’s protest. “I was directly addressed by a person with a megaphone.” When asked by the attorney if he could repeat what was said, the commander replied “F*** Commander Holland.” The commander said his name badge was not visible and that he believed the protesters were told to target him specifically.
Chief Lawrence Weathers told the council he stands behind the disciplinary review board’s decision to fire Officer Middleton saying he worries about other officer’s morale if Middleton were to keep his job.
In 2019, then Sergeant Middleton was charged with official misconduct for allegedly using police resources to stalk a woman he was in an extra-marital relationship with. A jury acquitted Middleton, but he was demoted in a settlement with the Urban County Council.