Lexington Police self-reported doubling “use of force” incidents in January 2019

Continued calls for citizen oversight of police discipline after police punch unarmed teen in face

By Patrice Muhammad, posted online April 25, 2019

In January 2019, Lexington Police officers reported eleven use of force incidents compared to five in January 2018. Year to date, officers have reported 43 incidents where police used an act of force during a citizen interaction. That number is higher than year to date 2018.

                Presumably included in that number is the Fayette Mall incident where a 16-year-old Black youth, described by family members as Autistic, was restrained by moonlighting Lexington Police officers at Fayette Mall. The witness-videotaped assault on the teen  showed Police Chaplain Donovan Stewart punching the teen who was face down on the floor attempting to cover his face.

Officer altercation with teenage youth caught on video. from Key Conversations Radio on Vimeo.

                A Lexington Police Department statement reported the incident happening around 8:45 p.m. Saturday, February 2 near the H&M store at Fayette Mall. Two officers, unnamed by the city, “were working an off-duty assignment then asked by mall security to investigate a group of teenagers who had been acting disorderly in several stores.”

 The Police department reported one officer was not assigned a body and the other officer did not initiate recording.

On The Wake UP with Clark Williams which aired on local radio Feb. 24, 2019, NAACP Vice President Adrian Wallace who serves as a community Chaplain under Donovan Stewart confirmed his identity as the officer punching the teen who was on the floor surrounded by police officers.

The Lexington NAACP issued a statement which states in part, “We are concerned by the violence and police-citizen interaction documented in this video…We would like to see the officer in question be pulled from any civilian interaction until this investigation is complete.”

                The officers involved in the Fayette Mall incident involving use of force have not been disciplined to date.

The call for citizen participation in the police discipline review process dates back at least 3 years to a 2016 NAACP Town Hall meeting with, then, Police Chief Mark Barnard who rejected the idea and stated his belief that citizens participate in the discipline process by their elected councilmember.

                At issue, the collective bargaining agreement between the Fraternal Order of Police and the city of Lexington which states the “Chief of Police has the sole discretion to meet with the officer at the conclusion of the Public Integrity Unit investigation, and prior to the Disciplinary Review Board review, to discuss the formal complaint.”

                KRS law (KRS 95.450) states that discipline recommendations made by the Chief of Police are not binding on the Urban County Council, but council habitually approves discipline without question.

                Lexington City Council members dedicated the Feb. 21 committee of the whole meeting to discuss their perceived limitations to intercede or even monitor police discipline matters.

The fist of Officer Stewart is closed and aimed toward the face of the restrained youth. In the video, Stewart can be seen punching the youth.

                Community Activist Sarah Williams was among the most vocal at the 2016 town hall meeting held in the Lyric Cultural Center demanding body cameras and citizen review. Since the Fayette Mall use of force incident, Sarah Williams and her April Taylor have attended city council meetings, committee of the whole meetings and NAACP meetings with the current Chief of Police Lawrence Weathers making the same demand, for some form of citizen review.

                Sarah Williams said at the April 11 city council meeting, “We have no community accountability when it comes to police discipline what so ever.”

                Highly publicized incidents like the one at Fayette Mall, which receive prolonged media coverage are usually how police oversight organizations are put together said Michael Tobin, Executive Director of the DC Police Complaint Board.  

“There are about 150-200 cities that have varying degree of authority,” said Tobin.           

Many belong to NACOLE, the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.

Tobin said, civilian led organizations make policing easier. “Having a good police oversight committee makes every police officers job easier. What happens is, the community has more confidence and trust in police when they know there is a competent oversight committee. To know that there is a place to go where a complaint is taken seriously creates more trust. Police departments should reflect the community instead of ‘us versus them’.”

The Public Integrity United compiles all data related to all police incidents including collisions, discharged firearms, vehicle pursuits and response to resistance, a change in term used to describe any use of force by an officer including, lethal, less-lethal and nonlethal force in response to resistance.

                Other rising statistics include the number of discharged firearm incidents and formal complaints which rose between 2017 and 2018. 

Related stories: Current LFUCG Collective Bargaining Agreements