LMPD officer accused of giving 'false' testimony is cleared by department, but not judge
Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Jim Shake finds that district court judge's ruling about Officer Jeff Eberenz was "accurate"
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A Louisville Metro Police internal investigation has cleared an officer who was accused by a judge of providing "false" testimony during a drunk driving case last year.
But at the same time, a higher judge has upheld District Court Judge Stephanie Burke's ruling, writing that her findings about Officer Jeff Eberenz were "accurate."
The rulings are the latest in a bizarre courthouse saga involving a sitting judge accusing a police officer of lying on the stand, an allegation that can ruin an officer's career.
LMPD and prosecutors have vigorously fought the allegation for months, repeatedly coming to Eberenz' defense and criticizing Burke. It took only weeks for an internal investigation to clear Eberenz, according to records.
In a July 31 ruling, Burke wrote that Officer Eberenz's "false" testimony about whether his radar gun was properly certified was "extremely troublesome," and she ruled the traffic stop was not proper, effectively throwing out all evidence in the DUI case.
The Jefferson County Attorney's office appealed that ruling to a circuit court judge, arguing the judge was "incorrect" and that to accuse Eberenz of lying on the stand was "to misperceive" what actually happened.
But on Monday, Circuit Court Judge Jim Shake upheld Burke's ruling, finding that while Burke's words "might have been gentler and less damaging to the officer's reputation, they were accurate as applied to his conduct in this case."
Jessie Halladay, a spokeswoman for the county attorney's office, said they were reviewing Shake's decision and “weighing our options about what to do next.”
Shake concluded that Burke was correct in finding that Eberenz' testimony regarding his radar and observations about the driver's actions were incorrect and throwing out the evidence.
A professional standards investigation, however, determined the allegation of untruthfulness was "unfounded." Unfounded means police concluded the allegation was false.
While the internal investigation that cleared Eberenz was dated Sept. 24, the police department only released the documents to WDRB late last week.
Alicia Smiley, a spokeswoman for the department, said the case had been pending in an "administrative/clerical process" for the last several months.
The allegation from Judge Burke stems from a Jan. 21, 2015, court hearing to determine whether Eberenz had probable cause to stop Justin Wagner for speeding -- which led to the DUI charge. Eberenz testified that he had properly certified his radar gun and maintained it each shift.
However, in May, maintenance records for the radar gun showed that it had not been properly certified since April 2011, nearly three years before Eberenz stopped Wagner.
"It is almost without question that Officer Eberenz knew his statements were false," Burke wrote in July. "It would be difficult to imagine that Officer Eberenz would be unfamiliar with the maintenance history of the machine which he relies upon on a regular, if not daily basis, particularly when he was so emphatic in his testimony to the contrary."
Shortly after that ruling, Eberenz was accused of being untruthful again during a different DUI trial in August when he testified that he had been "cleared" by the department of allegedly giving false testimony in front of Judge Burke. In fact, the investigation against Eberenz had just begun the day before.
The internal investigation by police ruled that allegation was also "unfounded."
During the August DUI trial, a legal adviser for LMPD told a prosecutor he had reviewed Eberenz' testimony in the case in front of Burke and believed it to be truthful and there would be no investigation. Both Eberenz and a prosecutor incorrectly said during the trial that the officer had been cleared.That case is under review.
The "erroneous testimony was entirely inadvertent," Assistant County Attorney Paul Richwalsky has said in court records. The legal adviser had not spoken to LMPD Chief Steve Conrad, who had opened an investigation.
Attorney Paul Gold, who represents the defendant in the August DUI trial, said police concluded Eberenz was innocent before even investigating him, likely because a finding that he lied would jeopardize dozens of the officer's pending cases.
He pointed to an email sent by the department's legal adviser, Dennis Sims, to Assistant County Attorney Ben Wyman and LMPD Chief Steven Conrad.
"The video and record was reviewed in by (sic) my office and we saw no violation," Simms wrote on Sept. 2. "Because Judge Burke accused Eberenz of lying the CJ reported he was untruthful, Chief Conrad open (sic) an PSU investigation to exonerate Eberenz of these allegations."
"So you start an investigation so you can exonerate him," Gold said. "And then you can continue to use him in cases. He has a lot of cases. You need to get the result you're looking for and that's what they got."
Smiley, a police spokeswoman, declined to comment on the Sims email. Judge Burke said she could not comment on a pending case.
Gold also said that even though police have cleared Eberenz, the findings by Burke and Shake will call into question his credibility any time he testifies.
"I think it's fair game in every case he takes the stand that he be asked whether or not a judge found and entered an order that he gave false testimony," Gold said. "He can come back and say, 'Yeah, but the police department exonerated me.' But they can't exonerate him from a judicial finding."
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