LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky State Police have asked federal judges to admonish a prominent civil rights lawyer and order him to retract "misleading" and "prejudicial" statements he made about troopers following a pardon by former Gov. Matt Bevin.
At a December press conference, Chicago-based attorney Elliot Slosar defended Bevin's controversial pardon of Patrick Baker, who was convicted of killing a man during a home invasion in Knox County in 2014. Slosar blamed Baker's arrest on corrupt or incompetent troopers.
A lawyer for state police claimed in recent court filings that Slosar "made inflammatory and prejudicial statements" about troopers who investigated Baker and are also defendants in two ongoing lawsuits against state police.
Attorney Alea Amber Arnett wrote in motions filed last week that Slosar's comments were inaccurate and threatened to influence potential jurors in the cases. She asked that Slosar be admonished -- essentially a reprimand -- and forced to correct the record and issue a press release.
Slosar denied the allegations and said he would be filing a response in court.
The Baker pardon has drawn national scrutiny because his family raised $21,500 for Bevin at a political fundraiser. Baker's two co-defendants are still in prison.
But Slosar told the media on Dec. 17 that Baker was wrongfully convicted after misconduct by Kentucky State Police, who allegedly ignored evidence and a different suspect.
Slosar specifically attacked the credibility of Det. Bryan Johnson and Det. Jason York, among other troopers who investigated Baker, telling reporters they have been named in two federal wrongful conviction lawsuits and have "made startling admissions" of misconduct, including giving false grand jury testimony and falsifying search warrant affidavits.
Slosar, who also represents plaintiffs in the pending wrongful conviction lawsuits, called for an independent investigation of the troopers as well as an investigation into overall corruption within the state police agency.
Slosar said the two troopers should have been fired.
"In spite of the pending lawsuits and their admissions made of misconduct while under oath, both Johnson and York are still employed by Kentucky State Police," Slosar told reporters at the time.
But the attorney for state police said Slosar's comments were both misleading and prejudicial to potential jurors, as the Baker case involves the same prosecutor and investigators.
"Thus, potential jurors in the area are more likely to pay attention to the press coverage," she wrote.
While Slosar told reporters that Johnson is facing misconduct allegations in one of the lawsuits, Arnett argued that Slosar voluntarily dismissed the detective from the suit in July.
That lawsuit was filed in 2017 and accuses troopers of framing two people in Knox County for the murder of a woman in 2010.
Arnett asked the judge in that case to order Slosar to retract the statement about Johnson being accused of misconduct and post the retraction "prominently" on the website of his Chicago-based firm, Loevy & Loevy.
And she asked that Slosar be ordered to send a correction to all media outlets that covered the press conference, including NPR and the New York Times.
Arnett's motions included several comments on media posts from citizens criticizing police after Slosar's press conference. A story shared on Lexington television station WKYT's Facebook page had 776 comments and more than 200 shares, according to the motion.
In addition, Arnett asked judges in both civil cases to "admonish" Slosar and order him to abide by Kentucky rules limiting what attorneys can say about pending cases, specifically prejudicial statements.
Arnett criticized Slosar for discussing evidence in the lawsuits at the press conference, including playing an audio recording of an interrogation where York screams at a witness.
And this would not be the first time, Arnett wrote, that Slosar improperly discussed a pending case.
In 2018, an Indiana judge ruled statements made by Slosar at a press conference were "highly inflammatory, defamatory, inaccurately state the law …, and drew legal conclusions about the matters not yet adjudicated," according to a judicial order in the recent filing.
The judge ruled Slosar was "restrained and prohibited from making extrajudicial commentary and statements" about the case, according to the ruling.
"Once again," Arnett wrote, "Mr. Slosar has made inflammatory and prejudicial statements, including discussions of the character of potential witnesses and comments on potential evidence, and has made misleading extrajudicial statements harmful to the KSP Defendant's rights."
State police have defended the work investigators did in the Baker case and noted the conviction was upheld by higher courts.
"There has never been an investigation into the two of them in relation to the Baker case because there have been no allegations of misconduct in that case," Kentucky State Police spokesperson Sgt. Josh Lawson previously said.
Baker was convicted of reckless homicide, robbery, impersonating a peace officer and tampering with evidence in the slaying of Donald Mills. He was two years into a 19-year prison sentence when Bevin pardoned him.
Slosar has said the detectives were told that the shooter had brown eyes and a tattoo on his bicep.
"Mr. Baker has neither," Slosar said at the December press conference. "These officers further developed evidence implicating an alternate suspect who matched the details provided by the eyewitnesses. The alternate suspect was never charged."
Both Johnson and York remain troopers with Kentucky State Police.
In his pardon, Bevin said Baker had made "a series of unwise decisions in his adult life" and that his drug addiction "resulted in his association with people that in turn led to his arrest, prosecution and conviction for murder."
Allegations of previous misconduct by detectives Johnson and York were brought up during Baker's case. Baker's then-attorneys asked the judge to force prosecutors to turn over evidence of misconduct by the detectives in other cases, according to court records.
Bevin wrote in the pardon that he was "not convinced that justice has been served on the death of Donald Mills, nor am I convinced that the evidence has proven the involvement of Patrick Baker as murderer."
Bevin appeared at the July 2018 fundraiser at the home of Eric and Kathryn Baker, according to a photo published by the News Journal in Corbin.
Baker was one of hundreds of people Bevin pardoned in his final days in office.
State lawmakers from both parties have called for a federal probe into Bevin's pardons.
On Wednesday, a Senate committee forwarded a bill that would curb the pardoning power of future governors.
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