LMPD chief says he was forced to promote officer with checkered past

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – He was found to have lost evidence in an armed robbery case and then repeatedly lied about it under oath at trial.

And he was once charged with disorderly conduct and wanton endangerment after allegedly pulling his weapon on customers at McDonald's.

But on Thursday, Louisville Metro Police Det. Derrick Leachman was promoted to sergeant, and Chief Steve Conrad said he had no choice in the matter.

Earlier this month, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Brian Edwards ordered police to promote Leachman and three other officers, finding the department had not been correctly applying the years of service in determining promotions.

“I have an order from a judge that says you shall promote,” Conrad said in an interview Thursday. 

Leachman was among 28 officers promoted to sergeant Thursday in a ceremony at Spalding University hosted by Conrad and Mayor Greg Fischer.

In 2013, Leachman became one of the first officers police began tracking because their conduct had been deemed possibly problematic in future court case. The names of the officers and their disciplinary issues are turned over to prosecutors -- and possibly to defense attorneys at some point.

The list is continually updated with officers who are under investigation or being disciplined for something that could cause their credibility to be questioned at trial and could be considered exculpatory evidence for the defense.

Leachman lost evidence in an armed robbery case and repeatedly lied under oath about it during a 2012 trial, causing Conrad to suspend him 30 days and nearly costing him his job.

In 2013, Conrad notified officers that any violations involving untruthfulness “will likely lead to termination from the department.”

At the time, Conrad said he would have likely fired Leachman had that policy been in place previously.

In addition, Leachman was charged with wanton endangerment and disorderly conduct after allegedly cursing and pointing his gun at two women outside a downtown McDonald’s in 2011. He was eventually acquitted by a jury.

In an interview on Thursday, Conrad said Leachman’s past likely would have been a factor in whether he was promoted if the chief had a say in the matter.

In a July 10 ruling in lawsuit that began in 2015, Judge Edwards found police had been improperly calculating seniority for promotions.

Under the ruling, Conrad acknowledged that Leachman should have been given the rank of sergeant in January 2011, prior to his disciplinary issues.

Asked if he would have promoted Leachman without the judge’s order, Conrad said he would have “had to give that long and hard thought.”

“The discipline he received was very, very serious,” Conrad said. “The charges were very serious. … In this case … I have an order from a judge, and I’m following that order.”

Leachman did not return a message left through a department spokesperson.

Because of the miscalculation, Edwards also ordered police to promote Larry Dison to sergeant and both Jerry Huckleberry and Chad Kessinger to lieutenant.

None of the officers had been on the current list of candidates for Conrad to consider. But had their seniority been properly credited, the officers argued they would have already been promoted.

Attorney Michele Henry, who represents the officers, said they are still negotiating back pay and other damages.

She did not comment on Leachman’s disciplinary history with the department, as it was not part of the case.

Unpardonable sin

During a December 2012 armed robbery trial, defense attorney Frank Jewell asked Leachman six different times whether he took photos at the crime scene.

Each time, Leachman testified he had not.

But after Jewell’s seventh attempt, Leachman finally acknowledged he had taken crime scene photos but “the pictures were lost, and I didn’t want to testify that I lost pictures,” according to a video of the trial.

A jury later acquitted the defendant, and Leachman’s testimony and actions were criticized by the prosecutor and the police department

Leachman wasn't charged with perjury because he corrected himself shortly after lying on the stand.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine said at the time that lying under oath is the “one unpardonable sin” for police officers.

Asked Thursday whether Leachman should be promoted given his false testimony, Jewell, the defense attorney, said “that is a loaded question” and declined to comment on an internal police issue.

In the January 2011 McDonald’s incident, Leachman was accused of cursing at customers after complaining about his salad. The situation escalated and the women claimed Leachman was verbally abusive and then drew his gun in the parking lot, waving it and threatening them.

Leachman was charged with wanton endangerment and disorderly conduct. His attorney, Keith Kamenish, said in an interview that Leachman never should have been charged and a jury found him not guilty.

It was not immediately known whether Leachman was punished internally by the department.

Kamenish said Leachman is a good officer who is respected by defense attorneys.

“I find him to be very, very genuine in his approach,” Kamenish said. “He has a good reputation.”

Copyright 2017 WDRB News. All rights reserved. Reporter Travis Ragsdale contributed to this story.