Prospect police chief's recommendation to fire Todd Shaw cut short by Shaw's resignation

PROSPECT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Prospect Police Chief Jeff Sherrard condemned the racist Facebook messages uncovered from his former assistant police chief, Todd Shaw.

Some of the messages were between Shaw and a former LMPD recruit. In one of the exchanges, the recruit asked Shaw what he should do if he catches juveniles smoking marijuana.

Shaw responded, “F—k the right thing. If black shoot them.”

Pages of graphic messages from Shaw between various individuals were made public Friday after a judge decided to release them. The Jefferson County Attorney’s Office discovered the private messages during the course of a different investigation.

Sherrard said he learned of the messages from Prospect Mayor John Evans on Aug. 31, 2017. On that day, Evans was contacted by the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office and provided a letter referencing some offensive quotes from Shaw’s messages.

“The general public has learned about this since Friday,” Sherrard said. “This has been eating away at me since Aug. 31.”

Sherrard said by that evening, he and the mayor were drafting a suspension letter with the city’s attorney for Shaw. The next day, Shaw was served with the notice. He was suspended with pay.

“Immediately, he was taken off the streets,” Sherrard said. “He was taken away of all responsibility. You know, badge, ID, everything was taken away.”

Sherrard said he could not suspend Shaw without pay or immediately discipline him because of Kentucky law.

“We did what we thought was our due diligence and followed the Police Officers Bill of Rights,” he said. “KRS 15520 is the statute that you fall upon. And at that point, an investigation was initiated.”

To begin the process of determining if Shaw violated any administrative policies, Sherrard launched an investigation. He said he could not rely on only the references and quotes in the Jefferson County Attorney’s letter. He needed to sort through Shaw’s entire Facebook history to verify the messages in question.

Sherrard was provided with a disc of all the Facebook data collected by the LMPD PIU. The disc contained the same data that was provided to the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office for its criminal investigation.

“It was a tremendous amount of information,” Sherrard said. “And it took a great deal of time to sort through it. It was literally thousands and thousands of pages of information.”

He said when he finally located all the offensive material, he was “shocked, saddened, and sickened.”

Sherrard completed his investigation in late-November and, per state statute, then had to conduct an interview with Shaw. He said he could not divulge what was said in that interview.

Sherrard said when he finished his investigation, he was ready to charge Shaw with conduct unbecoming of a police officer and violating the Prospect Police Department’s social media policy. Both of these are administrative violations. If any criminal charges are to be filed, those will come from the Jefferson County or the Commonwealth Attorney’s Offices.

Sherrard was in the midst of writing up his report and preparing his recommendation for discipline to present to the mayor when the process came to a halt. Sherrard said he was going to recommend Shaw should be terminated. But a few days after that interview, on Nov. 20, Shaw resigned.

According to Sherrard, Shaw was not eligible for retirement benefits from Prospect since he was collecting that from LMPD. Since Shaw resigned, by law, he will receive three month’s pay along with a percentage of his unused vacation and sick time. And before leaving, he agreed he would not pursue legal action again Prospect.

Shaw, who was an LMPD officer before coming to Prospect, was hired by the Prospect Police Department in 2012. Sherrard had worked with him the past four or five years. He said Shaw never gave any indication that he would write or say these things.

“I was just unbelievably surprised, and it just really saddened me," Sherrard said. "This is someone who I’d worked with for years and never in a million years could’ve gathered that I would be seeing this coming from him.”

Prospect police officers “were blind-sided” because they found out about the messages and the investigation on Friday when everyone else did. Sherrard said there were no racist or offensive messages from Shaw to any other Prospect police officer. However, Sherrard said his officers are still paying the price.

“They’re being ostracized and alienated by everyone as well, and they’ve done nothing wrong,” Sherrard said.. “This was solely the actions of one person. Because of the actions of one person, everyone is being painted with the same broad brush. And that’s really unfortunate.”

Sherrard said he understands the public frustration regarding why it took months before this was revealed or any action was taken.

“It is true it took a while to get to the end of the process,” he said. “At the point we were made aware of it, all we had was a letter that referenced things.”

Sherrard said he has nothing left to say to Shaw, and he wants the world to know Shaw does not represent the men and women of the Prospect Police Department.

He said his message for his officers moving forward is simple.

“To treat everyone fair and equally regardless of the color of their skin, their station in life,” he said. “Regardless of their religious preferences or anything of that nature, just treat everybody the way you want to be treated.”

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