Norfolk Police DepartmentSgt. William Kelly, the 2nd highest-ranking official at the Norfolk Police Department’s internal affairs department, was fired for making an anonymous donation to the defense fund for Kyle Rittenhouse. The contribution (shown following a security violation of this Christian crowdfunding website GiveSendGo was accompanied by a note saying that Rittenhouse did”nothing wrong.” Regardless of the obvious assault on free speech and associational rights, there has been little difficulty raised from the media or by legal specialists. Two days ago, a reporter at Utah went to the house of a paramedic to face him on why he made a $10 contribution of Rittenhouse, who’s accused of killing two people during violent protests past summer in Wisconsin.
Kelly is a 18-year veteran of the department. He made an anonymous gift and wasn’t publicly speaking as an officer. He also included a note”God bless. Thank you for your guts. Keep your head up. You have done nothing wrong.”
Norfolk City Manager Chip Filer explained in a declaration which Police Chief Larry Boon consented the officer violated provincial and city policies against”hurtful remarks.”
Section 5.1 of this Norfolk Police Manual prohibits any conduct or remarks, such as off-duty, that could create a”reduction of respect” for the department or bring it to”disrespect.” It’s the kind of ambiguous standard that is anathema to free speech and associational rights.
Not merely was Kelly fired, but Filer and Boon completed the action in just 72 hours leaving little time for a defense or complete evaluation.
In case this was an anonymous contribution, it is difficult to see how it violates any rule on people commentary. Reports suggest that Kelly has been the victim of a security violation. It’s also noteworthy that Rittenhouse hasn’t yet been found guilty and is entitled to a presumption of innocence. Rittenhouse insists that he had been acting in self love after he had been assaulted. That is clearly an extremely contested defense which has split many. It’s ultimately an issue for the court and the prosecution to decide.
Police officers (and paramedics) should be able to make contributions to legal capital without being harassed by the media or fired by their own departments. The simple fact that Kelly included a message to your legal defense fund does not implicate his department or fellow officials. In the event the account of the violation is accurate, the comment wasn’t meant to be made public. It might amount to the shooting of an officer over a communication designed to become non-public — exactly the exact same status as a private communication. The question is whether the department would fire an officer that made such a remark individually in an email to friends that was subsequently hacked.
In my opinion, the case raises very serious issues on free speech and associational rights. The Utah case is especially chilling because the media attempts to embarrass or frighten people who contribute to controversial causes or legal defense budgets.
At a minimum, the department must have allowed for a reasonable amount of consideration and investigation of those issues before terminating Kelly. Placing aside his 18 decades of public service, Kelly stays a taxpayer with basic rights accorded to him under the First Amendment.
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