LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

In a departure, Louisville sues former LMPD officers over lost or settled lawsuits


For a decade, Metro Government stood by former city police Det. Crystal Marlowe, paying hundreds of thousands in legal bills fighting about a dozen lawsuits that claimed she had wrongfully arrested several citizens.

But now, less than a year after a jury rejected the city's arguments that she had acted properly and awarded $2 million in damages to a victim in one of those cases, Mayor Greg Fischer's administration has taken a new tactic.

It is suing Marlowe to force her, and not the city, to pick up the tab.

In a lawsuit filed July 29, Metro Government is asking a judge to order the former detective to pay not only the $2.25 million judgement but also the attorney fees spent representing her since 2010.

The suit is the second of its kind this year, joining an earlier court action against former Det. Mark Handy. Those lawsuits have potentially wide-ranging implications: Is Metro Government signalling a trend of shifting liability from the city to individual employees found at fault?

"It is absolutely unusual," said Elliot Slosar, a nationally regarded civil rights lawyer who has sued police agencies in Kentucky and around the country. He noted the city did not come after LMPD officers who were at fault in the wrongful murder conviction of Kerry Porter, who was awarded $7.5 million in a 2018 settlement.

"Where does this end?" he asked. "It seems they are selectively choosing which police officers they are going to defend."

A spokeswoman for the city said officials are not aware of any such previous lawsuits.

The city's decision to sue individual officers also comes as the police department faces national scrutiny over the fatal March police shooting of Breonna Taylor, with activists and civil rights leaders calling for three officers involved in the raid on her apartment to be criminally charged.

And the city is also facing dozens of pending lawsuits against police, including seven against officers concerning accusations of sexual abuse and cover-up in the department's youth Explorer program.

The Marlowe lawsuit surprised the Louisville Fraternal Order of Police union and even the lawyers who sued Marlowe, who claim the city is abandoning the former officer and trying to get out of paying damages.

"For ten years, they have maintained she did nothing wrong. They have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars staunchly maintaining she did nothing wrong," said attorney John Bahe, who represented Tiffany Washington, a former University of Louisville student who was working at the school library when then-Det. Marlowe wrongfully arrested her for robbery in 2007.

"I was shocked (by the lawsuit)," he said in an interview. "They have allowed her to believe she would be covered and have a defense provided for her and they have absolutely blindsided and pulled the rug out from under her."

Bahe said the city's actions send a message not only to other police officers but to all city employees that Metro Government will have your back "until you make a mistake, or a jury decides you have done something wrong."

"It's frightening and scary if you are an employee of Louisville Metro," he said. "This should keep you up at night. You would really have to think about your status as an employee if you think they are going to leave you holding the bag if you make a mistake."

River City FOP President Ryan Nichols said he could not discuss the lawsuit against Marlowe "as we are litigating that" but said it is rare and "very concerning."

"If the city is tasked with representing the officer, and then in the event they lose that case and want to seek those damages from those officers, it might prompt the city to not give the best representation possible," Nichols said.

Metro officials won't say if the lawsuits are part of a broader strategy. The Jefferson County Attorney's Office, which represents Metro Government and filed the lawsuits, referred questions to Jean Porter, a Fischer spokeswoman.

"We decided to seek recovery against these particular former employees because of the egregious nature of their actions," Porter said in a statement.

She did not answer other questions, including how the city will move forward with the other Marlowe cases and if any similar lawsuits against officers or other city workers were in the works.

In the lawsuit filed last month, the city argued that under the law, "a local government may refuse to pay a judgement of settlement in any action against an employee" if the "employee acted of failed to act because of fraud, malice, or corruption."

It is the second time this year the city has filed a lawsuit against a former officer citing that law.

In January, Metro Government filed a lawsuit against former Det. Mark Handy, who has agreed to plead guilty to first-degree perjury in connection with the 1995 murder case against Edwin Chandler.

Using the same language citing "fraudulent, malicious, or corrupt actions," the city has asked for costs associated with representing Handy and the $8.5 million paid to Chandler to settle the lawsuit in 2012.

Both Bahe and Nichols pointed out that since Handy was criminally charged and the city has already paid Chandler, the lawsuit is not exactly the same as the one filed against Marlowe. But it still raises the question as to whether these suits are the start of a trend, both said.

Nichols called them "very problematic" and "definitely conversations will be had (with the city.) This is a point of interest."

Metro Council President David James, a former police officer, said when he was on the force, officers were told if they operated outside the law "and got in trouble, the city could divorce you."

And in the case of Handy, who forced Chandler into a false confession, taped over video evidence and lied on the witness stand - helping put Chandler in prison for nine years - "he should have to pay for everything he did out of his own pocket," James said in an interview.

But James said the Marlowe cases are a failure by the department for training and other issues and the fault doesn't rest totally with her. He said he had not yet seen the lawsuit.

While the city had appealed the verdict against Marlowe, the lawsuit claims, under the law, Metro Government is no longer obligated to defend the former officer. There are several Marlowe cases currently under settlement discussion, with four of them close to going to trial.

Washington's lawsuit was among more than a dozen filed against Marlowe in 2010, claiming she arrested people for crimes they could not have committed.

The lawsuits followed an investigation by The Courier-Journal, which reported in a series of articles that Marlowe arrested more than a dozen people over a two-year period who could not have committed the crimes, either because they were already in jail at the time, or because of other evidence that supported their innocence.

Washington, for example, had bank statements, pictures, telephone records and eyewitness testimony showing that she was in Henderson County, 130 miles away, on the night of the robbery she was arrested for.

Bahe said the move by the city may have been prompted by the results of the Washington trial and the possibility of several more to come against Marlowe - or at least hefty settlements.

He said Marlowe would never be able to afford to pay the damages herself and, if the city is successful, Washington likely won't be paid.

Louisville is self-insured but the city does pay into a trust set up for city agencies to pay large legal damages, and that fund covers settlements over $500,000.

"They are not in a good spot, but I don't think this is the way you handle it," Bahe said of the city. "If they are serious about this, I don't see any point in continuing settlement talks."