LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

Louisville police merit board upholds firing of former Detective Crystal Marlowe


It only took about 45 minutes Tuesday for the Louisville Police Merit Board to decide that former Detective Crystal Marlowe deserved to be fired for wrongfully charging several people and repeatedly misusing photographs intended to help witnesses identify suspects.

The board voted 3-1 with Chief Robert White, who fired Marlowe in January after concluding she had shown "blatant disregard" for departmental rules. Officer John Keeling, representing the Fraternal Order of Police, cast the lone dissenting vote.

Marlowe said nothing after the ruling, but her attorney, Mary Sharp, said she was "very disappointed" and "hurt" by the quick decision, especially after nine days of testimony and thousands of pages of evidence.

"I believe she's one of the best officers I've ever represented," Sharp said of Marlowe, adding that she did not know whether the former detective would appeal the ruling to Jefferson Circuit Court.

Ryan Vantrease, an attorney who is representing nine people in wrongful-arrest lawsuits against Marlowe and the department, said his clients were pleased with the ruling.

"But it does not change the fact that she caused our clients unimaginable harm, and we now look forward to our day in court," he said.

Keeling and the other board members hearing the Marlowe case - the Rev. Alex Moses, who serves as chairman, David Hatfield and attorney Allison Grant - did not comment afterward, though they said an official opinion would be handed down in upcoming weeks.

Austin Boone, another police officer on the merit board, recused himself before testimony began, and board member Norma Fletcher did not participate.

Assistant County Attorney William Warner, who presented the case against Marlowe, said afterwards that there were no winners in its decision, in light of the fact that several people were wrongfully charged and Marlowe lost her job.

"This whole thing is a tragedy," he said.

The merit board hearing, which began in May, was the culmination of a highly scrutinized, publicized and embarrassing case for the Louisville Metro Police Department.

The investigation began in September 2009 after Assistant Jefferson County Attorney Paul Richwalsky told police that Marlowe's cases were falling apart in court.

Witnesses couldn't be found, or changed their story, and in other instances the defendant was in custody when the crime occurred, he said.

On Tuesday, Richwalsky, who heads the juvenile-court division of the Jefferson County attorney's office, testified that that he eventually decided that Marlowe was a bungling liar who abused the public trust and was more interested in arrest statistics than justice.

Richwalsky said he initially looked for explanations for Marlowe's conduct, which included falsely accusing several juveniles, but ultimately concluded that she was unfit to serve.

"I'd never seen anything like it," said Richwalsky, a local or state prosecutor for more than 35 years.

During his testimony, Richwalsky said it pained him to be at the hearing, especially considering that police and prosecutors must work as a team to be effective.

But he said the odds against so many bad arrests were "astronomical," Richawlsky said.

"Our job is to protect the innocent as well as to prosecute the guilty," he said.

He said also said he found it odd that neither Marlowe nor her supervisors ever complained to him when her cases were dismissed. Routinely, he said, both officers and their commanders want to know a prosecutor's rationale for seeking to dismiss a case.

When that happened to her, by contrast, Marlowe "just left" the courtroom without a word, Richwalsky said. One prosecutor in his division commented that "she just didn't give a ----," Richwalsky said.

The Courier-Journal reported in February 2010, while the police investigation was in progress, that in the previous two years Marlowe had accused more than a dozen defendants, many of them juveniles, of crimes they did not commit.

The newspaper found some defendants could not have been guilty of the offenses with which they were charged because they were in jail or had other evidence of their innocence. In other cases, Marlowe arrested suspects based on identifications that victims later said they had never made.

But throughout the merit-board hearing, Sharp sought to characterize her client as a victim of inadequate training and oversight from her supervisors, as well as the Louisville Metro Youth Detention Center's inability to determine whether juvenile suspects were in custody; and a conspiracy hatched in the Jefferson County Public Defender's Office to discredit Marlowe for personal reasons.

"I'm telling you ladies and gentleman, we have a problem," she said. "... I don't know all of the solutions, but it's not firing Crystal Marlowe after 14 1/2 years of unblemished service to this department."

Sharp said allegations that Marlowe violated procedures by misusing photo packs were "trivial," and that Marlowe had probable cause to arrest those who were eventually found to be wrongfully charged.

But in his closing arguments, Warner listed what he called 16 "excuses" Marlowe or Sharp gave the board, including that the youth detention center gave her bad information and attorneys with the public defender's office and county attorney's office were out to get her.

Warner asked if training and supervision were such a problem, why was Marlowe the only officer who wrongfully charged suspects repeatedly.

"I think you should ask yourselves that," he told the board.