Norfolk Police Officer Fired For Making Anonymous Donation To Kyle Rittenhouse

Norfolk Police Department

Sgt. William Kelly, the second highest-ranking official in the Norfolk Police Department’s internal affairs division, has been fired for making an anonymous donation to the defense fund for Kyle Rittenhouse. The donation (revealed after a security breach of the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo was accompanied by a note saying that Rittenhouse did “nothing wrong.” Despite the obvious attack on free speech and associational rights, there has been little concern raised in the media or by legal experts.  Two days ago, a reporter in Utah went to the home of a paramedic to confront him on why he made a $10 donation of Rittenhouse, who is accused of killing two people during violent protests last summer in Wisconsin.

Kelly is an 18-year veteran of the department. He made an anonymous donation and was not publicly speaking as an officer.  He included a note “God bless. Thank you for your courage. Keep your head up. You’ve done nothing wrong.”

Norfolk City Manager Chip Filer said in a statement that Police Chief Larry Boon agreed the officer violated city and departmental policies against “egregious comments.”

Section 5.1 of the Norfolk Police Manual prohibits any conduct or comments, including off-duty, that would produce a “loss of respect” for the department or bring it into “disrespect.” It is the type of ambiguous standard that is anathema to free speech and associational rights.

Not only was Kelly fired, but Filer and Boon carried out the action in just 72 hours — leaving little time for a defense or full investigation.

If this was an anonymous contribution, it is hard to see how it violates any rule on public commentary. Reports indicate that Kelly was the victim of a security breach. It is also notable that Rittenhouse has not been found guilty and is entitled to a presumption of innocence.  Rittenhouse insists that he was acting in self-defense after he was attacked.  That is obviously a highly contested defense that has divided many. It is ultimately a matter for the court and the jury to decide.

Police officers (and paramedics) should be able to make donations to legal funds without being harassed by the media or fired by their departments. The fact that Kelly added a message anonymously to a legal defense fund does not implicate his department or fellow officers.  If the account of the breach is true, the comment was not intended to be made public. It would amount to the firing of an officer over a communication intended to be non-public — the same status as a private communication. The question is whether the department would fire an officer who made such a remark privately in an email to  friends that was later hacked.

In my view, the case raises very serious concerns over free speech and associational rights. The Utah case is particularly chilling as the media attempts to embarrass or harass public employees who donate to controversial causes or legal defense funds.

At a minimum, the department should have allowed for a reasonable period of investigation and consideration of these issues before terminating Kelly. Putting aside his 18 years of public service, Kelly remains a citizen with basic rights accorded to him under the First Amendment.

167 thoughts on “Norfolk Police Officer Fired For Making Anonymous Donation To Kyle Rittenhouse”

  1. “Maine Should Take this Chance to Defund the Local Intelligence Fusion Center”

    BY MATTHEW GUARIGLIA

    APRIL 2, 2021

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2021/03/eff-calls-maine-support-bill-defunds-local-intelligence-fusion-center

    “But in recent months, the dysfunction of fusion centers and the ease with which they sink into policing First Amendment-protected activities have been on full display. After a series of leaks that revealed communications from inside police departments, fusion centers, and law enforcement agencies across the country, MIAC came under particular scrutiny for sharing dubious intelligence generated by far-right wing social media accounts with local law enforcement. Specifically, the Maine fusion center helped perpetuate disinformation that stacks of bricks and stones had been strategically placed throughout a Black Lives Matter protest as part of a larger plan for destruction, and caused police to plan and act accordingly. This was, to put it plainly, a government intelligence agency spreading fake news that could have deliberately gotten people exercising their First Amendment rights hurt. This is in addition to a whistleblower lawsuit from a state trooper that alleged the fusion center routinely violated civil rights.

    “The first decade of the twenty-first century is characterized by a blank check to grow and expand the infrastructure that props up mass surveillance. Fusion centers are at the very heart of that excess. They have proven themselves to be unreliable and even harmful to the people the national security apparatus claims to want to protect. Why do states continue to fund intelligence fusion when, at its best, it enacts political policing that poses an existential threat to immigrants, activists, and protestors—and at worst, it actively disseminates false information to police?

    “We echo the sentiments of Representative Charlotte Warren and other dedicated Maine residents who say it’s time to shift MIAC’s nearly million-dollar per year budget towards more useful programs. Maine, pass LD1278 and defund the Maine Information and Analysis Center.”

    MATTHEW GUARIGLIA, EFF

    1. “That changed after George Loder, a 26-year veteran of the Maine State Police, sued the center and its supervisors in federal court last May, claiming that he was retaliated against after raising questions internally about the center’s data collection and retention practices.” (from The Intercept article, linked below)

      Court document:

      George Loder, Plaintiff v. Maine Intelligence Analysis Center…

      https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.med.58349/gov.uscourts.med.58349.1.0_1.pdf

  2. The comments were made Anonymously. So if no one knew who he was how would they know he was a police officer? If they didn’t know he was a police officer how would they know that as a police officer he said something detrimental to the police department? Anonymous makes comments on this forum and no one knows who she works for. Her request to remain anonymous should be respected. In commenting anonymously she should not be subject to dismissal by her employer. Would she find it acceptable for Professor Turley to release her identity to the public and then have her anonymous opinion cause her firing because her boss does not agree? According to her comments, information about her is fair game once it’s out there. Anonymous is not known on this forum for walking a mile in another persons shoes.

  3. “THE DEFUND POLICE MOVEMENT TAKES AIM AT FUSION CENTERS AND MASS SURVEILLANCE”

    “Legislators in Maine are debating pulling funding for the state’s fusion center — the first such bill in the country.”

    Alice Speri

    April 21 2021, 6:00 a.m.

    https://theintercept.com/2021/04/21/maine-defund-police-fusion-centers-mass-surveillance/

    LEGISLATORS IN MAINE could vote as early as next week on the first bill in the country seeking to shut down a fusion center: the intelligence-sharing partnerships between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as private sector groups, that proliferated following the post-9/11 establishment of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

    The draft legislation aims to pull funding for the Maine Information and Analysis Center, known as MIAC, which has an $800,000 annual budget. The bill is one of several seeking to reduce the scope of policing in Maine and comes amid nationwide efforts to reduce funding for law enforcement, mostly at the local level.

    The proposal also follows a whistleblower lawsuit by a veteran Maine state trooper who accused the MIAC of illegally surveilling racial justice protesters, environmental activists, and counselors at an Israel-Palestine peacebuilding camp, as well as maintaining an unlawful database of gun owners. Mainers’ interest in the fusion center further grew last summer, after the transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets published a huge trove of documents hacked from 251 police websites, including the MIAC’s. The documents, known as BlueLeaks, offered an unprecedented look into the work of fusion centers, which have remained largely shielded from public scrutiny despite costing taxpayers more than $336 million in 2018 alone, even after a series of reports denounced their wastefulness and abuses over the years.

    State Rep. Charlotte Warren, the bill’s primary sponsor, told The Intercept in an interview that her constituents don’t want “our state police being paid to spy on citizens and collect data on citizens that have done nothing wrong.”

    Defunding the MIAC, Tate argued, would allow the state to fund more effective programs than one “recirculating mugshots of poor people in Maine who are caught up in substance use disorder and find treatment unavailable to them. … The money we are spending on failed policing efforts like the MIAC means that we cannot spend that money where it is needed.”

    -The Intercept, Alice Speri

    1. From the linked article, above:

      ‘If successful, the Maine bill would set a precedent that could be replicated across the country. “I hope we can be the first domino,” Brendan McQuade, a professor of criminology at the University of Southern Maine and author of a book about fusion centers, told The Intercept. “There hasn’t been any significant regulation passed in any state, or in the U.S. Congress, on fusion centers, and this is kind of surprising because fusion centers — if you talk to people in the intelligence community — have a bad reputation for being amateurs, they have a reputation for incompetence and abusive behavior.”

      “Fusion centers in a number of states and large metro areas have come under renewed scrutiny following the BlueLeaks revelations about their surveillance practices.’

      -Alice Speri

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