A Lexington police sergeant was found guilty of misconduct and demoted after a disciplinary hearing Tuesday night before the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council.
Attorneys for the city successfully argued that Sgt. Earl Rayford inappropriately used his position as a supervisor to influence officers to give money found in a fugitive's possession to a member of Rayford's family.
The officers testified that they intended to charge the man with drug trafficking but had to lower the charge to possession without the money as evidence.
"Sgt. Rayford did not see the dilemma that was presented, as he had personal involvement," Assistant Chief Michael Bosse testified. "We expect the sergeant to stop the behavior, and I don't know that he actually even recognized it."
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After a four-hour hearing and 40 minutes of deliberation, council voted 10-4 to demote Rayford to the position of police officer. Councilman George Myers was absent.
Rayford's lawyer, William Jacobs, said Rayford did nothing wrong, and he plans to appeal.
"The words double standard come to mind," Jacobs said, referring to the fact that the police officers who handled the case were not disciplined.
The disciplinary action against Rayford stemmed from events surrounding the Aug. 20, 2010, arrest of former Kentucky State University basketball player Delvegio Christopher Lax.
Rayford learned of a fugitive warrant out for Lax's arrest, and he called police dispatchers and asked them to send officers to arrest Lax.
Rayford warned the officers, Michael Jackson and Jack Hoskins, that Lax might be armed and was a known drug dealer.
They said Rayford did not disclose to them his stepdaughter was dating Lax, 25. Rayford disputes that.
The officers arrested Lax on the outstanding warrant. A search showed that he had a gram of crack cocaine in his pocket and a .357 Smith and Wesson handgun in his waistband, according to court documents. Lax also had about $450 in his pocket.
Hoskins told council that Lax told police the money belonged to his girlfriend.
While Jackson took Lax to jail, Hoskins took the money, drugs and gun to police headquarters with the intention of booking it as as evidence, the officers testified.
They said they planned to charge Lax with drug trafficking.
However, after calls from Rayford to the officers, Hoskins took the money to an address Rayford provided and gave it to a woman who identified herself as Rayford's wife.
"I took it as an order," Hoskins said. "Following the order was inappropriate."
After giving the money to Rayford's wife, Hoskins said he "wasn't feeling good about it at all."
"That's just not how we handle evidence," Hoskins said in response to questioning. "... It could just look like a shakedown."
Hoskins said he called his supervisor, who directed him to go back and get Rayford's wife to sign a form saying she had received the money.
Rayford told council that he did not order Hoskins to take the money to his wife.
He said that after Lax was arrested, his stepdaughter told his wife that Lax had her rent money, which she had taken out of the bank that morning.
He said he called the officers because he was "simply trying to inquire" about the money, which he said he thought was being booked as property, not evidence. He said Hoskins volunteered to return it.
"My involvement here has nothing to do with formal police sergeant authority," he said.
Because the money was no longer evidence, Jackson said he decided to charge Lax with possession of drugs rather than drug trafficking.
"I didn't want to have to explain later down the road why he was charged with trafficking and there was no money," Jackson said.
Lax was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance and carrying a concealed deadly weapon, a misdemeanor. He pleaded guilty to those charges Dec. 23 and was sentenced to three years of probation after serving 83 days in jail, according to court records.
Chief Ronnie Bastin told council that he offered to resolve the matter by giving Rayford a 40-hour suspension, but Rayford refused the offer, preferring for the police department's disciplinary review board to examine the case.
Rayford joined the Lexington police force in 1995 and was promoted to sergeant in 2004.
His record indicates one previous disciplinary matter, a 10-hour suspension without pay in 1997. No details are given, except that he was found to have violated policies dealing with division reports and incompetence.
He told council he is being "mistreated" and that some of the officers' testimony, particularly about him not disclosing the family relationship, was untrue.
He said Jackson is related to his wife's family and had even recalled during their initial phone conversation that he had been to Lax's apartment recently on a call that involved Rayford's stepdaughter.
"I wish I'd never picked the phone up, even though all I was doing was providing information," he told council.