The Frankfort Police Department agreed Wednesday to allow a third party to investigate its policy and procedures, including how it handles confidential informants, and the circumstances surrounding two former informants involved in a 2015 homicide.
In November, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd had granted an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the police department and Detective Bobby Courtney had violated court orders by withholding evidence concerning their involvement with former Paris Police Department and Kentucky State Police informant Meisha Nichols, who told police she stabbed former FPD informant Thomas Ellison in self-defense.
After a hearing Wednesday in Franklin Circuit Court on a motion by Kentucky State Police to quash subpoenas for KSP detectives Elijah Morris and Chris Masters, who handled Nichols as an informant, Courtney’s attorney, Thomas Clay, said he suggested all parties involved attempt to reach an agreement on how to proceed with the evidentiary hearing scheduled for Thursday.
That hearing is on hold pending the independent review of the Frankfort Police Department.
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Nichols’ defense attorneys presented phone records and social media messages between Courtney and Nichols raising allegations of a sexual relationship, which Courtney denied in a sworn affidavit. Courtney and another city detective paid Ellison with FPD funds to temporarily house Nichols with the intention of employing Nichols as a confidential informant.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Larry Cleveland and Nichols’ defense attorneys agreed to a lesser guilty plea of reckless homicide instead of murder. After vetting the allegations, Cleveland said the appearance of an inappropriate relationship between Nichols and Courtney stopped his office from taking the murder case to trial.
Clay was hired by Courtney in November and helped procure Courtney’s affidavit denying the allegations raised by Nichols’ defense attorneys and cited by Shepherd in a stinging critique of the police department’s handling of the case, including placing Nichols, who has a history of physical, sexual and substance abuse problems, with Ellison, who had a 40-year criminal history, including multiple charges of violence against women.
“I thought it would be a good idea for us to discuss about how we were going to proceed for this hearing,” Clay said. “As a matter of practicality I always think it’s better to try and resolve issues like this rather than get into a slinging contest where a lot of stuff that was going to be slung … somebody was going to get hit and it’s going to stick.”
Clay said he proposed that he, Nichols’ attorneys, City Solicitor Rob Moore, who represents the FPD, and Commonwealth’s Attorney Larry Cleveland have an outside individual or agency conduct an objective evaluation of the “manner in which the Frankfort Police Department and Bobby Courtney operated in this investigation.”
If the Frankfort City Commission decides to hire an entity or individual for the evaluation, both Shepherd and Nichols’ defense attorneys must agree to the selected individual or entity. The evaluation will be paid for with city funds.
Depending on the outcome of the evaluation, which must be completed by March, according to the pending agreement, another evidentiary hearing could be scheduled.
Moore said the City Commission will discuss the matter and how to proceed at Monday’s commission meeting.
Shepherd is expected to sign the order Thursday.