Lexington police officer sues city over demotion

A member of the Lexington police force found guilty of misconduct and demoted last month has sued the Urban County Government and Police Chief Ronnie Bastin.

Officer Earl Rayford seeks compensatory and punitive damages, a jury trial, court costs and his attorney's fees. The suit was filed Thursday in Fayette Circuit Court.

Susan Straub, spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Gray, said the mayor's office does not comment on pending suits.

Rayford says in the suit that the defendants violated his entitlement to the protections of the state constitution and a state law that is sometimes referred to as the Police Officer's Bill of Rights, and he indicated that he is a victim of racial discrimination. He says the local government ought to be forced to set aside his punishment, restore him to his former rank, and restore his lost earnings and benefits.

Rayford's demotion, from sergeant to officer, stemmed from events surrounding the Aug. 20, 2010, arrest of former Kentucky State University basketball player Delvagio Lax.

Rayford learned of an outstanding warrant against Lax and had specific information about where he was. Rayford called police dispatchers and asked them to send officers to arrest Lax.

Officers Michael Jackson and Jackie Hoskins said in an April 26 disciplinary hearing concerning Rayford before the Urban County Council that Rayford did not tell them his stepdaughter was dating Lax. Rayford disputes that.

Jackson and Hoskins arrested Lax, who had a gram of crack cocaine and about $450 in his pockets and a handgun in his waistband, according to court documents. Hoskins told the council that Lax told police the money was his girlfriend's.

The officers said they planned to charge Lax with drug trafficking. But after the officers received calls from Rayford, they said, Hoskins took the money to an address supplied by Rayford and gave it to a woman who identified herself as Rayford's wife.

Rayford said his stepdaughter told his wife that Lax had her rent money. Rayford said he thought the money was being booked as property, not evidence. He added that Hoskins volunteered to return it, and that Rayford did not order him to do so.

Jackson said he decided to charge Lax with possession of drugs rather than drug trafficking because police no longer had the money that had been in Lax's possession.

In December, Lax was sentenced to three years of probation after pleading guilty to felony possession of a controlled substance and carrying a concealed deadly weapon, a misdemeanor.

At the April 26 hearing, city attorneys argued that Rayford had inappropriately used his position as a supervisor, and council agreed.

Rayford says in the suit that his conduct did not violate Division of Police policy, state law or Urban County Council legislation and that no proof indicating otherwise was presented. He says that before the April hearing, legal counsel for the council told Rayford's attorney that Rayford had not violated any policy.

Rayford, who is black, says in the suit that while the government demoted him, it did not punish Hoskins, a white officer who admitted in writing to having committed the same offense for which Rayford was demoted.

Bastin told council at the April 26 hearing that he offered to give Rayford a 40-hour suspension, but Rayford refused, preferring that the police department's disciplinary review board examine the situation.

Rayford says Bastin demanded that he voluntarily agree to a 40-hour suspension. Rayford maintains that Bastin knew a candidate for police lieutenant had to have 12 months of service free of any suspensions and intended to make Rayford ineligible for promotion to lieutenant.

Rayford says that the Urban County Council refused to allow him enough time to present his defense during a hearing in March, a "flagrant" violation of a Kentucky law pertaining to a police officer facing accusations. Rayford says he was not allowed to present fully his own testimony and was not allowed to present a witness on his behalf, whom he had subpoenaed, which he was entitled to do under state law.

Rayford also maintains that during his hearing April 26, Bastin was allowed to remain in council chambers, creating an "intimidating presence" that was not conducive to candor by other government witnesses.

Rayford, a member of the local police force since 1995, was promoted to sergeant in 2004. He received a 10-hour suspension without pay in 1997 for violating police department policies dealing with reports and incompetence, his police employment record indicates.