Judge declines to set aside Lexington officer's disciplinary action

A judge has declined to set aside a disciplinary action in which the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council demoted a Lexington police sergeant to the position of officer, but the appeal continues.

Officer Earl Rayford was demoted after being found guilty of misconduct in April.

The council found after a hearing that he had 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.

In May, Rayford filed a lawsuit in Fayette Circuit Court against the Urban County Government and Chief Ronnie Bastin, saying the government should be forced to set aside his punishment, return him to his former rank and compensate him for his lost earnings and benefits.

The disciplinary action against Rayford stemmed from events surrounding the Aug. 20, 2010, arrest of former Kentucky State University basketball player Delvegio Christopher Lax, who was dating Rayford's stepdaughter.

Rayford learned of a fugitive warrant for Lax's arrest, and he called police dispatchers and asked them to send officers to arrest Lax.

The officers arrested Lax and found crack cocaine, a handgun and $450.

While one officer took Lax to jail, another took the money, drugs and gun to police headquarters with the intention of booking it as evidence. The officers said they planned to charge Lax with drug trafficking.

However, after calls from Rayford to the officers, one of them took the money to an address Rayford provided and gave it to Rayford's wife.

Rayford said his stepdaughter had told his wife Lax had her rent money. Rayford said he thought the money was being booked as property, not evidence.

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 he was a victim of racial discrimination.

City spokeswoman Susan Straub declined to comment Tuesday, saying it was the city's policy not to comment on pending litigation.

Rayford's attorney, William Jacobs, also did not wish to comment for this story.

In a motion filed last month, Jacobs asked Judge James Ishmael Jr. to set aside the disciplinary action.

Jacobs said in his motion that the charges against Rayford were not sufficient for the council to discipline him, based on state law, which says urban county governments may discipline members of the police only for "inefficiency, misconduct, insubordination or violation of law or of the rules adopted by the legislative body ... ."

He said that Rayford wasn't charged with breaking a law and that the rule under which Rayford was administratively charged was not adopted by the legislative body.

In their response, attorneys said Rayford was charged with misconduct, which was included as a basis for discipline under the statute in question.

Ishmael said in his ruling that Jacobs' interpretation of the law was "more narrow than the language of the statute."

The judge has ordered Rayford to get a written transcript of his hearings before the council. After that, a schedule is to be set for briefing the court on the issues related to Rayford's appeal.

Rayford is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, a jury trial, court costs and his attorney's fees.

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