Norfolk, Va., police Lieutenant William Kelly lost his job last month after a data breach at the crowdfunding site GiveSendGo revealed that Kelly had contributed to help the legal defense of Kyle Rittenhouse, the then-17-year-old boy who opened fire amid riots in Kenosha, Wisc., seemingly in self-defense. Rittenhouse faces murder charges in the deaths of two men.
On May 7, Kelly’s lawyers filed a due process grievance against the decision to fire Kelly, demanding a full reinstatement, restoration of benefits and seniority, and more. Kelly had been 10 months shy of a 20 years with the department. At that point, he could have received retirement savings without a penalty. When he got fired, he also lost health insurance for himself, his wife — who is sick with cancer — and their three kids.
“I thought I was a free man in America expressing his personal opinion to somebody, giving some words of encouragement and making a simple donation,” Kelly told Fox News on Friday.
Kelly, 42, donated to Rittenhouse’s legal defense fund at the end of last summer. He registered an account using his official police department email, but he said he donated anonymously. He said he did not make the contribution during work hours.
“God Bless,” Kelly wrote in a message along with the donation. “Thank you for your courage. Keep your head up. You’ve done nothing wrong. Every rank-and-file police officer supports you. Don’t be discouraged by actions of the political class of law enforcement leadership.”
Yet on Friday, April 16, The Guardian reported on his contribution. The following Tuesday, Kelly was out of a job — and he claims the police department deprived him of his rights in the process.
Kelly had worked in internal affairs, so he had become familiar with the kind of investigations the department ran on its own officers. He told Fox News that these investigations “take months and months and months, sometimes over a year,” because they involve multiple departments. His attorney, Andrew Protogyrou, a former city council member who has represented other cops in legal matters, said the typical consequences would have been “at worst, a letter of reprimand.”
“So [I] certainly was not expecting to be fired,” Kelly said. “Certainly, was not expecting to be fired within two working days of discovering the donation.”
Kelly filed a grievance with the city, challenging his termination and seeking reinstatement, back pay, and the restoration of leave, benefits, seniority, and rank. The grievance also asks for an expungement of the dismissal and a public announcement that the record has been set straight. The document claims that the department violated due process and Virginia code, which does not allow for immediate dismissal.
Kelly’s ouster allegedly violated the “Virginia Law Enforcement Officers Procedural Guarantee Act,” which includes hefty due process protections for cops, including the ability to respond to formally alleged charges.
Kelly admitted that he should not have used his official email address to make the donation, but he suggested that was hardly a firing offense.
“I engaged in speech which was private and anonymous but became public through no fault of my own, and which, when made public, upset a small number of vocal people for a very short time,” Kelly said in the grievance. “The Chief of Police of Norfolk Police Department, in contract, has been permitted to parade through the streets of Norfolk, wearing his Norfolk Police Department uniform, holding a ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign while marking with a crowd protesting against police and law enforcement.”
Kelly told Fox News that he would return to work without hesitation if given the chance. “I love my job, I love law enforcement as a career,” he said. “It’s part of who I am.”
Jacob Wells, the other co-founder of GiveSendGo, claimed that his platform has “never taken sides.”
“If you’re coming on and want to use a platform like ours to fundraise, if it’s for a legal activity and you make all the criteria, banking infrastructure rules, background checks, and you’re not derogatory in your campaign towards people,” you can use GiveSendGo to raise money, he explained.
“The Left doesn’t like that the Right side of the aisle now has a place to go to fundraise where before they were shut out,” Wells explained.
Whether or not Rittenhouse is guilty of murder, he has the right to due process, and Americans should be able to contribute to his legal defense fund without repercussions. Kelly was not speaking for the Norfolk Police Department in endorsing Rittenhouse’s actions, but expressing his own support for the young man.
The police department should take this grievance seriously. It appears Norfolk violated Kelly’s rights in yielding to public pressure on the issue. If so, a reversal of the ouster would represent not just justice for Kelly but an important lesson about standing up to the outrage mob.