On Tuesday, a Virginia city fired a police lieutenant after a data breach at a crowdfunding site revealed that the lieutenant had contributed to the legal fund of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old boy who opened fire amid riots in Kenosha, Wisc., seemingly in self-defense. The cop, like a few other police officers across the country, had mistakenly used his official email address to make the donation. He had also posted a comment supporting Rittenhouse.
Chip Filer, city manager of Norfolk, Va., fired Lieutenant William Kelly upon the recommendation of Norfolk Police Chief Larry D. Boone.
“I have reviewed the results of the internal investigation involving Lt. William Kelly. Chief Larry Boone and I have concluded Lt. Kelly’s actions are in violation of City and departmental policies,” Filer said in a statement. The city manager argued that Kelly’s “egregious comments” in support of Rittenhouse “erode the trust between the Norfolk Police Department and those they are sworn to serve.”
The police department had placed Kelly on administrative duty on April 16, after the report of the donation and comments first broke. The city manager’s statement noted that Rittenhouse faces multiple felony charges, including homicide. The statement did not explain that a New York Times video analysis provided strong evidence that Rittenhouse fired in self-defense.
“I want the residents of Norfolk to know that their police department will represent and uphold our organizational values of Service, Honor, Integrity, Equality, Leadership, and Diversity,” Chief Boone said in a statement. “A police department cannot do its job when the public loses trust with those whose duty is to serve and protect them.”
“We do not want perceptions of any individual officer to undermine the relations between the Norfolk Police Department and the community. I ask the community to continue to support the officers of the Norfolk Police Department as in the past knowing that right now, at this moment, they are continuing to serve and protect them,” he concluded.
Kelly has the right to appeal the decision according to the City of Norfolk’s grievance procedure and according to applicable law.
The Guardian first reported the data breach last Friday. The newspaper published the names of police officers who had contributed to Rittenhouse’s legal defense fund in a story that began with this sentence: “A data breach at a Christian crowdfunding website has revealed that serving police officers and public officials have donated money to fundraisers for accused vigilante murderers, far-right activists, and fellow officers accused of shooting black Americans.”
The co-founders of GiveSendGo, the Christian crowdfunding site that hosts Rittenhouse’s campaign, told PJ Media they had “closed the loophole” and added more protections to prevent future data breaches.
Heather Wilson, one of GiveSendGo’s co-founders, insisted that Americans “have the right” to contribute to fully-legal crowdfunding campaigns like that of Rittenhouse “and not lose your job over it.”
Lt. Kelly had contributed $25 to Rittenhouse’s legal defense fund using his work email address. Along with the donation, he commented, “God bless. Thank you for your courage. Keep your head up. You’ve done nothing wrong. Every rank and file police officer supports you.”
While the Norfolk Police Department should make it clear that Kelly’s statement does not represent the department as a whole, this contribution and the comment arguably fall short of a firing offense. Perhaps Norfolk’s police policies explicitly forbid the use of a cop’s official email address to make such a donation, but it seems the city manager’s central concern involved Kelly’s comment, not the donation itself.
Clay Messick, a 15-year veteran police officer and president of the local police union, told the Virginian-Pilot that the firing does not seem fair.
Messick called the decision “disappointing,” even though Kelly is not a member of his union. Messick said he never saw an administrative investigation conducted “so hastily.”
“We were hoping for a full, transparent investigation,” Messick told the Virginian-Pilot. “But after 72 hours, I do not believe that is what we got. It is hard to call this fair.”
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.
It seems Kelly has become the first casualty of a witch hunt inspired by the GiveSendGo data breach.