Lawsuit over former Lexington PD chaplain’s conduct settled

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A federal lawsuit that accused a former Lexington police chaplain of repeatedly hitting an autistic teenager at the Fayette Mall in February 2019 has been settled, according to court documents.

The city of Lexington paid the family of the teenager $40,000. Blue Line Security & K9, which provided security at the mall and employed former chaplain Donovan Stewart and officer Alex Ramirez at the time of the incident, paid the family $20,000, according to settlement documents the Lexington Herald-Leader obtained through an Open Records Act request.

Now Blue Line, the city and Blue Line’s insurance company are fighting in state court over whether Blue Line and its insurance company should reimburse the city for its $40,000 and for the city’s attorney fees. That case is ongoing.

As part of the settlement, the city and Blue Line admit no wrongdoing, according to the settlement documents.

The federal civil rights lawsuit was filed in February 2020 by Jerrisha Reneé Coomer against the city of Lexington and Stewart, who retired from the Lexington Police Department in July 2020.

The lawsuit accuses Stewart of going into a “violent rage” when he encountered Coomer’s son, who is autistic, according to court documents. Stewart was responding to a report that a “group of African American teenagers were being disorderly inside Fayette Mall,” according to the lawsuit.

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Lexington Police Department Chaplain Donovan Stewart PHOTO BY GARY WATKINS

Video taken of the Feb. 2, 2019, incident by a bystander was shared widely over social media when it was posted by the boy’s father, Antonio Taylor. The video shows Stewart punching the boy, called A.B.T. in the lawsuit, in the face and head, according to court records.

The lawsuit accuses Stewart of continuing to hit the boy after he was restrained on the floor with both hands “under control” and not posing a threat. The teen was 16 at the time of the incident.

In response to the lawsuit, the city denied Stewart acted with excessive force.

“Defendants deny that there was a violation of any person’s constitutional and/or civil rights, and further deny that any excessive force was utilized by any Defendant,” the court documents state.

A lawyer for the family of the teen was not immediately available for comment.

Stewart was not wearing a body camera at the time of the incident. The city now requires all officers, even those on an off-duty job like Stewart and Ramirez were at the time of the incident, to wear a body camera.

Stewart was not required to pay any of the settlement.

Defamation lawsuit against protesters continues

Blue Line is a private security company owned by a former Lexington police officer. The city has argued in the state court lawsuit that as part of its agreement with Blue Line to allow off-duty officers to work for the company, Blue Line indemnified the city from any lawsuits arising over an off-duty officer’s conduct while employed by Blue Line.

That lawsuit is ongoing.

The February 2019 incident has also sparked other lawsuits.

Stewart has filed a defamation lawsuit against members of Lexington Police Department Accountability or LPD Accountability for defamation in July 2020.

In that lawsuit, Stewart claims he was acting lawfully when he had to restrain the teen.

“Officer Stewart was assaulted by the teen,” the state lawsuit said.

The teen was charged in juvenile court. Juvenile court proceedings are not open to the public. It’s not known what happened to those charges.

The defamation lawsuit accused sisters Sarah Williams and April Taylor, key members of LPD Accountability, of making untrue and false statements about Stewart and his family.

In their response, Williams and Taylor said they shared the video of Stewart’s actions taken by a bystander at the mall that day. They shared that video to bring more accountability and transparency regarding Lexington Police Department’s actions.

Sarah Williams protests outside the Fraternal Order of Police Bluegrass Lodge 4 in Lexington, Ky., before Former Lexington police chaplain Donovan Stewart speaks on Thursday, July 9, 2020. Stewart has retired from the police department and filed a defamation lawsuit against Sarah Williams and April Taylor and 10 other unnamed ÒJohn Does.Ó Ryan C. Hermens

The police department has previously said due to the various court cases involving Stewart’s actions, it could not proceed with an internal investigation of the incident. Stewart voluntarily retired prior to that process being completed.

“At no time did Defendants Williams or Taylor present or attempt to present false information about either Plaintiff Donovan Stewart or his wife Becky Stewart,” lawyers for Williams and Taylor wrote in a response.

“This lawsuit is completely without merit and filed for malicious and vindictive reasons. As such, plaintiffs should be held liable for their conduct and be ordered to pay damages to defendants Williams and Taylor in an amount to be determined at trial,” the sisters’ counterclaim said.

That lawsuit is ongoing.

Beth Musgrave has covered government and politics for the Herald-Leader for more than a decade. A graduate of Northwestern University, she has worked as a reporter in Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois and Washington D.C.

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