NORFOLK, Va. - The Virginia police lieutenant who was fired from the department in April after anonymously donating to a fundraiser to benefit Kyle Rittenhouse said his ousting came in only a matter of days, despite that the process typically takes months.
Norfolk Police Lt. William Kelly was only roughly 10 months from being a 20-year veteran of the department, at which point he would have been eligible to have received his retirement savings without a penalty. He was fired from Norfolk Police Department in April when he was suddenly left desperate to find affordable 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 said during a Friday morning interview with Fox News.
Rittenhouse faces a handful of criminal charges, such as murder and being in possession of a firearm as a minor, after he was accused of fatally shooting two people and wounding a third during riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He has said he fired his weapon while defending himself.
Kelly, 42, said he donated to a GiveSendGo account to benefit Rittenhouse, now 18, at the end of summer 2020. He registered an account using his official police department email but said his donation was anonymous.
A message included with the donation stated: "God Bless. 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."
Kelly did not place the donation during work hours, he said. He didn’t hear anything about the contribution for months, until the morning of Friday, April 16.
"I was getting ready for work one morning and I got a phone call from a fellow police officer who was working at the central desk," he recalled.
His colleague was calling about a report released that morning by The Guardian, which detailed how a "data breach" revealed how Kelly, who was a sergeant at the time, was among police officials who had donated to Rittenhouse’s fund.
"I only read the portion that was in relation to me, and I immediately called my boss, let him know what had happened," Kelly said."I didn't think it was going to be that big of a deal," he told Fox News. "I didn't think that anything I said was egregious. I didn't think that my opinion was outside the realm of normal public discourse. So, I honestly did not think it was going to be a big deal."
Kelly said he understood why he shouldn’t have used his work email address, but said using the city-issued email address was a "very common" practice among police department personnel.
Later that Friday he was interviewed by higher-ranking police officials and provided statements to the Internal Affairs Division, to which Kelly had been assigned.
"I remember asking before we began the statement what I was being investigated for. And they told me that it was going to be for using a city email account for personal business. And then, later on, they said it could possibly be something about conduct unbecoming," he said. "Being in internal affairs, as a sergeant and as lieutenant, I knew that those weren't things that ended people's careers."
By midday, he was transferred from the internal affairs to the Third Patrol Division.
"I was told that they had to look out for the department," Kelly continued. "I didn’t object to being transferred – I understand that public perception is very important in the 21st century and public trust is very important."
Kelly ran into Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone at work on Friday, after the department’s top cop had been made aware of the matter.
"He was talking with the city manager on the sidewalk. I greeted him, he called me over, and he just put his hands on my shoulders and didn't say anything for a while," Kelly recalled. "And then, he kind of patted my shoulder with his hand and said, 'Bad. We'll talk later.'"
Kelly began hearing whispers over that weekend about how he might be terminated on Monday. He called Boone sometime between Saturday and Sunday, but the call was sent to voicemail, he said.
"I texted him, I told him that I just wanted to know if I was going to be fired. I told him that if I was going to be fired. ‘I'd like to know if it's going to be immediate or if it's going to be something that affords me the chance to get health insurance. I’ve got family members with some severe illnesses,’" he continued, as he began to choke up.
Kelly’s wife is undergoing treatment for cancer.
The chief never answered Kelly's messages or returned his call. By that Monday, Kelly was out of a job.
Kelly said he anticipated repercussions, but didn’t expect them to reach the level of termination – or to come as swiftly as they did.
"Being in internal affairs for so long as a sergeant and then again coming back as lieutenant, I knew that Internal Affairs investigations take months and months and months, sometimes over a year," he said. "I know that it takes months and months to go through the administrative process of scrutiny by different departments."
He further described it as a "long, drawn-out process." His attorney, Andrew Protogyrou, a former city council member who has represented other officers in union-related legal matters, added that typical consequences would have been "at worst, a letter of reprimand."
"So [I] certainly was not expecting to be fired," Kelly continued. "Certainly, was not expecting to be fired within two working days of discovering the donation."
The police department did not respond to Fox News’ request seeking comment and additional information regarding the circumstance surrounding Kelly’s dismissal. A spokesperson for the city manager’s office declined to comment.
Kelly, through his attorneys, Protogyrou and Raymond L. Hogge, Jr., filed a grievance with the city on May 7, challenging his termination and seeking reinstatement, back pay, restoration of leave, benefits, seniority and rank as well as the expungement of dismissal and public announcement, the document states.
The grievance argues that his dismissal violated due process and Virginia code that does not allow immediate dismissal. It also violates the "Virginia Law Enforcement Officers Procedural Guarantee Act," which requires certain steps, including the ability to respond to formally alleged charges, to be provided to an officer before he or she is fired.
The termination was based on political affiliation, race and was "unjustified, excessive, arbitrary and capricious," the document further states.
The grievance also features a picture of Chief Boone holding a "Black Lives Matter" poster during a protest in the city.
"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."
Since his firing, a GiveSendGo account has been created to benefit the Kelly family.
Regardless of the events of the past year, Kelly said without hesitating that he would return to work if given the chance to do so.
"I love my job, I love law enforcement as a career," he said. "It's part of who I am."
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