Louisville, KY – The city of Louisville agreed to a $75,000 settlement for a lawsuit filed against it by a Louisville Metropolitan Police Department (LMPD) officer who was suspended after he was publicly outed for praying off-duty in front of an abortion clinic.
LMPD Officer Matthew Schrenger was stripped of his police powers and suspended for four months with pay last year while an internal affairs investigation was conducted because an abortion rights group had turned him in for praying in front of a clinic, WLKY reported.
He was ultimately reinstated by LMPD Chief Erika Shields without any discipline.
Chief Shields said Officer Schrenger had made an effort to cover up his police uniform with his coat while he was in front of the clinic, so he was cleared of wrongdoing and warned to comply with department policy in the future, WDRB reported.
Officer Schrenger’s attorneys from the Thomas More Society said their client hadn’t protested but, while off-duty, had “prayed alone with his father for less than an hour in front of the EMW Women’s Surgical Center,” WLKY reported.
The officer’s lawyers said had confirmed via an open-records request to the police department that LMPD did not take any disciplinary action against any of the on-duty, uniformed officers who marched with Black Lives Matter protestors or in Pride parades.
“The city’s quick offer of $75,000 shows the city knows it committed a significant and inexcusable violation of a loyal officer’s Constitutional rights,” Thomas More Society Senior Counsel Matt Heffron said in a statement.
Officer Schrenger’s attorney said it was clear that his client had been discriminated against, Catholic News Agency reported.
“The unfair discipline revealed undeniably content-based discrimination against Officer Schrenger’s personal pro-life views and violated his First Amendment rights,” Heffron said. “He did not engage in any political protest on duty – he prayed quietly. Yet Officer Schrenger was punished for this peaceful, private behavior.”
He said LMPD had exercised a double standard.
“The treatment of Officer Schrenger was particularly galling considering other Louisville police officers previously had marched, while on-duty and in uniform, in political protests that apparently were approved by the police department,” Heffron said. “He was treated very differently than other officers who had undeniably engaged in true political protest and activism while participating in LGBT and Black Lives Matter demonstrations.”
The investigation began after the organization Louisville Clinic Escorts posted pictures on Feb. 20, 2021 of Officer Schrenger standing in front of EMW Women’s Surgical Center, the Louisville Courier Journal reported.
Cop that had the 40 days sign and was marching in front of clinic. pic.twitter.com/SNMSxbwsBD
— LvilleClinicEscorts (@LouClinicEscort) February 20, 2021
The pictures also showed Officer Schrenger’s marked police cruiser parked by the curb in front of the women’s clinic, the Louisville Courier Journal reported.
LMPD launched an investigation after activists made an outcry on social media.
Surveillance video from outside the abortion clinic showed Officer Schrenger sitting in a marked police cruiser and then standing on the sidewalk outside the clinic for approximately 45 minutes, WDRB reported.
The video showed that the officer briefly held a sign that read “pray to end abortion.”
Documents obtained by the Louisville Courier Journal showed that Officer Schrenger told investigators that he was praying, not protesting, in front of the abortion clinic.
Officer Schrenger was suspended while an investigation was conducted but ultimately reinstated by the police chief without any discipline, the Louisville Courier Journal reported.
Afterwards, Chief Shields announced a new department policy that banned officers from participating in controversial religious or political activities while in uniform or while driving a patrol vehicle.
In October of 2020, attorneys for Officer Schrenger filed a lawsuit against LMPD, Chief Shields, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, that alleged Officer Schrenger’s First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights to free speech, free expression and equal protection under the Constitution, as well as the federal Civil Rights Act and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, were violated by the actions taken against him.
According to the lawsuit, LMPD dragged its feet on the investigation into Officer Schrenger’s activities, and then “his police powers inexplicably were not restored” for two more weeks after he was cleared by the chief, the Louisville Courier Journal reported.
The lawsuit, which names “LMPD wrongly accused Schrenger of violating LMPD Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Kentucky law,” the complaint read, and then went on to point out that other LMPD uniformed officers had participated “in an LGBT parade and in Black Lives Matter protests,” the Louisville Courier Journal reported.