Louisville, KY – A Louisville Metropolitan Police Department (LMPD) officer has filed a lawsuit after he was suspended and investigated for praying outside an abortion clinic.
The investigation began after the organization Louisville Clinic Escorts posted pictures on Feb. 20 of LMPD Officer Matthew Schrenger standing in front of EMW Women’s Surgical Center, the Louisville Courier Journal reported.
That abortion clinic has been a frequent target of protests by pro-life activists.
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.
Cop that had the 40 days sign and was marching in front of clinic. pic.twitter.com/SNMSxbwsBD
— LvilleClinicEscorts (@LouClinicEscort) February 20, 2021
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.
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.
Afterwards, the police chief 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.
LMPD did not respond to WDRB’s questions about whether the new policy would be consistently enforced in the future.
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, Chief Shields, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, 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.
“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.
“Under these circumstances, where Schrenger’s conduct admittedly was not clearly prohibited, there should have been no suspension and no investigation,” according to the complaint. “Officer Schrenger is a 13-year LMPD veteran, with multiple commendations, and without any significant previous complaint against him. He has four young children to support.”
“He is the sort of officer LMPD easily could have talked to, if LMPD found his off-duty prayer activities to be inappropriate,” the lawsuit continued.
The complaint also alleged the police department had dragged their feet and “purposely delayed concluding” the investigation, the Louisville Courier Journal reported.
“It is readily apparent that LMPD’s actions against Schrenger were not due to some purported violation of the SOPs, but was retaliation and discrimination because of his prayer and sincerely held religious beliefs,” the Thomas More Society, which is representing the officer, alleged in the complaint.
The police officer is seeking a jury trial and wants “back pay and front pay in amounts to be determined,” as well as punitive damages and attorney’s fees, the Louisville Courier Journal reported.