Officer Who Gave $25 to Kyle Rittenhouse’s Defense Loses Job
Lt. William Kelly of the Norfolk Police Department in Virginia was relieved of duty by city officials, who said his support for the Kenosha, Wis., shooting suspect undermined the public’s trust in law enforcement.,
A police lieutenant in Virginia lost his job this week after he contributed $25 to a legal-defense fund and expressed praise for Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager charged with killing two people last year during protests in Kenosha, Wis., officials said.
The lieutenant, William Kelly, a member of the Norfolk Police Department for nearly 19 years, was relieved of his duties on Tuesday by city officials, who said his conduct had violated the department’s policies and undermined the public’s faith in law enforcement.
The decision came just four days after Lieutenant Kelly was placed on administrative duty by the Police Department amid reports by the British newspaper The Guardian and other media outlets that he had given money last September to support Mr. Rittenhouse’s defense through GiveSendGo, a Christian crowdfunding website that was breached by hackers.
Mr. Rittenhouse has become a cause celebre for some conservatives since he was charged with shooting three people, two of whom died, last summer as the streets of Kenosha erupted in protests over the shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, by a police officer.
Lieutenant Kelly, 41, became an executive officer for internal affairs of the Norfolk Police Department last month, according to his LinkedIn profile.
His name appeared on a list of donors obtained by Distributed Denial of Secrets, a watchdog group that said in a Twitter direct message on Wednesday night that it had received the list from an external source. It shared the material with The New York Times.
On the GiveSendGo crowdfunding site, Lieutenant Kelly checked that he wished to remain anonymous, but appeared to use his Norfolk city email address for the donation, which included a message of encouragement for Mr. Rittenhouse.
“God bless,” the message said. “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.”
Chip Filer, the city manager of Norfolk, said in a statement on Tuesday that he had accepted the recommendation of the police chief to relieve Lieutenant Kelly of his duties and that Lieutenant Kelly had the right to appeal the decision.
“His egregious comments erode the trust between the Norfolk Police Department and those they are sworn to serve,” Mr. Filer said. “The City of Norfolk has a standard of behavior for all employees, and we will hold staff accountable.”
Larry D. Boone, the city’s police chief, said in a statement on Tuesday that Lieutenant Kelly’s actions were not consistent with the department’s values.
“A police department cannot do its job when the public loses trust with those whose duty is to serve and protect them,” Chief Boone said. “We do not want perceptions of any individual officer to undermine the relations between the Norfolk Police Department and the community.”
Lieutenant Kelly did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment that were left on Wednesday night at a phone number listed for him. It was not clear if he had a lawyer.
Norfolk officials did not elaborate on which of the Police Department’s policies Lieutenant Kelly had violated, nor did they immediately respond to requests for comment about his status on Wednesday night.
While Lieutenant Kelly is not a member of the local police union because of his rank, the head of the Norfolk Police Union IBPO Local 412, in an interview with The Virginian-Pilot newspaper of Norfolk, defended Lieutenant Kelly and said the investigation into his actions had been conducted “so hastily.”
“We were hoping for a full, transparent investigation,” the union’s head, Clay Messick, told the newspaper on Tuesday. “But after 72 hours, I do not believe that is what we got. It is hard to call this fair.”
Small donors and deep-pocketed conservative celebrities have donated money to Mr. Rittenhouse, who lionized the police. His defenders contend that he was acting in self-defense and had been trying to protect the city from destruction by patrolling the streets with a military-style rifle.
Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow and an ally of former President Donald J. Trump, made donations that put Mr. Rittenhouse’s bail fund “over the top,” L. Lin Wood, a lawyer for Mr. Rittenhouse, wrote last fall on Twitter.
More recently, Mr. Rittenhouse’s less-famous financial backers have had their identities unmasked as a result of hacking episodes. In Utah, a paramedic drew scrutiny this month after it emerged that he had given his government email address on a $10 donation to Mr. Rittenhouse’s defense, ABC4 News reported.
A representative for GiveSendGo declined to comment on Wednesday night.