Louisville police major lodged the mishandled complaint leading to chief's suspension, attorney says

FILE - Louisville Metro Police Chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel speaks during a news conference, May 23, 2024, in Louisville, Ky. Louisville's police chief has been placed on leave over her handling of a sexual harassment allegation involving her officers, Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg said Wednesday, June 12. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville's police chief was suspended this week because she mishandled a police major's sexual harassment complaint, the major's attorney said Thursday.

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg made the surprise announcement Wednesday evening that Chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel would be placed on administrative leave for mishandling a sexual harassment complaint involving Louisville police officers. Greenberg did not elaborate on the nature of the allegation or who was involved.

The sexual harassment complaint was brought by Maj. Shannon Lauder against another major, a man. Lauder reported it to Gwinn-Villaroel during a May meeting of command staff, and later that same meeting, the man was promoted to lieutenant colonel, attorney Jared Smith said.

At the meeting, Gwinn-Villaroel had asked if there were any concerns about working with other members of the command staff, Smith said in an email statement.

“I will not have a major that cannot get along and support another major because you all had an issue," Smith said Gwinn-Villaroel told the command staff at the meeting. “And if you can’t do that, turn in your stuff to me today.”

Lauder had joined remotely due to an illness and recorded the meeting, Smith said. After the chief called on her, Lauder identified a male major and said he “sexually harassed me and attacked me. I cannot work with him," according to Smith.

Shortly after, the chief announced the promotion of that male major to lieutenant colonel, Smith said.

“The chief’s response to Maj. Lauder’s allegation paints an unsettling picture of a department lacking strong leadership and failing to prioritize the well-being of its officers,” Smith said.

Louisville police referred questions about Lauder's allegations to the mayor's office Thursday. A mayor's spokesperson said he could not comment due to an ongoing internal investigation.

Greenberg said Wednesday he was seriously concerned about the chief’s handling of the allegation, particularly given the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation that wrapped up last year. The DOJ said it “identified deficiencies” in the Louisville department’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct or domestic violence among officers.

“I will not tolerate sexual misconduct in Louisville Metro Government, including in LMPD,” Greenberg said Wednesday.

Smith said Lauder had not previously reported the alleged harassment, though she was “exploring ways to report the complaint in a confidential way.” But Lauder felt compelled to complain in front of her colleagues “due to the way she was put on the spot by the chief,” Smith said.

Gwinn-Villaroel was named chief less than a year ago, becoming the first Black woman to lead the department in a full-time role.

She is the department's third full-time chief since Breonna Taylor was shot to death by officers during a botched raid in 2020. The department has also had three interim chiefs during that time, including a stint by Gwinn-Villaroel.