Louisville Police Officer Sues Department and City for Violating Civil and Constitutional Rights

THOMAS MORE SOCIETY – A Louisville, Kentucky, police officer is suing the town’s mayor, police chief, and police department for persecuting him over his off-duty prayer at an abortion clinic. The federal lawsuit was filed October 4, 2021, by Thomas More Society attorneys on behalf of Matthew Schrenger. The complaint states that the City of Louisville and the Louisville Metro Police Department violated the officer’s constitutional and civil rights.  

“A quiet, off-duty prayer, on a public sidewalk, resulted in Officer Matt Schrenger being immediately suspended for over four months, stripped of his police powers, and placed under investigation,” explained Thomas More Society Senior Counsel Matt Heffron. “No one should be treated the way the Louisville police chief and city government treated one of their finest, but it’s particularly awful because they punished him for praying, of all things…and while off duty, no less.”

Early on a Saturday morning, February 20, 2021, at approximately 6 a.m., well before sunrise, Officer Schrenger of the Louisville Metro Police Department joined his father for private prayer on a public sidewalk.  Schrenger was not on duty at the time of the prayer. The sidewalk was located outside an abortion facility, the EMW Women’s Surgical Center. 

Later that morning, Schrenger reported for his police shift. That same day, Schrenger was locked out from his work computers, relieved of his police vehicle, and removed from the patrol schedule. Schrenger was suspended and he was stripped of his police powers, pending investigation of his off-duty prayer. 

Schrenger was wrongly accused of violating Louisville Metro Police Department Standard Operating Procedures and Kentucky law. By way of a letter dated June 15, 2021, LMPD Chief Shields admitted that none of the allegations against Officer Schrenger could be sustained. Even after that letter, Schenger’s police powers inexplicably were not restored until June 29, 2021. Even though the facts of the incident were not in dispute, it took the police department more than four months, plus a week, to make its decision after the off-duty prayer incident.

“It is astounding to those of us defending him – shocking actually –  that the police department would treat a loyal, hard-working officer this way,” said Heffron. 

“It’s particularly interesting that while Officer Schrenger did not engage in any political protest on duty and did not display his uniform, he was treated very differently than other similarly situated Louisville Metro Police Department officers who had undeniably engaged in true political protest and activism,” recounted Heffron. 

He related how within a relatively close-time proximity to Schrenger’s early morning, off-duty prayer, other Louisville police officers, in uniform, and apparently while on-duty, publicly marched in an LGBT parade and participated in Black Lives Matter protests. Open-records requests revealed that these other officers suffered no suspension, and, in fact, no discipline whatsoever, and apparently engaged in these political activities at the encouragement of the Louisville Metro Police Department.

“Officer Schrenger is a 13-year Louisville police veteran,” added Blaine Blood, a Louisville employment attorney who filed the case along with Heffron. “He has received multiple commendations, and there were no significant previous complaints against him. He and his wife have four young children to support.”

“Matthew Schrenger was minding his own business. For most of his prayer time, there was no one else around except for his father, in the 6 a.m. hour on a Saturday morning in downtown Louisville, for heaven’s sake!” said Heffron. “It was the abortion facility that manufactured the situation, blew it up with intentionally negative publicity, and egged on the city government – who took it out on Officer Schrenger.”

The lawsuit names Police Chief Erika Shields, the Louisville Metro Police Department, Mayor Greg Fischer, and the City of Louisville, Kentucky. The complaint details their violations of the Free Exercise Clause and Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as Amended, and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. 

“Officer Matt Schrenger’s real ‘sin’ in the eyes of certain city hierarchy was that his quiet prayer was for the end of abortion,” observed Heffron. “Certain members of the city government publicly made it known they would not tolerate his opinion, and the police chief either agreed or perhaps just followed their lead. They thought they could get away with abusing a good officer with a four-month suspension without any reasonable basis. They left his career and his livelihood dangling. Now the city government will face the consequences of their actions, which are illegal under the Civil Rights Act and under the Constitution.”

Read the Verified Complaint filed October 4, 2021, with the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky – Louisville Division by the Thomas More Society in Matthew Schrenger v. Erika Shields, et al. here.