Louisville Metro Government agreed to pay $450,000 to a former police detective who was demoted to patrol officer on the graveyard shift for trying to help an inmate prove her innocence.  The settlement was struck last week with Barron Morgan, who sued in 2012, claiming he was punished in violation of whistleblower protection laws.

“I know I did the right thing…” said Morgan, who now works the day shift as a uniformed officer.

He said in his lawsuit that he had his supervisor’s permission when he notified the Kentucky Innocence Project that Richard Jarrell Jr. had confessed to a murder for which Susan Jean King was already convicted and serving 10 years.  But Morgan said that the Kentucky State Police, who had investigated the 1998 murder and accused King, complained about Morgan assisting the Innocence Project, a Louisville police commander “cursed” him out, and he was ordered to stop working with them.

The Courier-Journal reported in 2012 that KSP complained to Louisville Chief Steve Conrad that Morgan was undermining their case and that another commander called the state police and “apologized on behalf of LMPD for Morgan sticking his nose in [it].”  Morgan’s lawyer Thomas Clay said that the settlement was a “pretty clear indication” that Morgan “did the right thing” and was “treated abominably” for it.

As in most settlements, the city was allowed to deny wrongdoing.  Louisville police declined comment as per policy.  A lawsuit is still pending from Morgan’s supervisor Lt. Richard Pearson who says that he was also retaliated against for approving Morgan’s actions and questioning the conduct of the KSP.  The police have denied that Morgan and Pearson’s transfers were retaliatory, instead they claim that the new jobs were part of a reorganization of the department.

Conrad initially tried to just fire Lt. Pearson for alleged misconduct during an unrelated case.  Pearson allegedly allowed the media to photograph private property being searched and then allegedly lied about it.  Pearson was instead suspended for 5 days due to lack of evidence.

Morgan said that he applied for a detective position in the major case unit and other units, but was passed over despite his impressive resume, including “bringing in the majority of narcotics seized by his unit in 2011 – 2012 and receiving numerous accommodations and awards.”

In 2012, Spencer Circuit Judge Charles Hickman denied King’s motion for a new trial in the shooting death of Kyle Breeden on a legal technicality.  In his ruling, Hickman commended Morgan for his actions.  Jarrell has recanted his confession and Hickman said in his ruling that he couldn’t determine when Jarrell was telling the truth – when he confessed or when he recanted.  The judge did note that Jarrell provided a “startling level of detail” about the crime, but his stories were inconsistent.  Hickman also said he couldn’t grant King a new trial because she pled no contest (meaning she retained her innocence, but acknowledged the state could convince a jury to convict her) in 2008.

Breeden’s 1998 death went unsolved for 8 years, until KSP Detective Todd Harwood was assigned to the cold case.  Eighteen days later he accused King.  Facing life in prison, King entered an Alford or no contest plea to manslaughter and accepted a 10 year sentence with eligibility for parole after 2 years.

The Innocence Project began investigating her case after it concluded it would have been impossible for King to throw Breeden’s body off a bridge into the Kentucky River, where he was found.  King had one leg and only weighed 97 pounds at the time of the crime.  Then, in 2012, Jarrell, was arrested for allegedly firing a shotgun into a home, and told detectives he killed Breeden.  King was released on parole, but appealed Hickman’s ruling.  A decision is currently pending at the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

Officer Morgan said the main focus should be on “Susan King and the horror she had to endure for years and how the criminal justice system failed her.  I pray that everything works out for her.  I believe the evidence reflects she is innocent…”

Linda Smith, director of the Kentucky Innocence Project, which is part of Kentucky’s Department of Public Advocacy, said that King’s “innocence would never have come to light without Detective Morgan’s and Lt. Pearson’s courage.  Both officers behaved more than honorably, recognizing that the first duty of law enforcement is not to win cases, it is to seek the truth.”

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