Dozens of Madison countians are calling for the resignation of a local constable over his Facebook page, which critics insist is filled with inflammatory posts.
But Steve Kelly, Madison County’s District 2 Constable, says the statewide media attention he's been getting, along with numerous complaints from local citizens, are casting him in an unfavorable light unfairly.
"I've been called a racist — I'm not a racist now nor have I ever been a racist," Kelly told The Register Friday evening. "In junior high, my foster family was black. I had black foster brothers and sisters — and most of my buddies were black.
"This was back in the '60s, when there was a lot of unrest," Kelly added. "But we didn't see color. We just saw human beings."
Madison County resident Charlsa Hensley said Kelly's posts display contempt toward those protesting racial injustice, people of color, members of the LGBT community and religious minorities.
“His shared posts condone violence towards all these people and an entire predominant political party,” Hensley said. “Constable Kelly has also dismissed public health guidelines geared toward preventing the spread of COVID-19 despite his very public position within our community during a nationwide pandemic.”
Kelly admitted he was not happy about Gov. Andy Beshear's closing of churches during the pandemic.
"There's nothing in the constitution about shutting down places of worship because of a virus," Kelly said. "People have a right to worship God in their church. If the COVID-19 comes to me through exposure at church, I'll just take my chances."
Kelly says the Facebook page is his "personal page" and not any official page pertaining to his office as constable. But he also believes his elected office doesn't make him exempt from sharing his opinion — or off-color memes.
"Look, I'm not a politician — I'm a constable who hasn't made a dime and has spent around $20,000 of my own money," Kelly said. "Just because I've been elected to an office doesn't mean I can't be heard. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all.
"I truly think the people I'm offending are the radical left who use the term racism to make conservatives back down in fear," Kelly added. "I know I'm not racist. And I have no fear. I'm not going to back down."
That being said, Kelly said many of the memes he shares are "in good fun."
"If people laugh, maybe it brightens their day," Kelly said. "If my page isn't something you like, then go find your own thing. I won't interfere with you, so don't interfere with my life.
"I have many Muslim friends and I respect their right to worship the way they choose," Kelly continued. "Whatever God you worship — you're protected under the constitution."
While Hensley’s differing opinions do not bother her, she claims Kelly’s posts, which seem to reflect his biases, could impact his duties as a constable.
Kelly says that simply isn't true.
"I have won three elections because the people of my district know I'll be there for them," Kelly said. "If they call, I'm there. I just want to serve God and the people of my district who elected me. I will represent all of the people in my district."
A constable is an elected official in the state which has full police powers, but there is no requirement for them to be trained as police officers.
Kelly was elected as the constable of District 2 in 2010 and ran uncontested.
Madison County Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor said the posts do not reflect opinions of other local officials.
“To me, elected officials are held to a higher standard, and when you are elected, you represent everyone,” Taylor said.
He labeled the situation as “extremely unfortunate,” especially considering “the times we find ourselves in as a nation.”
“I truly feel that it is unfortunate that during all that is going on in our country and community that we have elected officials that create more stress and more negativity during a negative time,” he said. “We definitely don’t want this to be a reflection of the quality of officials in our county, cities, and at the local level, and even in our state.”
He said although Kelly is a constable for the county, the fiscal court has no power to reprimand him.
“We have done quite a bit … looking into the state constitution to see if there is anything we can do, but we aren’t seeing any actions (we can take),” he said. “What we are finding out from (legal) counsel is that there is really nothing we can do. He is in a constitutional office just like mine.”
Taylor also made a point to mention that the constable position is not paid, and the county does not provide any type of equipment or money for him for purchase equipment.
“That is his personal vehicle,” he said.
Kelly said he has received threatening phone calls from people identifying themselves as "ANTIFA" — a political protest movement comprising autonomous groups affiliated by their militant opposition to fascism and other forms of extreme right-wing ideology.
"They told me to take the decals off my vehicle and they threatened to kill me," Kelly said. The constable said he has the calls recorded and have turned them over to Kentucky State Police.
"The only decals I have on my truck are an American flag, an NRA logo and a 3 Percenter emblem," Kelly said.
It's the latter that has caused confusion. Kelly said his decal pertains to the mythical "3 percent" of continental Americans who served in the Revolutionary War — and not the right-wing militia group accused of hanging Beshear in effigy last month at the State Capitol.
"It's not that I have anything against militias — it's just not my thing. I don't belong to any militia," Kelly said. "As a matter of fact, I wish the extreme right-wing groups would shut up, too."
The three other constables in Madison County issued a joint statement on the situation, which was submitted by Constable Dustin Sweet of District 1.
“It has been brought to my attention that there have been some recent troubling negative Facebook posts circulated recently by a local Madison County Constable,” Sweet began. “I would like to reach out to the public and announce that myself, as well as the other two district constables of Madison County, stand in unity against such posts and absolutely do not condone the thought and feelings shared in such posts. We hold ourselves to the highest standards, we work very hard to stay appropriately trained and present the utmost professionalism in serving ALL of the citizens of Madison County.”
Some of Kelly's posts, or re-posts, are commentary against Democratic leaders — including a photo comparing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to an orangutan, as well as a picture, which compares Democratic women leaders faces to that of farm hogs.
He also shared a photo depicting a man being shot with pepper bullets in the genitals saying it does not affect their “made-up gender,” referencing some members of the LGBTQ+ community that identify as transgender.
Kelly shared posts suggesting attacks against those protesting police violence. In one photo shared on his Facebook page, protesters are depicted as bowling pins to be knocked down.
But Kelly told the Register he was appalled at video showing Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd's neck until he died. "If I had been there and seen that from that police officer, I would've shot him."
"I've seen the video and, although I don't have all of the evidence, I think it was murder," Kelly said. "I hope (Chauvin) gets the death penalty, based on what I know about the situation.
"And I understand the protests. Peaceful protests are great. Why not?" Kelly said. "But the rioting and the destruction of property — the violence — that needs to stop."
This is not the first time Kelly’s practices have been called into question as many of the constable’s tickets and arrests have been thrown out because of “lack of police training of officer/constable.”
One of which was Abraham Drane, who was charged in 2012 with aggravated driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, reckless driving, no driver’s license in possession and resisting arrest after being stopped by Kelly.
Drane’s attorney, Public Advocate Audrey Woosnam, filed a motion Feb. 28 to suppress the arrest because Kelly activated blue lights during the stop, something state law says each county must approve.
“Madison Fiscal Court has not given him that approval,” Woosnam said in a previous Register article.
The arrest, Woosnam argued, was an unconstitutional seizure because the stop was not legal.
On March 5 of that same year, the case was dismissed with prejudice by Madison District Judge Charles Hardin.
In May 2016, Robert E. Keane of South Carolina filed a lawsuit in Madison Circuit Court against Kelly “individually and in his capacity as a sworn peace officer as an elected constable of the commonwealth of Kentucky acting under color of state law, and Richmond Centre FCA LLC,” which owned the property where Keane was injured and where Kelly was employed, court paperwork states.
The complaint filed in the lawsuit alleges Kelly is “liable for damages as a result of an unlawful assault and the denial of the constitutional rights of (Keane) in that (Kelly) assaulted (Keane), used excessive force … and unlawfully imprisoned (Keane).”
The paperwork states Keane sustained damages for “mental anguish, mental distress, permanent impairment, medical expenses … past and future pain and suffering and lost wages” as a consequence of Kelly’s improper conduct.
The paperwork continues to state Keane did not commit a misdemeanor in Kelly’s presence and that Kelly did not have probable cause that Keane committed a felony, and during the incident, Kelly threatened to shoot Keane.
Kelly charged Keane with second-degree wanton endangerment, which was dismissed.
Keane was seeking a sum of more than $5,000 in addition to his court costs and attorney fees.
In April 2018, the case was dismissed with prejudice (meaning Keane is barred from filing a lawsuit on the same issue at a later date) with both Keane and Kelly/Richmond Centre to bear their own costs.
Both Taylor and Hensley pointed out the only way Kelly can be removed from office is by resignation or being defeated in the next election.
“We need to focus on 2022 when he is up for re-election,” Hensley said. “And we can also recruit new people for the position. … This is the time to have a moment of reckoning.”
As for Kelly, he says he won't ever change.
"I'm anti-liberal, because I think they're trying to take away many of our freedoms," the constable said. "I just see it as a difference of opinion. If you don't like my opinion, just move on. People really need to grow up."