Drug war corruption of the most banal and venal sort is alleged in Kentucky this week. A routine September 17 plea bargain hearing took an unexpected turn when a 19-year-old Ludlow man, Edward Elmore, accused Ludlow Police Chief Ray Murphy of offering to make his case go away for $1,000. And it's not the first time such accusations have been made against Ludlow Police.
Elmore, who was arrested August 12 at a "marijuana party" along with two others, had accepted a plea bargain from Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Jim Redwine.
Redwine agreed to drop a felony charge of cultivating marijuana in return for a guilty plea to possession and a reduced misdemeanor charge of unlawful transaction with a minor. Elmore was looking at a 180-day suspended sentence and a $500 fine as part of the deal -- business as usual, so far, in the lower levels of the war on drugs. And so was the pro forma questioning of Elmore by Kenton County District Court Judge Doug Grothaus to put the judicial imprimatur on the deal. But all that changed when Grothaus asked if anyone had made any promises or offers to Elmore.
"Yes, your honor," Elmore replied.Elmore told Grothaus that he had not spoken directly with Chief Murphy, but that Murphy had relayed the offer through Elmore's attorney, Bob Braun. Grothaus then ordered Braun to the stand, but he refused to testify, citing attorney-client privilege. Outside the courthouse, however, he told the Kentucky Post Elmore was telling the truth. "His testimony was accurate," Braun said. "My client told the truth today."
Elmore's plea bargain is now on hold and Judge Grothaus has said he is forwarding the accusation to the appropriate authorities. "Given the nature of the atmosphere that is going on, and the fact that Mr. Elmore has indicated that an offer was communicated through his attorney -- from the police chief of Ludlow requesting $1,000 -- to make this all go away, causes the court grave concern," Grothaus said.
Murphy has denied making the offer and remains on the job at press time, but Elmore's accusation threatens to drag him into an ongoing scandal surrounding Ludlow police Detective Bill Shilling, who is being investigated by the state police for allegedly offering leniency in drug arrests in return for drug forfeiture money or "reimbursements" to the police department. Schilling sent letters to drug defendants offering to get felonies reduced to misdemeanors if the targets would "reimburse" the department for investigating them.
The Kentucky Post reported that a copy of one of Schilling's letters it obtained shows he also asked people facing charges to become informants and make drug buys. In one letter, a "proffer" to Carolyn Merritt, who was arrested along with her parents and husband during a Schilling-engineered "drug sweep" in February, Schilling suggested she forfeit $30,000 to the department instead of having the police seize her home. He also demanded that she make drug buys from five different people so she could inform on them and that she perform 100 hours of community service "at the discretion of the Ludlow Police Department."
Kenyon County law enforcement and criminal justice official all said that Schilling was acting on his own and that they authorized no such deals. Schilling remains on the job pending the state police investigation. Merritt pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge; charges against her parents were dropped. The case of Chief Murphy smells of banal personal corruption, but that of Detective Schilling betrays the stench of a more institutionalized corruption that usually goes unremarked upon -- until someone like Schilling gets a little too honest and puts it in writing.