Judge orders Lexington to reinstate fired CO, awards over $334K in back pay
Sgt. John Thomas Lowe will be compensated for the three years of unpaid administrative leave from his job prior to his termination
LEXINGTON, Ky. — A Fayette Circuit Court judge has ordered the city of Lexington to reinstate a corrections officer who was fired from the Fayette County Detention Center in 2017 after signing a plea deal on three misdemeanor counts of third-degree unlawful transactions with a minor.
Judge John Reynolds also awarded Sgt. John Thomas Lowe $334,721 in back pay and benefits to compensate him for three years of unpaid administrative leave from his job prior to his termination. Lowe’s criminal case — which prompted his unpaid suspension —started with more serious felony sex charges that prosecutors later amended.
The city violated its collective bargaining agreement with Lowe and his union, the Fraternal Order of Police, because it never held the required disciplinary hearing where he would have been allowed to present evidence and defend himself, Reynolds said in an order Thursday granting summary judgment to Lowe.
Lowe, who is now 43, didn’t even know he had been fired until a week later, when his lawyer — in the jail on other business — learned of it by accident, Reynolds wrote.
City officials will appeal Reynolds’ decision, said city spokeswoman Susan Straub.
Lowe’s attorneys celebrated the ruling, saying it shed light on how the city’s corrections officers are mistreated.
“I think this judgment is a perfect example of the plight that officers face every day at this facility,” said Nicholas Oleson, one of Lowe’s lawyers. “It exemplifies management’s disregard for the collective bargaining agreement.”
Lexington’s chronically understaffed jail has been the source of much turmoil in recent years. The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents more than 500 of its employees, recently filed a complaint with state labor officials accusing the city of Lexington of unfair labor practices, including retaliation against union leadership and using involuntary transfers to discipline employees.
Lexington police arrested Lowe in 2014 and charged him with two felony counts of first-degree sodomy and one felony count of first-degree sexual abuse. According to court records, a female relative accused Lowe of sexually molesting her several times from 2010 to 2012 when she was 7 and 8 years old. Lowe denied any wrongdoing.
After the case continued in Fayette Circuit Court for several years, the charges were reduced to three misdemeanor counts of unlawful transaction with a minor. Lowe entered an “Alford plea,” which lets a defendant acknowledge that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict him without him admitting guilt. He was sentenced to time served, getting credit for his brief stay in jail.
Lowe denies that he did anything wrong, but an Alford plea to misdemeanors seemed like his best option for getting the case behind him, said his criminal defense attorney, Joe Jarrell.
“The case was very, very weak,” Jarrell said. “The alleged victim had mental and emotional problems. So many times, she just made things up about people."