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Kentucky gubernatorial candidate touted endorsements from officers accused of misconduct

At least six of the 100 law enforcement officers who endorsed Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron in December have been accused of wrongdoing, including sexual harassment, retaliation, and jail deaths.

By Nick Vachon - February 13, 2023
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron addresses the audience gathered during the Fancy Farm Picnic at St. Jerome Catholic Church in Fancy Farm, Ky., Aug. 6, 2022.
FILE - Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron addresses the audience gathered during the Fancy Farm Picnic at St. Jerome Catholic Church in Fancy Farm, Ky., Aug. 6, 2022. Kelly Craft caused a stir with her pitch to overhaul Kentucky's Department of Education while Cameron denounced the sale of abortion pills by mail, as the Republican gubernatorial rivals carve out stands on issues they hope will energize GOP primary voters. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron filed to run for governor early last month after receiving both former President Donald Trump’s endorsement and the support of more than 100 law enforcement officers. A closer look at the list of officers, however, shows that at least six of the endorsers have been accused of wrongdoing, including litigation against them for workplace sexual harassment, incidents of inmates dying at jails they ran, and jury-validated claims of professional retaliation.

“Now, more than ever, we need leaders who support our men and women in uniform and will boost the morale of those who serve and protect our communities,” Cameron said in a press release accompanying the announcement. “I am so honored to have the endorsement of so many within our law enforcement community. I won’t abandon them for political gain and my administration will ensure they have the tools they need to do their job.”

One of Cameron’s endorsers, former Lincoln County Jailer Rob Wilson, was accused by eight employees of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination in 2019. According to the complaint filed by the employees, Wilson “engaged in a continuous and repeated course of conduct constituting sexual harassment and sexual discrimination, as well as quid pro quo sexual activities to the legal and physical detriment of the plaintiffs.”

Wilson denied the allegations through a lawyer and requested that the suit be dismissed. The case is still pending.

Another of Cameron’s supporters, Hopkins County Jailer Mike Lewis, was accused by an employee of violating state wage and work hours laws, the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, and the Kentucky Whistleblower Act, creating a hostile workplace, and wrongful termination. The employee, Jarrett Backhurst, said that Lewis relied on nepotism by hiring family members to staff positions in the jail, and that he had required employees of the jail to attend Lewis’ campaign events when he was running for reelection.

A jury awarded Backhurst $175,000 after a civil trial, finding that he was retaliated against for raising misconduct concerns at the jail.

A jail overseen by one of Cameron’s endorses, former Bell County Jailer Gary Ferguson, is currently under investigation after an inmate died. The man’s brother said that the inmate suffered multiple seizures as a result of drug withdrawal and that he could have survived if he had been provided adequate medical treatment.

Another endorser is facing multiple lawsuits: former Whitley County Jailer Brian Lawson is currently being sued by the family of a man who died at the jail as well as by a man who said he was sprayed with mace, assaulted, and denied medical attention, including access to prescription medication, by jail staff.

In a similar suit against another member of law enforcement on Cameron’s list, Rowan County Jailer Wes Coldiron was sued by the family of Justin Ciccone, a 34-year-old man who was left brain-dead after an altercation with jail employees. The lawsuit was later settled out of court between the family and the county.

The Cameron campaign did not return a request for comment.

Cameron, who was elected attorney general in 2019, has faced criticism for his handling of police misconduct before. As attorney general, he led Kentucky’s investigation into the killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who was fatally shot by Louisville police during a no-knock raid on her apartment. During the raid, police failed to identify themselves before firing into Taylor’s apartment. The investigation by Cameron’s office resulted in no charges being filed against the officers involved, and was criticized by some in the state, including the Louisville NAACP, which called on him to resign.

Eleven other candidates have filed to run in the Republican primary for Kentucky governor, including Kelly Craft, who served as the United States ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, and Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon.

The winner of the May 16 primary will face off against incumbent Democratic Gov. Andry Beshear. Beshear is one of the most popular Democratic governors in the country, and a Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy survey found that 61% of surveyed Kentucky residents approved of him. However, the state did vote for Trump by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in 2020.

The Mason-Dixon survey found that Cameron polled the best against Beshear, but still trailed him by 9 points.

Were Cameron to win the governorship, he would become the first Black governor of Kentucky and only the third Black person to be elected a state governor in American history.

Published by permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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