The Slatest

Virginia Police Officer Fired for Donation to Kenosha Shooter Kyle Rittenhouse’s Defense Fund

Kyle Rittenhouse seated in a Kenosha courtroom wears a mask and a shirt and tie.
Kyle Rittenhouse, who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in online donations for his legal defense fund, during a court hearing in Oct. 2020. Nam Y. Huh/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo/File Photo/File Photo

A Virginia police officer was fired this week for donating to the crowdfunded defense fund of Kyle Rittenhouse and praising the white teenager who shot and killed two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin last summer following the shooting of Jacob Blake by police. Lt. William Kelly, who had been a member of the Norfolk police department for nearly two decades and currently serves as the executive officer of internal affairs, was placed on administrative leave last week after reports circulated about his online donation of $25 to Rittenhouse’s defense, which Kelly clicked to contribute anonymously.

Advertisement

The 41-year-old Kelly included with his donation a message of support for Rittenhouse who is awaiting trial for a host of charges, including first-degree intentional homicide, which could result in a life sentence. “God bless,” Kelly’s message accompanying the donation read. “Thank you for your courage. Keep your head up. You’ve done nothing wrong. Every rank and file police officer supports you. Don’t be discouraged by actions of the political class of law enforcement leadership.” Rittenhouse drove from his home in Illinois last August as protests erupted over the shooting of Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, unrest that spilled over into looting of local businesses and destruction of property. Rittenhouse, who was 17 years old at the time, arrived on the scene of the nightly protests fully armed, saying that he intended to protect that property, before engaging with protesters and opening fire.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

The specifics of Kelly’s donation were made available when the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo was hacked by an unknown source and donor information was provided to media outlets by a transparency group that said it had been given the donor list by an outside source. Rittenhouse’s defense raised nearly $600,000 in the four months after the shooting, much of it from small donors, some of whom, like Kelly, checked a box to donate anonymously, but then provided identifying information in their registration details. Kelly used his official Norfolk city email address to register to make the donation.

After an internal review, Norfolk city police chief Larry Boone recommended to city officials that Kelly be fired. “A police department cannot do its job when the public loses trust with those whose duty is to serve and protect them,” Boone said in a statement. “We do not want perceptions of any individual officer to undermine the relations between the Norfolk Police Department and the community.” Norfolk city manager Chip Filer described Kelly’s comments accompanying his donation as “egregious.” “The City of Norfolk has a standard of behavior for all employees, and we will hold staff accountable,” Filer said in a statement, noting that Kelly would have the right to appeal the decision.

In the seven years I’ve been covering news and politics for Slate, I’ve written about some of the United States’ best and worst moments, people, and ideas. Your continued support of Slate Plus will allow me to continue to give our country’s high-stakes struggle to define itself the coverage it deserves. Thank you! —Ben Mathis-Lilley, senior writer

Advertisement