Last week, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced the appointment of veteran Louisville police officer Steve Conrad  as the new Chief of the Louisville Metro Police Department. Mayor Fischer stressed the value of Conrad’s experience in Louisville, noting that “Steve knows how to pronounce ‘Dumesnil.’”
We thought we’d take this opportunity to take readers on a little stroll down memory lane, to give them an outstanding example of the fact that Steve Conrad knows a good deal more about policing in this town than merely the correct pronunciation of street names. Steve Conrad and Cindy Shain designed a new form of crowd control for Louisville that was so clever and effective that it earned kudos from a panel of federal judges.
In the Spring of 1996—16 years ago—a fellow named Christopher Johnson, who identified himself as the “Grand Klaliff of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,” telephoned the Louisville Police Department and indicated that the Klan planned to conduct a “public speaking forum” on the steps of the Jefferson County Courthouse, on Saturday, April 13, 1996, from 12 noon to 3 p.m.
Lieutenant Colonel Cynthia Shain, the Deputy Chief of Operations for the LMPD, then sat down with Major Steve Conrad, and discussed ways to guarantee the Klan its First Amendment Rights, while at the same time enforcing civic order in downtown Louisville, and making sure that the 20 to 30 robed Klansmen expected at the rally would not create a spark that would spread violence around town.
Shain and Conrad learned that several local civil rights organizations, coordinated by the Rev. Louis Coleman —an African–American minister—were planning a “Unity Rally” in opposition to the Klan demonstration. Coleman obtained a permit from Jefferson County to conduct a rally at Jefferson Square, located across Jefferson Street from the courthouse, on the same day as the Klan gathering. Coleman’s permit approved rally hours of 10 a.m. through 1 p.m.; thus overlapping the Klan rally for at least one hour (noon through 1 p.m.).
The Louisville Police came up with an ingenious plan to allow both groups to conduct their rallies in close proximity to one another, while insuring a minimal amount of friction. First, they subjected all participants to mandatory magnetometer searches as a prerequisite to admission either to the KKK rally or the counter-demonstration. Next, the plan developed by Shain and Conrad provided for the installation of portable barriers to maintain physical segregation of the KKK rally and the counter-demonstration; preventing attendees’ simultaneous discourse with other attendees at both events.
Finally, the police excluded all private citizens from a police-occupied buffer zone within inner perimeter of restricted area constructed as part of security measures taken for the rally and the counter-demonstration; specifically disallowing any unscheduled oration within the restricted area.
The Klan rally and counter-demonstration came off with little confrontation—and no physical violence—to the general satisfaction of all parties. But shortly before the rally, a group of downtown business tenants filed a federal § 1983 civil rights lawsuit against Jefferson County and the City of Louisville; alleging that the creation and implementation of emergency crowd control plan violated their free speech and association rights and obstructed their engagement in interstate commerce.
The Plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction was denied by John G. Heyburn, II, Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, who later dismissed the case on a summary judgment motion from the City and County.
In June of 1999, Federal Judges Krupansky, Boggs, and Clay, of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, affirmed Judge Heyburn’s rulings. The Appeals Court found that the mandatory magnetometer searches did not violate First Amendment, the separation of the two groups of speakers did not violate their free association rights, the use of a buffer zone did not violate the First Amendment, and the disallowing of unscheduled oration within restricted area was valid content-neutral time, place, and manner regulation. The Judges held that any Commerce Clause violation arising out of the emergency crowd control plan was de minimis.
Interestingly, the Appellate Court took the unusual step of commending the Shain/Conrad crowd control plan in their written opinion:
“Overall, the record evidence disclosed that the instant plaintiffs’ assertions that the faulted measures actualized by the KKK Rally Detail constituted ad hoc, unnecessary, oppressive, draconian, arbitrary, heavy-handed, alarmist, overreactive, and unbridled nefarious authoritarian ‘police state’ exercises of power were inapposite and ill founded. Much to the contrary, the Louisville police, in conjunction with other City and County authorities, should be commended for their conscientious effort to carefully formulate a highly prudent, circumspect, and well conceived emergency action plan calculated to address realistic concerns and threats of social disorder, personal injuries, property damage, and individual rights violations posed by the impending counter-demonstrations.”
The Court went on to describe the plan as “…an eminently rational and appropriate tool for the management of conflicting interests, both public and private, which accorded due weight to the preservation of community peace and safety within a milieu which remained maximally conducive, given the reasonably anticipated circumstances, to individual and collective exercises of constitutional rights.”
CLICK HERE  to read the entire Court decision.
William Jonathan Grider, Lesa F. Watson vs. Jerry E. Abramson, E. Douglas Hamilton, The City of Louisville, David L. Armstrong, Ron Bishop, Ron Ricucci, James Vaughn, 180 F.3d 739, United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, No. 98–5282. Argued March 19, 1999; Decided and Filed June 18, 1999.
The Plaintiffs were represented by Samuel Manly, and the Defendants were represented by Paul V. Guagliardo, William C. Stone, Lynne A. Fleming, and Deborah A. Bilitski
FULL DISCLOSURE: I appreciate and acknowledge the help received from friends Paul Guagliardo, Sam Manly, and Cindy Shain in the preparation of this article. Interestingly, Cindy had this to say in her email: “I am currently in Abu Dhabi getting ready to present at the Emirates Women's Police Association Conference which will be conducted at the Emirates Palace here in the UAE. I am just glad that I finally got online and got your email. Hope it meets your deadline. Let me know when it goes out! Thanks for the article. It was a proud moment, I think, for our community. Everyone was able to have their say and there was no violence, as had been experienced by many other cities.”
Louisville.com's The Arena section features opinions from active participants in the city's politics. Their viewpoints are not those of Louisville.com (a website is an inanimate object and, as such, has no opinions). The Arena is read by more people in Louisville than in any other city in America. Photo credits: LMPD, U.S. District Court (W.D.Ky.), WikiMedia.