Scheffler’s prompt release from jail rankles some who recall city’s police turmoil

Scottie Scheffler watches his tee shot on the second hole during the final round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Hilton Head Island, S.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — World No. 1 golfer Scottie Scheffler’s arrest and prompt release from a Louisville jail Friday that let him play in a high-profile tournament after being booked on charges including felony assault has sparked questions on social media over whether he was given preferential treatment because of his fame.

They recall what they consider malfeasance by the Louisville police department, which a national report last year found has used excessive force and invalid search warrants, and wonder why Scheffler was released so quickly.

Police are continuing their investigation, but here’s a look at the incident and policing in Louisville:

THE ARREST

Officers were redirecting traffic after a fatal accident near the Valhalla Golf Club when Scheffler allegedly disobeyed an officer’s command. His car accelerated forward and dragged the officer to the ground, according to a police report, and the officer suffered injuries to his wrist and was taken to the hospital.

The 27-year-old Scheffler, who lives in Texas, was arrested outside the club just after 6 a.m., taken to jail, dressed in an orange jumpsuit and had his mug shot taken. The Louisville Metro Police Department said he was booked on four charges, including second-degree assault of a police officer.

But by 10:08 a.m., he was on the other side of the city and teeing off at the PGA Championship. Scheffler had been released on his own recognizance, without posting bond, after agreeing that he would make all his court dates in Louisville.

Scheffler and his attorney have said he didn’t intentionally do anything wrong, and he misunderstood police commands and simply was trying to get to the course. His lawyer previously represented the boyfriend of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by police in 2020, in a civil suit against the city a few years ago.

THE REACTION

Scheffler was greeted with cheers by fans when he arrived at the golf course, but some in Louisville with memories of a turbulent past took a dim view of the incident.

“A man drags a cop with his vehicle and hospitalizes him. He’s arrested … charged with a felony … and then immediately released so he can make his tee time? Did I get that right?” said Ricky L. Jones, a University of Louisville professor of pan-African studies, on the social platform X.

Bill Miller, a local golf fan who was at the course Friday, said it cast Louisville and the police in a negative light.

“It’s just another bad look for the city,” Miller said. “I’d want to understand what the cop was trying to do. But it’s sad.”

A spokesperson for Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg said Saturday there is no police body camera video of the initial encounter between Scheffler and the officer. The officer was directing traffic at the time, and the department’s officers typically don’t record video with their body cameras while directing traffic, Kevin Trager, the mayor’s press secretary, wrote in a text message to an Associated Press reporter.

Elsewhere, the incident drew reaction from an Atlanta-area pastor who hosted a funeral for Roger Fortson, a young Black senior airman who was shot by a Florida sheriff’s deputy at his home this month.

“Something is wrong in America,” said Jamal Bryant of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. “You have respect for a golfer, but you don’t have respect for (Fortson) and for a person who has given their life to this nation. You cannot remain silent in the face of injustice.”

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear took heat on X for a post encouraging people to welcome golf tournament fans “with the kindness and hospitality we’re known for.” One commenter replied with Scheffler’s mug shot and observed that Beshear’s post had not aged well.

LOUISVILLE POLICE

The department has attracted negative national attention in recent years after the fatal shooting of Taylor in 2020 and a federal investigation into its policing practices. It has also been the subject of protests over its policing.

A Department of Justice report released last year said Louisville officers use excessive force and conduct searches based on invalid warrants. It also said Black motorists in the city were more likely to be searched during traffic stops, and officers used neck restraints, police dogs and stun guns against people who posed no imminent threat.

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was shot by officers who came to her apartment with a warrant that federal officials later said was falsified.

The police department was lauded, however, for its response to a mass shooting at a bank in 2023, when the shooter armed with an AR-15 was quickly killed before he could hurt more people. One officer who had just joined the force was struck in the head by a bullet, sustaining a brain injury.

Last year the department hired as its new police chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel, the first Black woman to hold the position. The city continues to negotiate a consent decree with federal officials that will stipulate what policing reforms should take place.

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