NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A former Norfolk police lieutenant spoke with NewsNation affiliate WAVY about his continued fight for answers after he was fired this past spring. William “Bill” Kelly had a 19-year career in law enforcement, but it only took about four days for him to lose it.
It was last April when the City of Norfolk learned about Kelly’s donation to the Kyle Rittenhouse legal defense fund. Rittenhouse was charged after killing two men and wounding a third at an anti-racism protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin in August 2020. He was acquitted on all charges Nov. 19.
Watch the full interview with Bill Kelly in the video player above.
Kelly, who served as the executive officer of NPD’s internal affairs division, made an anonymous donation to Rittenhouse’s defense fund in September 2020. However, Kelly used his city-issued email address, the Guardian newspaper initially reported.
“I donated $25, off-duty, of my own money, and I gave some words of encouragement. I didn’t think much of it. I continued on with my life and several months later I got a phone call. Somebody had told me that people were calling the police department complaining about my donation,” Kelly said.
The donation from Kelly included the comment, “God bless. Thank you for your courage. Keep your head up. You’ve done nothing wrong” and “Every rank and file police officer supports you. Don’t be discouraged by actions of the political class of law enforcement leadership.”
After pressure was applied by the community, city leaders fired him.
Now, in the wake of Rittenhouse’s acquittal, supporters of Kelly are pushing for a reversal of the decision to let him go and asking for the Norfolk Police Department to give him his job back.
A Virginia senator was one of them.
“I felt like, I was like, a sacrificial lamb. Like they were willing to discard me in an effort to make the pressure from certain parts of the public go away,” Kelly said.
Norfolk police Chief Larry Boone filed a recommendation to relieve Kelly of his duty. City Manager Chip Filer accepted it.
“I have reviewed the results of the internal investigation involving Lt. William Kelly,” Filer explained in an April statement. “Chief Larry Boone and I have concluded Lt. Kelly’s actions are in violation of City and departmental policies. His egregious comments erode the trust between the Norfolk Police Department and those they are sworn to serve. The City of Norfolk has a standard of behavior for all employees, and we will hold staff accountable.”
“A police department cannot do its job when the public loses trust with those whose duty is to serve and protect them,” Boone said, following the decision to remove Kelly from his position. “We do not want perceptions of any individual officer to undermine the relations between the Norfolk Police Department and the community.”
Boone ended his statement by asking community members to continue supporting the officers of the department.
NewsNation affiliate WAVY reached out to Norfolk officials for an updated statement following Rittenhouse’s acquittal, but was told it was a personnel matter and they would not be providing a statement.
As a law enforcement veteran, Kelly said he used his experience and videos seen on the internet to make his judgments on the incident.
“He may have been there unwisely, but he didn’t seem like he was there for malice and having watched the video, I thought that it was a pretty clear-cut case of self-defense,” Kelly said.
He continued: “I’m a 19-year veteran of the Norfolk Police Department. I spent time in violent crime, including homicide, and I’ve seen cases where people make claims of self-defense. I’m familiar with the laws here in Virginia, and the statutory laws, and the case law nationwide. So that helps form my opinion, but again, that’s just my personal opinion.”
A month after Kelly’s firing, a Wisconsin jury agreed with his belief that it was self-defense. Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges stemming from that August night in Kenosha.
The city said Kelly’s removal was to gain the public’s trust, but Kelly hints they may have lost some of the department’s trust in the process. He claims former colleagues deleted their social media altogether.
Kelly also said he received death threats against himself and his family.
“It was a person talking about how police wouldn’t take the lives of citizens seriously until them and their family started being killed,” Kelly added. “So, I had to have a different conversation with my kids, but it all worked out in the end.”
At the end of the day, Kelly believes the Norfolk Police Department, despite what’s happened, is a great department. He’s still hoping that by appealing their decision, he’ll get his chance to wear the badge again.
“I think if the city were to give my case another look, if they were to review the facts in a neutral, detached, unemotional way of thinking, I think they would come to the conclusion that what I did is a First Amendment right. Every American has the right to make comments like that and make donations to causes that they support. The fact that I’m a police officer doesn’t deprive me of that right.”
Kelly and his attorney hope a hearing will be scheduled soon for late January.