“His egregious comments erode the trust between the Norfolk Police Department and those they are sworn to serve,” City Manager Chip Filer said in a statement Tuesday.
Kelly has not publicly commented on the donation or the disciplinary action he has faced. He can appeal the city’s decision, officials said.
The firing came within hours of a guilty verdict in the murder trial against Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, an incident that sparked a summer of racial justice protests.
Similar demonstrations erupted in Kenosha, Wis., after the police shooting of Jacob Blake on Aug. 23, eventually leading to smaller groups of rioters igniting fires and looting stores. Two days later, Rittenhouse traveled to the city and joined with armed groups on the streets, where he shot and killed two men and injured a third person.
The teen was later charged with multiple felonies including homicide and attempted homicide, prompting Kelly, a 19-year veteran of the Norfolk Police Department, to send a $25 donation for his legal defense along with a provocative message.
“You’ve done nothing wrong,” Kelly wrote in a message that accompanied the small donation, the Guardian reported. “Every rank and file police officer supports you. Don’t be discouraged by actions of the political class of law enforcement leadership.”
Those words rankled city leaders, including the mayor and police chief, who said Kelly’s reported comments went against the city’s values.
“The alleged statement and action by a member of Norfolk’s Police Department is alarming and by all means not consistent with the values of our city or the standards set for our employees,” Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Cooper Alexander said in a statement Friday.
Amid widespread backlash against Kelly’s comments, the police union opposed the city’s swift action to remove the lieutenant from the Norfolk Police Department. The union’s president told the Virginia Pilot that the city’s investigation had been executed “hastily” and called decision to fire Kelly “disappointing.”
“We were hoping for a full, transparent investigation,” union president Clay Messick told the Pilot on Tuesday. “But after 72 hours, I do not believe that is what we got. It is hard to call this fair.”
Since he was released from jail on a $2 million bond in November, Rittenhouse has captured headlines for going to a bar with members of the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group with a history of violence, and posing for photos in which he flashed a hate symbols, according to prosecutors. Pro-gun groups have rallied around his case and some right-wing political commentators and leaders, including former president Donald Trump, have suggested he acted in self-defense.
The controversy surrounding Rittenhouse’s case spurred authorities in Norfolk to take immediate disciplinary action against Kelly after his donation was publicly revealed last week. Kelly was promptly reassigned to administrative duty from his leadership position in internal affairs and an administrative investigation was launched on Friday, the Pilot reported.
By Tuesday, an internal investigation found that Kelly’s donation and comments violated police department policies and the police chief joined other city officials in recommending the lieutenant be fired while vowing to rebuild trust with the community.
“I want the residents of Norfolk to know that their police department will represent and uphold our organizational values of Service, Honor, Integrity, Equality, Leadership, and Diversity,” Norfolk police chief Larry D. Boone said in a statement Tuesday. “A police department cannot do its job when the public loses trust with those whose duty is to serve and protect them.