After Two Decades of Abuse, P.O. Matthew Corder Finally Convicted
July 26, 2016 (Fault Lines) – On Friday, July 22, a federal jury convicted a former Kentucky detective and sheriff’s deputy on two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law. That’s amazing, because it’s the first time he’s ever been held accountable. Although employers, prosecutors and civil litigants have been trying since 1998, nothing ever stuck or led to real consequences for his misdeeds.
Matthew Corder, 52, formerly with the Bullitt County Sheriff’s Department and the Louisville Metro Police, will be sentenced on October 17. That’s almost exactly two years after he broke into a Louisville resident’s home, tased him while his back was turned, arrested him on bogus disorderly conduct, fleeing and evading charges, and left him to rot in jail for weeks. (The unnamed resident, “D.B.,” also lost his job, proving once again that you can beat the rap but not the ride.) What led to this wholesale trampling of D.B.’s rights? According to the jurors, who watched body cam footage of the incident and heard from the other officer on the scene, it was because D.B. insulted him.
Let’s be clear. Contrary to what cops like the ones currently arresting people for nasty Facebook posts seem to believe, it’s not illegal to exercise your First Amendment rights in a way that hurts a police officer’s feelings. And as those arrests make clear, that belief is still too widespread. If Corder had shown restraint and limited himself to a less flagrantly unlawful form of reprisal, the kind that’s within the parameters of our severely low expectations of cops, he might even have gotten away with it.
A classic option would’ve been to arrest D.B. for obstruction. By itself, even the tasing isn’t impossible to justify. But the home invasion, together with the fraudulent charges that flowed from it, would tax the explanatory abilities of even the most vapid police spokesman. On one level, Corder’s conduct is an object lesson in how not to punish someone for contempt of cop.
But if Corder’s “speak loudly and carry a big Taser” approach failed him this time, and earned him a maximum sentence of ten years on one of the 18 U.S.C. § 242 counts on which he was convicted, it’s important to remember he got away with this kind of thing for nearly twenty years. Nothing in his long, impressively varied history of going unpunished for hurting the people who got in his way would lead an observer to conclude this time would be different.
In 1997, when Corder was an officer with the Louisville PD, a man named John Dennis Wilson accused him of pepper-spraying him in the face as he sat handcuffed in the back of a police car. Notably, Corder’s police report didn’t mention any pepper spray, and he failed to file a use-of-force report in violation of department policy. After Wilson sued him in federal court, Corder admitted everything. The city settled with Wilson for $15,000 ($22,500 in 2016 money). Corder was not punished.
On New Year’s Day, 1998, Corder arrested Adrian Reynolds, 34, who was wanted on a domestic violence charge. When other officers arrived on the scene, they found Reynolds with a broken face and Corder’s uniform soaked in blood: Corder had repeatedly beaten Reynolds in the head with his fist and flashlight. An internal affairs investigation cleared Corder, though the arrest made the news when prison screws beat Reynolds to death six days later.
Also in January, 1998, Corder was sued by 36-year-old Gary Branham after Corder punched him in the face and pepper-sprayed him while moonlighting as security for an amateur boxing tournament. Although Corder hit Branham with a number of charges, including disorderly conduct, they were all dropped when Corder failed to appear at Branham’s preliminary hearing. Branham’s suit was resolved when a jury found in favor of Corder and the city. Corder was not punished.
In October, 2002, Corder pulled a gun on and arrested* a man for trying to repossess Corder’s SUV. This earned him his first trip to criminal court. According to the Louisville chief of police, Robert White, who fired Corder in 2003, Corder tried to make a deal with the repo company: in exchange for releasing the arrested worker, they’d let him keep the car.**
Despite Chief White’s willingness to break the Blue Wall of Silence and set down the grounds for Corder’s firing in a termination letter, which was used against Corder in court, state prosecutors failed to convict him and he walked in 2005. In 2006, the Louisville Police Merit Board upheld his firing. Corder appealed the decision to the Jefferson Circuit Court; after it found in the Merit Board’s favor, he unsuccessfully appealed that decision to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. Despite everything, he was able to find continued employment as a cop by signing on with the Bullitt County Sheriff’s Department, an institution with a history of hiring Louisville PD rejects and cops under investigation.
It’s weird that so many of Corder’s fellow cops, from the officers on the Merit Board to other street cops to the chief of police, were willing to condemn him. Even by cop standards, he must be quite the mutt. And yet he was allowed to continue wreaking havoc. When one police department got tired of putting up with his shenanigans, he was simply passed to another. Even in 2005, the amount of red flags raised by Corder’s history should’ve prevented any law enforcement agency from hiring him. But Bullitt County was happy to go there. And it was only in 2015, after his latest outburst of contempt for constitutional rights, that Bullitt County fired him.
It’s embarrassing that the feds had to step in to do what state prosecutors couldn’t. It’s appalling that when cops like Chief White swing into action, do the moral thing and fire mutt cops like Matthew Corder, they just get rehired elsewhere. Standards like these make a mockery of police reform.
*For disorderly conduct. See the pattern?
**Sadly, Corder isn’t the only cop to try and pull this stunt. In May, Fault Lines contributor Andrew Fleischman reported on a Georgia police lieutenant who arrested the guys trying to foreclose on his home and made them the same offer.