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When Allen Patterson shook Prospect Assistant Police Chief Todd Shaw’s hand five years ago, Patterson, a black man, said he thought Shaw was racist.

Shaw loosely gripped Patterson’s hand and avoided eye contact. It was as if, Patterson said, he didn’t want to touch him.

“He seemed like he didn’t care too much for blacks,” Patterson said. “This particular police officer, he carried a racist attitude.”

That was five years ago at a Kroger in Prospect, Kentucky. And last week, local media outlets reported that Shaw had been suspended and then resigned after exchanging racist Facebook messages with a Louisville Metro Police Department recruit. Among the messages were instructions to shoot black juveniles caught smoking marijuana and allusions to using low-income home owners as target practice.

The Facebook messages were uncovered as part of an unrelated investigation, and Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell notified Prospect Mayor John Evans of their content in August.

Evans said he was shocked when he learned of the messages, which he said are damaging to the community.

“This just pours gasoline on the fire … I think it’s unquestionable that Prospect’s racial mixup is very largely white. But I don’t detect any racism out here,” Evans said. “[Shaw] had a spotless record. He was 20 years downtown — commendations in his record.”

Jeff Sherrard attests to that.

Kyeland Jackson | wfpl.org

Prospect Chief of Police Jeff Sherrard.

Sherrard is Prospect’s Chief of Police, and he said found nothing when thoroughly vetting Shaw for his job. Sherrard said he didn’t know Shaw held those beliefs, and choked back tears while lamenting the damage hes said Shaw has brought to the community and his profession.

“The last three months have been devastating to me personally … because of the damage that this has caused to the people of Prospect, to the police department and to what it stands for to be a policeman,” Sherrard said. “It was definitely a gut punch, no question about that. And all I can say is, I’m sorry.”

Sherrard plans to eventually fill Shaw’s vacated job, and said the residents should rest assured his officers don’t share Shaw’s views.

But a few minutes away in the historically black Taylor Community on the outskirts of Prospect, Patricia Huggins was skeptical of the police department’s vetting.

“It’s so terrible because he served in officer positions elsewhere. Somebody had to know he was racist. Those comments didn’t just fall out of the sky one day last week or whatever,” Huggins said.

Huggins said Shaw should never police again.

Allen Patterson agrees. He said blatant prejudice isn’t common in the area, but redeeming people like Shaw may be a lost cause.

“I don’t see a lot of prejudice here in Prospect … to tell the truth, even classes wouldn’t help him,” Patterson said. “You just don’t get prejudiced overnight.”

An investigation involving Shaw is ongoing, according to WDRB. Shaw’s attorney didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.