Community Metro Louisville

A local nonprofit that serves Jewish organizations and residents is facing pushback following its decision to hire a controversial former Louisville Metro Police Department officer.  

The Jewish Community of Louisville, or JCL, is a nonprofit that includes organizations like the local Jewish Community Center and congregations. It offers services and resources that touch many aspects of Jewish life in the city. 

Last month, JCL hired Josh Judah, a retired lieutenant colonel with LMPD, as regional security advisor for JCL’s SAFE Louisville initiative. He was featured in news reports and a lawsuit starting in 2020 due to his actions during the racial justice protests in Louisville that year. 

The nonprofit hired Judah by working with the Secure Community Network, or SCN, the “official safety and security organization for the Jewish community in North America.” He is employed by SCN “but deployed exclusively to support Louisville to work closely with JCL and the SAFE Louisville committee,” according to emails obtained by WFPL News.

“I’m no longer part of LMPD. I’m focused on my future, which is empowering the Jewish community and broader communities of faith to meet the very real challenges of violence in 2022,” Judah told WFPL. “The best way I’ve learned to bridge gaps is to meet with people and talk to them.” 

Judah’s job includes overseeing security operations of Jewish institutions across Kentucky, combating antisemitic threats aimed at residents, responding to incidents and supervising community trainings. 

“Bad actors who are targeting Jewish communities are targeting African American communities, they’re targeting LGBTQ communities,” Judah said. “What we’re trying to do is sort of establish a leadership role and help make communities of faith, whatever that looks like, more secure.” 

Questioning Judah’s hiring

A few members of the Jewish community recently circulated and delivered to JCL leaders a petition criticizing Judah’s hiring. Petitioners told leadership the decision to hire him could create a rift between the Jewish and Black communities and possibly “threaten the safety and comfort” of Jewish residents of color, according to the emails. 

“While many members of Jewish communities have grown accustomed to having a police presence in our spaces, and feel more secure due to this presence, this positive association is not universal,” the petition reads. “Inviting law enforcement into a space does not guarantee all those in that space will be, or feel, protected equally.”

Community members also highlighted Judah’s alleged targeting of Black residents during the 2020 movement in support of Black lives — as well as his connection to the killing of West End restaurateur David McAtee. 

Judah told Metro Council members in Sept. 2020 he sent the National Guard and local police to 26th Street and Broadway after midnight on June 1, 2020, where a party was happening on private property  in violation of a citywide curfew. Upon arrival, police deployed pepper balls into the crowd — including toward McAtee’s niece Machelle — who were gathered on private property. David McAtee responded by leaning out of his restaurant’s door and firing two shots, state officials said. Louisville police and National Guard members fired back, and a National Guard member’s bullet killed him. 

McAtee’s family is suing Judah, alongside other local and national law enforcement, for their roles in his killing. According to court filings, Judah allegedly encouraged city and LMPD leadership to watch the operation at 26th and Broadway live via surveillance cameras. The message was, “Check out what we’re going to do,” according to filings and a VICE News report.

The civil case is set to go to trial by jury next April.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice charged four current and former LMPD officers with federal civil rights and other violations for their actions related to the police killing of Breonna Taylor in 2020. In response, Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, raised questions about whether Judah would be held accountable. 

Judah was at the scene of the deadly raid at Taylor’s apartment, and reportedly supported officers’ untrue claims that Taylor was armed with a rifle, and that she shot at officers first.

“Given his tumultuous history with the Black community in Louisville, especially during the 2020 civil unrest in response to several killings at the hands of police, we fear this hire will be perceived as disregarding the value of Black lives in Louisville and the pain endured at the hands of unjust, inequitable, and life-threatening overpolicing by LMPD,” the petition read. 

In their letter to JCL leadership, community members raised concerns over what they see as a lack of engagement around the hiring process and a missed opportunity to garner candidate feedback from residents who would be affected by Judah’s work. They also outlined some demands in an effort to pave a “productive path forward.” Those include:

  • Expanding the SAFE Louisville oversight committee to include residents who are involved with social justice initiatives outside of the Jewish community
  • Creating goals to achieve diversity, equity and inclusion — both within JCL and for engaging the greater Louisville community — and implementing them by the end of this year
  • Tracking and publicizing progress toward meeting short-, medium- and long-term DEI goals

Jewish Community leadership responds

Judah was chosen over more than 30 other applicants for the job. Emails show the nonprofit’s leadership tried to quell community members’ concerns by saying Judah was candid in job interviews about “very controversial command decisions” he made while at LMPD. Leaders also said his past conduct was not the focus of the vetting process. 

He understands better than most what issues must be addressed to build and rebuild community relationships and trust. His desire to serve was deeply evident throughout the hiring process,” leadership said to residents. 

JCL President and CEO, Sara Klein Wagner, responded to WFPL’s interview request with an emailed statement. 

“SAFE Louisville is designed to protect our Jewish citizens, synagogues and organizations,” Klein Wagner said. “Since many of the threats faced by the Jewish community come from violent extremists who also target members of other communities based on faith, race, ethnicity, and gender, the SAFE Louisville initiative will help increase the security of our entire community.” 

She said the organization vetted Judah and hired him based on his expertise, relationships with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and his understanding of the Jewish community’s needs.

Yasmine Jumaa is WFPL’s race and equity reporter.