LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - The chief federal law enforcement officer for the western part of Kentucky will soon be stepping down from the job he calls “the honor of my life, professionally.”
Russell Coleman, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, who was appointed by President Donald Trump and has been in office since September 2017, announced Monday that he will be resigning, effective Jan. 20.
Coleman, a native of western Kentucky who graduated from Logan County High School, began his law enforcement career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“I was the guy who went to law school to become an FBI agent,” he told Kentucky Today. “I was blessed to be able to serve as an agent in a number of different venues. I was injured, and was paraplegic, and learned to walk again at Frazier Rehab. God allowed me to walk again, but I had to leave the Bureau because I am partially paralyzed. I use hand controls to drive and couldn’t be much of an agent when I couldn’t run.”
From 2010-2015, Coleman served as legal counsel and Senior Advisor to U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, then went into private practice with Frost, Brown, Todd, while also serving as a volunteer assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in Oldham County. Then in late 2016 came the call that changed his life.
“I received a phone call from Sen. McConnell the day after he won, asking if I, a guy who was a street agent with the FBI, would consider being the chief federal law enforcement officer. And I have had the opportunity the last three years to do that.”
Kentucky’s western district encompasses 53 counties, two major military installations and a population of 2.2 million Kentuckians, and he says one of his accomplishments was expanding their presence outside Louisville and working together with local law enforcement agencies.
“We opened a Bowling Green office for the first time ever,” he said. “We also increased our staffing in the Paducah office to more effectively serve our geographically immense district that stretches well beyond Jefferson County, running from Prospect to the Purchase.”
Coleman says this was part of his commitment to rural Kentucky. “We want to be good partners to your sheriff, to your municipal police chief, to your commonwealth’s attorney.”
Along those lines, he was also instrumental in getting the FBI to re-open their Paducah office, which closed in 2007, and worked with Sen. McConnell to get the DEA to open a new office there.
“It’s not the feds riding in with a white hat on a white horse, it’s being a better partner,” he said. “It’s being humble, what do you need, returning phone calls, how can we help you with cases, with matters. How can we help you with resources? It’s not like the old movies where ‘we’re the feds, we’ve got this.’ That’s not how we operate.”
One area that Coleman says he was working on, but was halted by the coronavirus pandemic, was establishing a program to cut down on violence in Louisville, “where we were over-policing and under-protecting. We were surging resources into these neighborhoods trying to protect lives, but instead of building relationships, we were not recovering the deficits that were already there for the last generation or two.”
To establish a Group Violence Intervention program, which targets the one percent of people who commit violent crimes, and has been successful in several cities, he brought together leaders to a violent crime summit. He had crime victims sitting in front of the leadership of non-profits, religious leaders, including the Kentucky Baptist Convention of which Kentucky Today is a part, law firms and others, hearing about what it’s like trying to raise kids in these neighborhoods.
Then COVID hit and delayed their efforts. “But because of some efforts by big-hearted philanthropists, we have this funded for the next two years to implement this Group Violence Intervention program in Louisville.”
He noted that in 2020, violent crime took 173 lives and wounded 572 others.
Another regret Coleman said he has is not being able to solve several high-profile violent crimes in Nelson County. That includes the 2013 ambush and murder of Bardstown Police Officer Jason Ellis, the 2014 murders of Kathy and Samantha Netherland, the 2015 disappearance of Crystal Rogers and 2016 murder of her father, Tommy Ballard.
Coleman says, “Our Commonwealth has much to be proud of in the strong timber of Kentucky law enforcement, but we must never stop listening and striving to achieve a fairer and more effective justice system. It’s not ‘happy talk’ to say that our men and women in blue, brown or gray, are the finest in the nation, and I am deeply grateful that God afforded me the privilege of being amongst them for a season.”
He indicated he will likely return to private law practice in the future but hinted they he may also consider a return to the public eye down the road.