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Louisville Man Alleges Metro Police Officer Used Anti-Gay Slur at Kentucky Kingdom

Mount Slide High and all other water features at Hurricane Bay are up and running to filter water before patrons arrival on  May 24.
Alix Mattingly
Mount Slide High and all other water features at Hurricane Bay are up and running to filter water before patrons arrival on May 24.

A gay Louisville man claims a Metro Police officer discriminated against him because of his sexual orientation and used a homophobic slur during a visit last week to Kentucky Kingdom.An attorney for the man, Jessie Colter, 32, also alleges that the incident was preceded by the theme park staff's inconsistent enforcement of the dress code at Kentucky Kingdom's water park. According to letters sent Friday to Kentucky Kingdom's owner and Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad, Colter alleges a police officer called him "queer." Colter is not able to identify the officer. He also alleges the officer ordered him to leave the theme park, even after park staff told him he could stay if he changed clothes. On July 7, Colter, who is an adult film actor, visited Kentucky Kingdom's water park, Hurricane Bay, with a group of friends and his partner. Colter posted to Twitter this week a photo of the red swimsuit he said he wore at Hurricane Bay. The photo shows what is commonly referred to as a "Speedo." "What has happened to Jessie has given people this backwoods, redneck impression of Kentucky again," said attorney Anthony Gadlage, who represents Colter. "Now this officer of the law essentially nails the coffin shut for us and makes the whole police department look terrible, it makes the whole city look like we're homophobic, and it puts a bad taste in everybody's mouth." Gadlage said his goal is to identify the police officer and get a response from Louisville Metro Police about its intent to "remedy the situation." Gadlage said Colter is threatening a lawsuit against LMPD and the theme park. Colter is also considering filing a formal complaint with LMPD against the officer, but Gadlage first wants to know the officer's identify. A Louisville Metro Police spokeswoman said on Friday the department is aware of the allegations but has not received a formal complaint. Police spokeswoman Carey Klain said police made no runs to Kentucky Kingdom on the afternoon of July 7, and an officer working at the park then would be in a "secondary employment capacity" off the clock for LMPD. Police do not maintain hourly records for when officers are working on behalf of others. Klain said LMPD officers working at Kentucky Kingdom are paid directly by the park, but the department's professional standards unit investigates allegations against officers regardless of whether an incident happened on or off duty. Colter said in a released statement that Kentucky Kingdom staff agreed to let him remain in the park if he changed clothes. Then the officer escorted him across the park to the changing area. When he turned to enter the changing room, Colter alleges the Metro Police officer said, "You think because you’re queer you can get away with it" after telling him to leave the park. On Friday, Kentucky Kingdom spokesman John Mulcahy said numerous guests told their security Colter’s attire was inappropriate. "That’s what brought it to the park’s attention," he said. "What I do know in doing research is Jessie allegedly was wearing a Speedo, same as one would wear in the Olympics, which is acceptable," said Mulcahy. "What I don't know is if guests were complaining about it, how he was wearing it at the time that they complained. Was he fashioning it to look more like a male thong? We don't allow thongs—men or women—or string bikinis." The amusement park’s dress code policy provides guests "must wear shirts and shoes" except inside the Hurricane Bay water park. In Hurricane Bay, patrons must wear proper swimming attire, which isn’t described in detail under Kentucky Kingdom’s policy. The policy states that guests are not allowed to swim in cut-offs or other clothing with rivets, zippers, or buckles. It also stipulates that Kentucky Kingdom is a "family-friendly theme park" and “reserves the right to determine whether a guest’s attire is appropriate." Jenna French said she witnessed the confrontation between Colter, park security, and police at Hurricane Bay. She said Colter’s attire wasn't unusual and that he wasn't behaving out of the ordinary. "It was just like anyone else's, or any other girl's bottom," she said. "There were girls walking around that in my opinion had just as much revealing, if not more, than what he had. "And I just thought, oh it's a guy wearing a Speedo. Why would I care? He's doing him." Colter’s attorney said when his client arrived earlier last Monday morning, another Kentucky Kingdom security guard issued a warning about the attire. After a brief conversation, Gadlage said the guard agreed the swim wear wasn't a violation of the park's dress code, and told Colter he could remain at Hurricane Bay. Gadlage said the park staff's inconsistency in enforcing the dress code led to the situation and women wearing swim attire similar to Colter's were not treated the same. Mulcahy declined to provide WFPL with a roster of Metro Police officers working at the park during the incident. He said police officers who work at the park are hand-selected to meet its needs, and that the department has been helpful to its operations since its May re-opening. Disclosure: In 2012, Kentucky Kingdom owner Ed Hart  made a $250,000 challenge grant to WFPL's parent organization, Louisville Public Media, that led to the creation of the  Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.