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Scottie Scheffler arrest: Long-time Louisville attorney sheds light on what happened and what comes next

May 17, 2024
Scottie Scheffler after arrest

Scottie Scheffler arrives at Valhalla on Friday morning.

Ben Jared

Early Friday morning, Scottie Scheffler was arrested by Louisville Metro Police outside Valhalla Golf Club. He was charged with two misdemeanors, reckless driving and—more seriously–felony second degree assault of a police officer. Scheffler was reportedly attempting to bypass traffic created by an earlier accident in which a pedestrian was killed in a collision with a shuttle bus outside the club that is hosting the 2024 PGA Championship. A police officer was attempted to stop Scheffler from turning into the golf course, and according to the post-arrest complaint, was dragged to the ground when Scheffler drove forward, sustaining injuries that required him to go to the hospital. A statement from Scheffler's attorney counters that the golfer "stopped immediately upon being directed to and never at any point assaulted any officer with his vehicle."

In order to make sense of what happened from a legal standpoint, and what's coming next, Golf Digest spoke with David Barber, who has practiced law in Kentucky for almost 30 years. He attended law school at the University of Louisville around the same time as Steve Romines, who has been hired as Scheffler's attorney, and the two are friends who regularly play golf together and often work on the same case. Barber, an Ashland, Ky., native, works in civil law in Louisville with an office 10 minutes from Valhalla, and has worked as a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney in his career. He has played at Valhalla, and attended Wednesday's practice round this year.

Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Golf Digest: I assume you're caught up on the case? It's all happening very quickly.

Barber: The first thing, I think it'd be helpful to back up. Have you been out there? We took our 9-year-old out on Wednesday, and we were dropped off at the rideshare lot. You had to walk this path through the woods to get to where you could walk across the street. And it's U.S. 60, it's a four-lane highway that runs all the way to Washington, D.C., that happens to be the road Valhalla is on. So traffic's coming by, buses are dropping people off, it's very busy, and we were held up waiting. By the time we got waved across, there were 50 people there, and half of them had no idea where to go. Things weren't marked, there were just cones, it's not "walk here, don't walk there." So some people started to walk across, and they got a real yelling from the police officers, saying, "Walk where you're supposed to, you're going to get run over." And these are nice people that are just confused.

And it was so sad to hear that somebody got run over, but at the same time, my first thought Wednesday when I went back was, man, when it's dark, or it's rainy, and you've got light reflecting off the pavement, this is going to be bad. And a weird thing American police will do is that they all turn their lights on. And that doesn't help anybody, especially when it's dark. So I have no idea what the players were told about traffic, or what entrance they were supposed to come to, but watching the reporting this morning, I saw there were so many police cars, and they're all going to have their lights on, and it's a very confusing situation. So none of this surprises me at all.

Let's talk about the charges. The most serious is the assault charge. Can you explain that one?

So assault in the second degree is a felony charge, it's a Class C felony, and felonies in Kentucky are any crime that's punishable by a year or more in jail. The lowest level felony is Class D, and this is a step above that. It's a special category of assault that's elevated because a police officer was involved, and the penalties are more serious that can carry a sentence of 5-10 years. And this is just so bizarre, and it's sad all around.

If you read the statute, the only way you get intent, my assumption is they're going to allege that his car was a dangerous instrument, which no doubt a car can be, right? From what I understand, it sounds like B, under the statute, the only one I can see they could be trying for is that he caused physical injury to a police officer and did it on purpose. And that seems like a real stretch. At worst, it sounds like he was confused about where to go. Again, it's dark, it's raining, there are these really distracting flashing lights. It's very difficult to see, and I don't know whether he heard the officer yelling, or whether he understood the directions, it's hard for me to say.

I can just tell you again that when we were there, I took special notice because this is my work, and it seems unsafe. I turned and looked back for a few more seconds, and I saw a police officer holding up a hand to stop traffic, and they didn't stop. Four or five cars came through, and the officers just looked at each other like, what can you do?

Is the way Scheffler was arrested and booked normal?

I do the civil side of cases like these and I've had a lot of them, and one of the things I'm always going to look at is that this is a felony, and they released him quickly. That's unusual. If a reviewing judge believed he'd seriously assaulted a police officer, he's probably not going to make his morning tee time.

Just generally speaking, it's not a great look for the police department in terms of civil liability to have released somebody on the spot who allegedly committed this assault in the second degree on a police officer. If he's really this dangerous madman, why are you releasing him? If I'm looking at a case and somebody called me and said, "hey, we think the police were treating my kid badly," it's going to perk my ears up to hear that the police released somebody after claiming they were guilty of a felony. That's not typical.

On the other hand, the people who represent the police a lot of times are going to tell the police, look, once you take somebody into custody, it's going to look super bad if you just release them without charging them with anything. It's going to make it look like you didn't have a legitimate reason to detain them to begin with. It's going to look like they just pulled a guy out of a car, threw handcuffs on him, shoved him up against the car, and then let him go. Again, this is me talking without knowing all the details, but it's how it comes across.

The Lousiville police have come under fire quite a bit lately, and while this isn't a racial incident like the Breonna Taylor case (Taylor was a 26-year-old black woman who was shot and killed by three LMPD officers who entered her home on a "no-knock" arrest warrant in an investigation involving an ex-boyfriend), it has the potential to add to an already rough narrative. How do you see that playing out?

It's tough to generalize. I think they have had a tough time, and it's been a tough few years for the LMPD. I believe they're stretched a bit thin. I have somebody who testifies for me in security cases who is an expert in some of these procedures like with security at Valhalla, and he's been working with the LMPD trying to help them with some of these issues. Right now it just seems like it's sad all the way around. Obviously the biggest tragedy is that someone was killed. On top of that, it just seems like maybe people who are out there working were on edge and maybe lost their cool. On their side, I will say, they've been given a traffic plan and given whatever tools they've been given to get people in and out of there safely. And that's not 100 percent on them. But how you react in the moment is on you.

What explains his unusually short release?

Release balances severity of the crime, any ongoing risk to the community, and the likelihood the defendant will show up again when he's supposed to. So the judge who reviewed it was probably more cool-headed than the officer who made the arrest, and I expect thought Scottie Scheffler isn't a danger to society because of this. The judge would've read the citation and seen the injuries listed were minor scrapes and bruising, seen that the property damage was a pair of pants. Scottie Scheffler's not someone who's going to be hard to find.

We've heard people claiming that the felony charge will be dropped. Do you agree with that?

So right now that's the police charge. The two ways somebody can be charged with a crime are, the law enforcement officer decides what the charge is, and the second way is that the prosecutor decides if they're going to issue a criminal summons. Statistically speaking, charges like this that were written up by the police officer on the spot are more likely to be amended by a prosecutor who's going to have some input.

What's a typical course of action for the prosecution?

Prosecutors very often go along with police officers, and there are good reasons for it. I was a prosecutor. We want to support our officers, and especially when there's an assault on a police officer that was alleged, that gets the prosecutor's attention because hey, you assaulted somebody on our team of law enforcement. So, this is a serious thing. It's not just somebody getting in a fight with somebody else, it's a case of, you're one of our own.

We've seen in some cases in cities where more progressive DAs have been elected. What's the situation in Louisville?

Our county attorney is the one that will have it first, and that's Mike O'Connell, another person I know super well. I've known Mike for all my career, and he's not one of the people like you described. He's just a long-term Kentucky attorney who's been our county attorney for a very long time in Jefferson County. He's going to handle this the way he thinks any case should be handled, and it's not going to have anything to do with political pressure one way or the other.

That was going to be my next question. Does Scheffler's status affect anything?

I don't think so. Just the circumstances that will come out, probably later today, what were the golfers told? Was there good communication between the PGA and the police? And we don't know the police officer's story either. Because one interesting thing here is that there was no dialogue between Scheffler and the officer before he was thrown in cuffs.

Quickly, what about the misdemeanors?

The criminal mischief charge is just property damage, which is interesting, and it's third degree which means it's not particularly valuable property. [Note: Later over text, we discovered this was about the damage to the officer's pants.] Disregarding signals from the officer is self-explanatory. The penalties for any of this would most likely be fines, and the reckless driving charge could result in points on his license. But I wouldn't think most people are going to do jail time for a little bit of property damage.

What can you tell us about Steve Romines, who Scheffler has hired as his attorney? You know him personally, you said.

We were in school together. We've known each other for more than 30 years. We also have some overlapping cases where he has the criminal side of some case and I represent someone on the civil side ... usually more serious things like shootings, deaths. Steve has been a career criminal defense attorney but also is a very good civil lawyer. He's a trial lawyer like me. And he's the person I would hire if I ever needed somebody. If I were in Scottie Scheffler's shoes, and he called me up, I would've said, Scottie, maybe I could help you with the civil side of this, but for the criminal, let's call Steve Romines. I'm glad he got him; that's who I would have directed anybody to.

What are the range of outcomes here?

I have this conversation with clients all the time. Criminal justice and the court system is sort of like getting on a roller coaster. Once you get on and the bar comes down and you're starting up the first hill, you're on the roller coaster until it stops. You don't get to just push a button.

Now you can look out into the future. Let's go completely worst case scenario for Scheffler here and say, what's the most that can happen? The prosecutor can go with the police officer and say, no, we're not amending this. We're not lowering it, we're not going to do a deal or a plea agreement. That could go to trial. You can't say that it won't. Odds are against it, and statistically I'd say very much against that actually happening, but it's possible. And on the other hand, you could have a prosecutor or judge or even the police officer deciding, based on what we call motion practice where a defense lawyer attacks something ahead of time, they could say there's not enough evidence here to really make a case, and dismiss it without going any further.

But you're comfortable saying that the idea of them going full bore and this getting to trial is pretty unlikely?

That would be incredibly unusual.

What happens next?

My guess is there will be a court date probably sometime next week. Typically that would require a personal appearance from Scheffler, but judges and prosecutors can work out agreements where they let him appear through his attorney. You could have scenarios where they're very strict about it and say no, we're not giving you that accommodation, we're requiring that you come back in person. I wouldn't imagine them doing that, but it could happen.

And what happens at that first court date?

It's an arraignment, and typically that's just where they read the charges, identify who you are, and you show the court that you've come back as promised and am subjecting myself to the power of this court. Then they'll set another date down the road for a preliminary hearing in district court, and that's where the police officer will charge somebody with a felony, and they have to present evidence, but it's a low standard. We're not talking reasonable doubt at a trial. And the district court will say, if you're pursuing this felony, we don't have jurisdiction, we've got to send it to the next court higher up, which is called circuit court. And the defendant can waive that preliminary hearing, but Romines could decide they want it in order to have a scenario where the police officer has to testify in open court about why he did this and what he was thinking. Scheffler would have no obligation to do anything.

(Editor's Note: Scheffler's arraignment is scheduled for May 21, according to court documents.)

If there is going to be a plea deal, when could that happen?

Keep in mind that despite the felony charge, this is probably going to be on a similar docket as traffic incidents, since that's how it started, and there may be a few dozen up to a hundred that prosecutors are dealing with, a whole bunch of them from the PGA alone. When you have events like this, the dockets will have a lot of people from the event. So the prosecutor could make an offer right then, at arraignment, so much can be resolved then. With this much attention on the case, it can affect how people do their job. And that's the exception to the roller coaster concept, these are the things that can happen when they stop the roller coaster.

But it sounds like it could happen next week, or it could happen in two months, or longer, and there's no predicting it?

Absolutely.

If I asked you to put your prediction hat on, how do you think this is going to go?

I don't know what Steve has said about the defense already, or anything like that. I doubt he's had any time to meet with Scottie. But I think they'll be looking really close at, what's the intent here? I would say you don't charge somebody with a felony because they make a mistake and they're confused. Did he really mean to hurt somebody? And it looks to me like a case where they charged him with a felony because he had been cuffed, and you better charge somebody with something if you're going to put them in handcuffs.

I don't want to read between the lines or put words in your mouth, but is it the case that you don't think the felony will stick?

As far as predicting it, that's hard to say. But again, the idea of it going to trial, odds are against it.