Jon Kavanaugh

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Jon Kavanaugh
The Shield character
First appearance "Extraction" (episode 5.01)
Last appearance "Baptism by Fire" (episode 6.02)[1]
Created by Shawn Ryan
Portrayed by Forest Whitaker[2]
Gender Male
Occupation former police officer, internal affairs
Title former Lieutenant, Chief of Mall Security
Spouse(s) Sadie Kavanaugh (ex-wife)

Lieutenant Jon Kavanaugh is a fictional Internal Affairs Lieutenant in the Los Angeles Police Department on the FX television show The Shield. He was portrayed by method actor Forest Whitaker.[3]

Kavanaugh's career before the investigation[edit]

Kavanaugh was an internal affairs officer determined to take down Detective Vic Mackey and his Strike Team using any means at his disposal. He has been described as the toughest adversary the Team ever faced, and his investigation led to their ultimate downfall. Before he was promoted to Lieutenant, Kavanaugh took a spot in IAD after breaking the blue code of silence on his former partner. He has degrees in both criminology and psychology, and frequently played mind games with people under surveillance to find out whether "they'll crack under pressure."

Kavanaugh showed little or no sympathy for the sufferings his investigation caused to Vic's ex-wife Corrine. Kavanaugh treated her with self righteous contempt, froze her assets, and mocked her genuine grief over Vic's crimes. When a heartbroken Corrine demanded to know why he was treating her like a criminal, Kavanaugh said coldly, "You married the wrong man, Corrine."


A self-righteous and narcissistic careerist, Lieutenant Kavanaugh's investigation Vic Mackey and the Strike Team was caused by LAPD Chief Johnson's desire to prosecute, "a posterboy for corruption." By spinning the news to the Department's advantage, Chief Johnson could then ensure that the next funding bill pass would pass the legislature. By giving the Chief what he wanted, Kavanaugh hoped to gain promotion.

Lieutenant Kavanaugh revealed himself to be a determined and resolute investigator, sometimes to the point of obsession. He also had a manic tendencies and would throw violent tantrums when confronted with facts he didn't want to hear or when his plans failed to work out as intended.

From the beginning of his investigation, Kavanaugh found himself repeatedly outmaneuvered and humiliated by his primary target, Detective Vic Mackey. This threat to Kavanaugh's oversized ego caused his pursuit of Vic to become very personal. After learning that Vic had slept with his ex-wife, Kavanaugh abandoned all restraint and began breaking the law himself. Following the subsequent murder of Strike Team Detective Curtis Lemansky, Kavanaugh was certain that Vic was responsible.

In his obsession with sending Vic to jail, Kavanaugh started to resemble Captain Ahab chasing the White Whale. In the process, Kavanaugh was guilty of sexual assault, planting evidence, and pressuring witnesses to commit perjury. These crimes ultimately caused him to lose his badge, his pension, and his freedom.


Kavanaugh was once married to a woman named Sadie (Gina Torres), but the two were divorced as a result of her severe mental illness and his own unwillingness to continue taking care of her. Despite this, he continued to wear his wedding ring and, for a long time, was still in love with her. At one point, Sadie faked a rape incident as a means of bringing her and Kavanaugh back together. When Kavanaugh learned the truth, she pleaded with him to bend the rules for her, saying that she loved him and wanted to come home. Kavanaugh refused, revealing that he had long ago chosen his career over his marriage. He arranged for her to be charged with filing a false police report and remanded to a State psychiatric ward. An enraged Sadie retaliated by engaging in a torrid sexual encounter with Vic Mackey and lewdly taunting her ex-husband with the details.

Investigation of the Strike Team[edit]

Kavanaugh began his investigation by targeting Mackey's ex-wife, Corrine. However, she became suspicious of his behavior and later identified him as a police officer. She would assist him in his investigation as per instructions from Vic. Lem, caught stealing heroin during a bust, reluctantly agreed to wear a wire to uncover evidence on Vic. Through this, Kavanaugh discovered a plot to traffic pharmaceutical drugs to the Russian Mafia and take money under the table. When it appeared the deal had gone through and that Vic murders someone, Kavanaugh's task force swooped in and handcuffed the team, only to discover that they had unwittingly destroyed a top secret sting operation. He later learned that his bugging of the Strike Team was discovered, and used to feed him false information.

Now even more determined to put the team away, Kavanaugh set up shop in "The Barn", commandeering the Captain's office and plastering it with graphic photos of the Terry Crowley murder scene. He tried to guilt Vic into confessing by forcing him to revisit the scene and describe what happened to Terry's weeping brother. Vic was unfazed, however, and calmly stuck to his original story.

In addition, Kavanaugh approached imprisoned drug lord and cop killer Antwon Mitchell. Antwon offered Kavanugh more than enough information to destroy the Strike Team, but only if Vic, Lem, Ronnie, and Shane were sent to "his" prison so he could murder them. Disgusted, Kavanaugh refused his offer.

Kavanaugh then widened the investigation to include Councilman David Aceveda for alleged collusion with Mackey and The Strike Team. During a raid on a Salvadoran hand grenade factory, Lem heroically saved Kavanaugh from an active grenade tossed in his direction by throwing it away seconds before it exploded. Kavanaugh responded by continuing to pressure Lem into testifying against Vic Mackey. Lem indignantly refused to turn against his surrogate father. Later, Vic angrily confronted Kavanaugh about his treatment of Lem.

However, the raid had come shortly before Kavanaugh's meeting with his wife. Vic and Lem entered the security monitor room after noticing the Lieutenant's obvious distress, and watched the ensuing conversation between Kavanaugh and Sadie, the Lieutenant's distraught, mentally ill ex-wife. Viewing their disturbing confrontation via closed-circuit television, Vic remarked that they had found Kavanaugh's weakness. Kavanaugh eventually noticed that the security camera in the room was turned on. Realizing that his conversation with his wife was being observed by his enemies led him to rush out of the interrogation room in a rage. Vic simply looked him in the eyes and smiled smugly. The now outraged Kavanaugh decided to leave Lem with no choice other than testifying against Vic. He ordered Detective Lemansky to be arrested for possession of heroin with intent to distribute. As Vic and his fellow officers watched in horror, Lem was handcuffed by Julien Lowe, placed in lockup with other criminals, processed, and sent to a detention center.

That same evening, Kavanaugh visited Antwon and told the drug lord that his terms were acceptable.

The Incident[edit]

Shortly thereafter, Vic paid a visit to Sadie's residence. Originally intending to milk her for information, he changed his plans after Sadie sexually propositioned him. Vic waited until the next time Kavanaugh taunted him with his coming downfall and quipped,

"Allow me to remind you of a few things you may have forgotten: I didn't kill Terry, you've lost your leverage over Lem, and your ex-wife's pussy tastes like sweet butter."

Horrified, Kavanaugh rushed to his ex-wife's house and demanded to know whether it was true, only to have Sadie respond,

"What did Vic Mackey do? He made me cum... Twice."

Lem's Bail and a Rape Attempt[edit]

Enraged, Kavanaugh tried to take vengeance by seducing Vic's ex-wife Corrine. However, she rejected him, disgusted by his treatment of her in the past. Kavanaugh then tried to rape her, but could not bring himself to go through with it.

Also determined to prevent the Team from paying Lem's bail, Kavanaugh froze all their assets and those of their dependents, including those of Corrine Mackey. This was intended to force Lem to testify against the Team.

Vic, however, was still determined and waited for the next search warrant to be executed on a drug dealer's house. Instead of allowing the search to go through, the Strike Team broke into the house, stole the drug dealer's money, and left seconds before their fellow cops arrived. Knowing that paying the bail himself would attract Kavanaugh's attention, Vic arranged for it to be paid by the Team's old friend, Smitty.


Despite all of his maneuvering, Kavanaugh's investigation was destroyed by external factors. In a move to seal the other three members of the Strike Team off from prosecution, Lem plead guilty to theft under color of authority, agreeing to serve 18 months before parole of a 5 year sentence. The Department Brass and the District Attorney, annoyed with the expense of paying for Kavanaugh's task force and the lack of progress in the case, decided to accept. In a desperate attempt to change the Chief's mind, Kavanaugh inadvertently revealed that destroying Vic had become more important than his job. He angrily protested to Chief Johnson, who gently told him,

"It's over, Jon. Sending Lemansky to jail sends a message and we all move on."

Seething with hatred, Kavanaugh snarled,

"Mackey skates clean? This guy is pissing all over us. And we just smile, and lick it up?"

Assistant Chief Roy Phillips interrupted him, saying "That's enough." However, the Chief of Police bristled as Kavanaugh dramatically pointed to the crime scene photos of Terry Crowley and screamed,

"Vic Mackey kills cops! He... he deals drugs! He beats suspects! You know what he did yesterday? He... he screwed my ex-wife with the sole purpose of making this investigation seem like a personal vendetta. He may have assassinated a gang leader. And that's just all in one day. I wonder what he's going to do today. I wonder what he's going to do tomorrow. This guy... this guy is just pissing... he's pissing all over us. He's pissing on you. What does it taste like? Chief, what does it taste like, 'cause you know what, it tastes like piss to me!"

Chief Johnson icily responded,

"You have forty-eight hours to tie up the loose ends, and find someplace else to do the paperwork. Captain Wyms needs her office."

Investigation collapse[edit]

However, Lem did not report for processing, and Kavanaugh was overjoyed to be given one final chance to crush his nemesis. Correctly presuming that Vic was harboring Lem, he attempted to have the Strike Team arrested for aiding and abetting a fugitive. He had the Team followed at all times and even persuaded Aceveda to leak to false information to Vic, saying that Lem had revealed the Strike Team's involvement in the Armenian Money Train Robbery.

Kavanaugh also deliberately sabotaged Vic's arrangement with Antwon Mitchell, which was meant to keep Lem alive while serving his prison term. He confronted the imprisoned drug lord, enraging him to the point that Antwon vowed to kill Lem no matter which prison he was sent to.

Kavanaugh also had the Team trailed when they were to meet Lem, but was unable to follow all three of them. His tails were easily shaken, but Kavanaugh soon received a phone call that Lem had been blown apart by a hand grenade, presumably by the Salvadoran drug cartel led by Guardo Lima. When the body was discovered, Kavanaugh and Mackey were face to face once more. Kavanaugh was certain that Vic had again murdered a fellow officer and felt that all his hatred of his nemesis was completely justified. He looked at Vic demanded to know,

"Are you happy now, Detective Mackey?"

Vic, however, was completely devastated by a murder he had nothing to do with and tackled Kavanaugh with a scream of outraged fury. The two enemies brawled across the crime scene, with Vic getting the upper hand, until their fellow officers pulled them apart. As Kavanaugh watched Vic Mackey walk away, his eyes burned with a pure hate. Meanwhile, Vic gestured toward Lem's body and snarled,

"We're gonna find whoever did this, and we're gonna kill 'em."

Kavanaugh's final charge[edit]

With Lem now dead and his career and reputation soiled, Kavanaugh was ordered by Chief Johnson to leave the Barn and allow the investigation into Lem's murder to proceed. Kavanaugh pleaded for time to look into Vic's possible involvement, as part of a potential motive for Lem's murder. Assistant Chief Phillips grudgingly granted him 24 hours to write a report for consideration. However, upon arriving at the Barn, he immediately told Vic,

"You cannot deny that you murdered two of your own Team members!"

This instantly set off another brawl. The fight was broken up, but was witnessed by Phillips and Captain Wyms. Kavanaugh was ordered to leave the Barn immediately, his investigation apparently over.

Nothing now mattered to Kavanaugh except destroying the object of his hate. Changing tactics, Kavanaugh informed Claudette and Chief Phillips that Vic had hired the Salvadoran drug dealers who murdered Lem, using Emolia Melendez as a go-between. This granted him a temporary reprieve.

After Emolia agreed to follow the story in exchange for witness protection, she testified to Claudette and Phillips about the false details of Vic's involvement. Kavanaugh was authorized to investigate Vic's involvement, and began by ordering officers to await Vic at his home to take him in for questioning.

However, Vic paid a visit to the Lieutenant's residence, taunting him by saying,

"You are entering a whole new playing field, my friend. I hope you know the rules."

Kavanaugh responded by breaking into Vic's house and planting several pieces of "evidence" to further solidify the murder charge.

Kavanaugh's downfall[edit]

However, Kavanaugh soon sensed that not everyone believed his story. After hearing Emolia's testimony, Dutch expressed skepticism about her story and requested further corroborating evidence. He later suggested that the "evidence" found in Vic's house was simply too good to be true. In an attempt to protect his case, Kavanaugh requested that Dutch be removed from the investigation, citing that Dutch's past relationship with Vic's ex-wife may have resulted in a conflict of interest.

Then, however, Corrine Mackey learned of the charges against her ex-husband and angrily confronted Kavanaugh, formally accusing him of sexual assault. When Claudette asked Dutch for his opinion, he expressed skepticisim about Corrine's allegations, suggesting that the rape attempt only happened in her own mind. He further spoke of his growing doubts about Kavanaugh's case, questioning whether Vic would murder a close friend under any circumstances. Claudette told him of her belief that "only the truth can save this place." Together, they began to take a good hard look at Emolia's story.

Claudette tore into Emolia in the interrogation room, saying that she should feel ashamed of letting herself become a pawn in the war between Vic and Kavanaugh. Meanwhile, Kavanaugh realized what he had become. He stopped Claudette and confessed to planting the evidence.

"I framed a guilty man,"

he said, laughing at the irony of it all.

Kavanaugh was immediately stripped of his badge and imprisoned for the many crimes he had committed. He later pled guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence.

Taking a break from his mission to wreak bloody revenge on Lem's killer, Vic paid Kavanaugh a visit in prison. Although Vic taunted him about having lost both his moral compass and their private war, Kavanaugh remained unfazed. He responded that he was now at peace and finally free of Vic's corrupting influence. He added,

"One day the Universe will take out its trash."

Vic smiled and responded,

"Looks like it already has."


According to the show's creator Shawn Ryan,

"If I said to you: I'm going to have a story about a corrupt cop who murdered another cop and stole a bunch of money. And that there's a pretty virtuous Internal Affairs detective who starts digging into the case and becomes hell-bent on bringing this man to justice. Who would be the hero of the piece? But our audience viewed Vic as the hero. They wanted Vic to get away with it. They found every negative thing to say about Whitaker's character they could think of. When we wrote it, I was convinced: 'Boy, we're really making it tough for the audience. They're not going to be sure who to root for.' I was an idiot. They knew who to root for."[4]


  1. ^ "The Shield: "Baptism by Fire" Review". IGN. Retrieved 2010-03-16. 
  2. ^ "Whitaker leaving `Shield'? Maybe". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-09-30. 
  3. ^ "Forest Whitaker Puts Down His Shield". IGN. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  4. ^ Brett Martin, Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution, The Penguin Press, 2013. Page 226.