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 Department (IAD) Lieutenant 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 being 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'd "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 of Vic Mackey and the Strike Team was initiated 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 would pass the legislature, and by giving the Chief what he wanted, Kavanaugh hoped to be promoted.

Kavanaugh revealed himself to be a determined and resolute investigator, sometimes to the point of obsession. He also had 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, Mackey. This threat to Kavanaugh's oversized ego caused his pursuit of Vic to become 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 Vic was responsible.

In his obsession with sending Vic to jail, Kavanaugh began to resemble Captain Ahab chasing the White Whale.[citation needed] In the process, Kavanaugh committed sexual assault, planted evidence, and pressured 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 unwillingness to continue taking care of her. Despite this, he continued to wear his wedding ring and, for a long time, remained in love with her. At one point, Sadie faked being raped as a means of reuniting with Kavanaugh. When Kavanaugh learned the truth, she pleaded with him to bend the rules for her, saying she loved him and wanted to come home. Kavanaugh refused, saying he could not bend the rules for her. 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 begins his investigation by targeting Mackey's ex-wife, Corrine. However, she becomes suspicious and describes him to Vic, who shows her Kavanaugh's photo and tells her Kavanaugh's IAD. Under pressure from Kavanaugh, who threatens to arrest her if she doesn't cooperate, she begins assisting the investigation.

Also pressured by Kavanaugh, Lem, who was caught not turning in heroin after a bust, reluctantly agrees to wear a wire to uncover evidence on Vic. Through this, Kavanaugh discovers a plot to traffic pharmaceutical drugs to the Russian Mafia and take money under the table. When it appears the deal has gone through and that Vic has murdered one of the players, Kavanaugh's task force swoops in and handcuffs the team, only to discover they have unwittingly destroyed a top secret sting operation. Kavanaugh later learns that his bugging of the Strike Team's "clubhouse"has been discovered and used to feed him false information.

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

Kavanaugh approaches imprisoned drug lord and cop killer Antwon Mitchell. Antwon offers Kavanugh more than enough information to destroy the Strike Team, but only if Vic, Lem, Ronnie, and Shane are sent to "his" prison so he can murder them. Disgusted, Kavanaugh refuses his offer.

Kavanaugh then widens 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 saves Kavanaugh from an active grenade tossed in his direction by throwing it away seconds before it exploded. Kavanaugh responds by continuing to pressure Lem into testifying against Vic Mackey. Lem indignantly refuses to turn against Mackey. Later, Vic angrily confronts Kavanaugh about his treatment of Lem.

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

That same evening, Kavanaugh visits Antwon and accepts his deal.

The Incident[edit]

Shortly thereafter, Vic visits Sadie's residence. Originally intending to milk her for information, he changes his plans after Sadie sexually propositions him. Vic waits until the next time Kavanaugh taunts him with his coming downfall and quips:

"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 rushes to his ex-wife's house and demands to know whether it is 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 tries to take vengeance by seducing Vic's ex-wife Corrine. However, she rejects him, disgusted by his treatment of her in the past. Kavanaugh then tries to rape her, but cannot bring himself to go through with it.

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

Vic, however, is still determined and waits 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 breaks into the house, steals the drug dealer's money, and leaves seconds before their fellow cops arrive. Knowing that paying the bail himself would attract Kavanaugh's attention, Vic arranges for it to be paid by the Team's old friend, Smitty.


Despite all of his maneuvering, Kavanaugh's investigation is destroyed by external factors. In a move to seal the other three members of the Strike Team off from prosecution, Lem pleads 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, decide to accept. In a desperate attempt to change the Chief's mind, Kavanaugh inadvertently reveals that destroying Vic has become more important than his job. He angrily protests to Chief Johnson, who gently tells him:

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

Seething with hatred, Kavanaugh snarls::

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

Assistant Chief Roy Phillips interrupts him, saying: "That's enough." However, the Chief of Police bristles as Kavanaugh dramatically points to the crime scene photos of Terry Crowley and screams:

"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 responds:

"You have 48 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 does not report for processing, and Kavanaugh is overjoyed to be given one final chance to crush his nemesis. Correctly presuming that Vic is harboring Lem, he attempts to have the Strike Team arrested for aiding and abetting a fugitive. He has the Team followed at all times and even persuades Aceveda to leak false information to Vic, saying Lem has revealed the Strike Team's involvement in the Armenian Money Train robbery.

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

Kavanaugh also has the Team trailed when they are to meet Lem, but is unable to follow all three of them. His tails are easily shaken, but Kavanaugh soon receives a phone call advising that Lem has been blown apart by a hand grenade, presumably by the Salvadoran drug cartel led by Guardo Lima. When the body is discovered, Kavanaugh and Mackey cone face to face once more. Kavanaugh is certain that Vic has again murdered a fellow officer and believes that all his hatred of his nemesis is completely justified. He looks at Vic demanding to know:

"Are you happy now, Detective Mackey?"

Vic, however, is completely devastated by a murder he had nothing to do with and tackles Kavanaugh with a scream of outraged fury. The two enemies brawl across the crime scene, with Vic getting the upper hand, until their fellow officers pull them apart. Kavanaugh glares balefully as he watches Mackey walk away. Meanwhile, Vic gestures toward Lem's body and snarls:

"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 is ordered by Chief Johnson to leave the Barn and allow the investigation of Lem's murder to proceed. Kavanaugh pleads for time to look into Vic's possible involvement. Assistant Chief Phillips grudgingly grants him 24 hours to write a report for consideration. However, upon arriving at the Barn, Kavanaugh immediately tells Vic:

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

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

Nothing now matters to Kavanaugh except destroying Mackey. Changing tactics, Kavanaugh informs Claudette and Chief Phillips that Vic had hired the Salvadoran drug dealers who murdered Lem, using Emolia Melendez as a go-between. This grants him a temporary reprieve.

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

However, Vic pays 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 responds by breaking into Vic's house and planting several pieces of "evidence" to further solidify the murder charge.

Kavanaugh's downfall[edit]

Kavanaugh soon senses that not everyone believes his story. After hearing Emolia's testimony, Dutch expresses skepticism about her story and requests further corroborating evidence. He later suggests that the "evidence" found in Vic's house is simply too good to be true. In an attempt to protect his case, Kavanaugh requests 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 learns of the charges against her ex-husband and angrily confronts Kavanaugh, formally accusing him of sexual assault. When Claudette asks Dutch for his opinion, he expresses skepticisim about Corrine's allegations, suggesting the rape attempt only happened in her own mind. He further voices his growing doubts about Kavanaugh's case, questioning whether Vic would murder a close friend under any circumstances. Claudette tells him her belief that "only the truth can save this place." Together, they begin to take a good hard look at Emolia's story.

Claudette tears into Emolia in the interrogation room, saying she should feel ashamed of letting herself become a pawn in the war between Vic and Kavanaugh. Meanwhile, Kavanaugh realizes what he has become. He stops Claudette and confesses to planting the evidence, saying:

"I framed a guilty man,"

laughing at the irony of it all.

Kavanaugh is immediately stripped of his badge and imprisoned for his many crimes. He later pleads guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence.

Taking a break from his mission to wreak bloody revenge on Lem's killer, Vic pays Kavanaugh a visit in prison. Although Vic taunts him about having lost both his moral compass and their private war, Kavanaugh remains unfazed. He responds that he is now at peace and finally free of Vic's corrupting influence. He adds:

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

Vic smiles and responds:

"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.