Emma Austin | Louisville Courier Journal
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against the Louisville Metro Police, saying the department has repeatedly used force and intimidation against peaceful protesters in the city.
The complaint asks for monetary relief for individual protesters “subject to and injured by the LMPD’s militaristic response,” as well as for LMPD to be barred from efforts to silence protesters in the future.
“Rather than treating its peaceful protesters as important parts of the democratic process protected by the Constitution, the City of Louisville has chosen to forcibly silence them — often using military-type weapons and tactics that resemble those used by authoritarian regimes to stifle dissent,” the complaint states.
Jean Porter, a spokeswoman for Mayor Greg Fischer, who is named as a defendant, said the complaint “raises very important issues as we, as a city and a nation, work through the complexities of balancing personal and public safety with a person’s First Amendment right to protest.”
Porter said the mayor’s office will work with the Jefferson County attorney on any further response.
Josh Abner, spokesman for Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell, said the complaint was filed late Thursday afternoon, and the attorney’s office is reviewing it on behalf of its clients.
Claims made in lawsuits represent only one side of a case.
The complaint details several nights of protests over the police shooting of Breonna Taylor, including the night Louisville barbecue owner David McAtee was shot and killed by the National Guard after a curfew was enacted in the city. The suit says police used tear gas, pepper balls and flashbang grenades in response to peaceful protesters on multiple occasions.
“Instead of protecting First Amendment rights, law enforcement targeted peaceful protesters and journalists,” ACLU-KY attorney Heather Gatnarek said in a statement. “This lawsuit seeks to ensure these horrific scenes never play out on our streets again. Kentuckians must be able to raise their voices to protect Black lives without fear of police violence.”
The complaint lists seven plaintiffs, including Kentucky state Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, who filed a complaint June 18 saying she and her daughter were pushed by an LMPD officer and hit with tear gas while they were demonstrating peacefully during one of the first nights of protests in late May.
Five other individuals are named as plaintiffs, as well as the Kentucky Alliance Against Racial and Political Repression, a nonprofit dedicated to taking action against racism, according to its website description.
Along with LMPD, the complaint lists as defendants Louisville Metro Government, Mayor Greg Fischer, interim police Chief Robert Schroeder and LaVita Chavous, assistant police chief. It also names LMPD officer “J. Johnson” and Officers John Does #1-15 and Jane Doe #1.
The ACLU and NAACP say multiple times in the complaint that Fischer and Schroeder failed to discipline officers for using tear gas or pepper balls against peaceful protests.
Schroeder announced in June a new policy requiring police have approval from Schroeder or his designee before deploying tear gas, but the complaint says amendments made June 27 to the department’s Standard Operating Procedures made no reference to that new restriction.
A previous version of this story incorrectly identified one of the civil rights organizations that filed the complaint. The nonprofit’s name is the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.