Louisville, KY – Louisville police officers were ordered to remove their protective riot gear or face suspension as they were working to clear protesters from the scene of a deadly shooting that took place on Saturday night.
The order showed a complete disregard for the officers’ safety, retired Louisville Metropolitan Police Department (LMPD) Officer George Rodman told WAVE.
“Last night, officers were commanded (under threat of immediate suspension) to remove protective equipment, up to and including ballistic-rated helmets and approach an unruly crowd with a ‘soft approach,’” Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President Berl Perdue said in a press release on Sunday.
“This order came after individuals with long guns were encountered in elevated positions,” added Perdue, who is also the sheriff of Clark County.
Sheriff Perdue noted that for the past month, officers have been attacked with projectiles and incendiary devices while working during the rioting in Louisville.
At approximately 9 p.m. on Saturday, LMPD officers were dispatched to the 600-block of West Jefferson Street for a report of a shooting in the area of Jefferson Square Park, WKLY reported.
According to investigators, 23-year-old Steven Lopez had opened fire on the crowd, fatally shooting 27-year-old Tyler Gerth.
Bystanders returned fire, striking Lopez in the leg, WKLY reported.
Shooting at a Breonna Taylor protest in Louisville, Kentucky leaves 1 dead, several injured #blm #BlackLivesMatter
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When officers arrived at the scene, they “were met with obscenities and threats by the very people they are called to serve,” the FOP said in a Facebook post on Sunday.
Lopez, who was also arrested on June 17 for allegedly inciting a riot, was transported to the hospital for treatment of his gunshot wounds, WKLY reported.
He has since been charged with wanton endangerment and murder.
Lopez still faces charges of disorderly conduct, harassment and inciting a riot in connection with his June 17 arrest.
In the earlier incident, police also allegedly found him in possession of a handgun and “two full mags of ammo,” WKLY reported.
“The professionalism demonstrated by police and deputies last night while being called racists and accused of not performing their duties was above reproach,” the FOP said on Sunday. “Decisions by Louisville’s leadership led to the unfortunate events that took place last night.”
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer ordered the LMPD to clear Jefferson Square Park of protesters and tents in the wake of the deadly shooting, according to WAVE.
Police were put “on standby” on Sunday “to take necessary enforcement action and restore order if needed,” Sheriff Perdue said in the press release. “Individuals armed with long rifles and scopes were removed from nearby parking garages.”
But when police moved in to disperse the growing crowd per Fischer’s order at approximately 11 p.m. on Sunday night, officers suddenly received word that they needed to take off their protective equipment for the sake of “public image,” Sheriff Perdue wrote.
Officers who voiced concerns that doing so would threaten their own safety were warned that they would be immediately suspended if they refused to comply, WAVE reported.
“De-escalation is always the desired outcome,” the sheriff said, “however, in law enforcement we recognize that every encounter may not end that way.”
He argued that officers’ protective equipment has been designed to safeguard “the men and women we send into harm’s way.”
“Asking our officers to remove their protective equipment for the sake of public image is absolutely shameful and unsafe!” Sheriff Perdue declared. “The men and women of the Louisville Metro Police Department have yet again been failed by faulty leadership.”
The FOP president said he commends the officers “who stood up to this foolish order.”
“I have their back,” he added. “I will always be on the front line with my deputies. I would never ask them to do something I would not be willing to do myself. Nor would I ask them to walk into a potentially violent situation without protective equipment.”
Sheriff Perdue said that it appears some LMPD commanders have abandoned the concept of doing all they can to protect their officers.
“Nearly four years ago, July 2016, 12 officers were shot and five were killed in Dallas, Texas,” he wrote in the press release. “One man, with ill-intentions, gunned down innocent people; just like what happened last night in Louisville. In Dallas, the armed gunman used different points of elevation to fire on Dallas police officers.”
“These officers were protecting the First Amendment rights of citizens protesting, just as officers in Louisville have done over the last four weeks,” he added.