Louisville, KY – Dozens of Louisville police officers called in sick for their scheduled shifts on Tuesday and Wednesday after being ordered over the weekend to remove their protective riot gear while dealing with violent “protesters” at the scene of a deadly shooting at Jefferson Square Park.
According to Louisville Metropolitan Police Department (LMPD) spokesperson Jesse Halladay, only a handful of Third Division officers showed up to work their scheduled shifts on Tuesday, WAVE reported.
Sources told the news outlet that all but one Third Division officer called in sick, and that a slew of Fourth Division officers did the same.
A similar scene unfolded on Wednesday, as a total of 27 officers called in sick for their shifts at the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Divisions as of 7:30 a.m., LMPD spokesperson Sergeant Lamont Washington told WAVE.
“This is a difficult time for our city – for officers and residents,” Halladay told WAVE. “Over the past month, officers have been asked to work many extra hours, as LMPD continues its commitment to protecting people’s First Amendment right to protest, while also working to protect everyone.”
Sgt. Washington said that LMPD officers from other units and divisions have been temporarily reassigned to help cover the areas with shortages, WDRB reported.
Police arrested a total of 20 demonstrators on Tuesday night on charges ranging from failure to disperse to reckless behavior, WDRB reported.
Officers spent a large portion of the night dealing with protesters who were traveling throughout the city in a caravan of approximately 200 vehicles, Sgt. Washington told WDRB.
Some of the drivers allegedly drove up onto sidewalks and violated various traffic laws as the mayhem ensued.
“At various times throughout the evening, police diverted the caravan in different directions — each time met with aggressive behavior and witnessing extremely dangerous behavior — including riding down the freeway at high rates of speed with people on top of vehicles,” Sgt. Washington told WDRB.
One driver slammed into a LMPD patrol vehicle near Blankenbaker Parkway and Shelbyville Road as the officer was trying to divert the caravan.
As the line of cars blew through St. Matthews, 26-year-old Abiel Twelde allegedly drove his Hyundai Elantra into oncoming traffic and failed to yield to police, WDRB reported.
Two St. Matthews officers managed to box Twelde’s vehicle in with their patrol cars, but the suspect stomped on the gas and rammed into the driver’s side of one of their cruisers before he was taken into custody.
One of the officers suffered multiple lacerations to his hand during the incident, St. Matthews Police Chief Barry Wilkerson told WDRB.
When the caravan returned to the downtown Louisville area, another vehicle rammed one of the LMPD’s armored SWAT vehicles, WDRB reported.
The driver and four accomplices fled the scene, but were later apprehended, according to Sgt. Washington.
As the mob reconvened at Jefferson Square, police “initially stood back to monitor the group,” he said.
But when the rioters “began yelling, throwing bottles and other dangerous objects at the officers, overturning trashcans and other antagonistic behaviors,” police began arresting them for unlawful assembly, Sgt. Washington told WDRB.
Six of the 20 people they arrested do not live in Louisville, according to police.
One juvenile was taken home after being taken into custody.
Officers were able to clear the downtown area by approximately 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
Louisville Metro Council President David James, a retired police officer, said that several officers told him ahead of time that they planned to call in sick on Tuesday, WLKY reported.
“Last year I would have told you that I didn’t think the morale could get any lower, but this year it’s at rock bottom,” James said.
He acknowledged that police have a right to be frustrated, but said that having a large group of law enforcement officers failing to work their shifts could create a risk to public safety.
“If anybody gets hurt because they’re waiting on the police and the police don’t come because they have the ‘blue flu’ then nothing good will come from that,” James told WLKY, adding that mass absenteeism is “unacceptable.”
River City Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President Ryan Nichols addressed rumors of the impending absences head-on in a Facebook post on Monday evening.
“I am aware of a push for officers to call in sick tomorrow, in response to decisions made by upper command and the mayor,” Nichols wrote. “The FOP does not condone this [course] of action. The FOP is advising officers to not take part in this action.”
Nichols further reminded officers that they could face discipline or even lose their jobs for participating in such activities.
Officers have grown increasingly frustrated after being ordered to remove their protective riot gear while they were working to clear protesters from Jefferson Square Park on Saturday.
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.
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.