By DYLAN LOVAN, Associated Press
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville police are changing a policy on using tear gas after complaints about its use to disperse crowds during recent protests.
The department’s interim police chief, Robert Schroeder, said Wednesday the use of tear gas must now be approved by the police chief or his designee.
“I know several peaceful protesters got caught up in situations where tear gas had to be used, and I regret people had to experience that,” Schroeder said at a news conference with Mayor Greg Fischer. Schroeder said Louisville officers “do not use tear gas casually.”
Schroeder said during the early days of the protests in late May, police observed some people coming into the downtown protest areas “bringing in weapons … with the intent to cause harm and destruction.”
Protesters first took to the streets in Louisville on May 28 after a 911 call from Kenneth Walker, Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, was made public. Taylor was shot and killed by police in her home while they were serving a narcotics warrant in March. Walker was with her. The call highlighted Walker’s confusion as to who was coming into the home the night the warrant was served.
Fischer said the “tensions from the first two nights were escalating very very rapidly” prompting him to set a curfew and call in additional enforcement help, including the National Guard. Seven people were shot on the first night of protests and several downtown businesses were damaged through that weekend.
On Tuesday, state officials announced a National Guard member fired the fatal shot that killed a barbecue cook at his eatery amid the protests. Louisville Police and Guard members were responding to a call of a crowd gathering near David McAtee’s barbecue stand, far away from the downtown protests. Investigators said McAtee fired his gun first as officers sprayed pepper balls into the area of his eatery.
The National Guard said Wednesday in a statement that its investigators looking into the McAtee shooting. The guard unit from Lexington was trained on law enforcement support missions and was in Louisville for about a week.
“The soldiers and airmen we called upon are of the highest caliber, and we believe the investigation will conclude that it was a measured response from the National Guard that night,” said Brig. Gen. Hal Lamberton, who commands the guard in Kentucky.
The McAtee shooting also prompted Fischer to fire former police Chief Steve Conrad because some officers who responded did not have body cameras activated. Fischer appointed Schroeder to lead the department until a new chief is found.
Schroeder also announced Wednesday that he was placing the police detective who applied for the warrant used to enter Taylor’s home on administrative reassignment. Schroeder said detective Joshua Jaynes will remain on reassignment until an investigation is completed. He also referred the matter to the FBI.
“This is all part of the process of getting to the truth of what happened that night and leading up to that night,” Schroeder said.
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